President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said he hoped that a referendum on joining the UN under the name "Taiwan" would be held in tandem with the upcoming election next year.
He did not specify which election he was referring to, however. While the Central Election Commission (CEC) has ruled that the legislative election will be held on Jan. 12, the date for the presidential election will be decided by the new CEC members. They will also decide whether the two elections will be held concurrently.
While receiving Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, at the Presidential Office yesterday morning, Chen said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had been working hard to push the country's case for UN membership. He hoped the world would hear the voices of the 23 million people of Taiwan and realize they were desperate to become a member of the UN family.
Chen was referring to the campaign initiated by the DPP to hold a referendum on joining the UN under the name "Taiwan." The DPP has gathered sufficient signatures for the first petition, pending the approval of the CEC.
The party must collect more than 820,000 signatures for the second petition to make the proposal valid.
The attempt to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" did not amount to a bid to change the country's title, Chen said, nor did it violate the "four noes" pledge.
The "four noes" refer to the pledge Chen made in his first inaugural speech in 2000 and reiterated in 2004.
Chen promised that as long as China does not use military force against Taiwan, he would not declare independence, change the national title, enshrine the "state-to-state" model in the Constitution, or endorse a referendum on the nation's statehood.
While the country has used different names to join international organizations such as the WTO and APEC, Chen said "Taiwan" is the most appropriate.
Taiwan joined the WTO under the name "The separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" and APEC under the name "Chinese Taipei."
Chen said that although the country failed in its first attempt to join the WHO under the name "Taiwan" this year, he appreciated the US government's support for Taiwan's "meaningful participation" in the WHO and its bid to join the health body as an observer.
Despite the US government's opposition to the bid to join the WHO under the name "Taiwan," Chen said that he hoped the US and the world realized that the legislature had passed a resolution endorsing the campaign.
Such high consensus was quite rare in politically divided Taiwan, Chen said.
An opinion poll indicated that 95 percent of the people backed the government's WHO campaign, Chen said, without specifying details of the survey.
Chen said his recent remarks about the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) were inspired by a cross-strait expert at the foundation, Harvey Feldman, a former US ambassador in Taipei and a key figure in drafting the TRA.
Chen said he agreed with Feldman's recent comment that it would be useful for the US government to review how the "status quo" is defined in the TRA as it seeks to maintain it in the Taiwan Strait.
Feldman also argued that the US Congress was in support of Taiwan's membership of international organizations and that a US-Taiwan free trade agreement would be fully consistent with the US' "one China" policy.
When asked to comment on the president's UN membership proposal, DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said the party would work hard to make it a reality.
Ker said the party had passed the first-stage threshold for the referendum proposal to be established last month and was waiting for the CEC to verify the personal information of the endorsers.
The party began the signature drive on March 15 and submitted 91,229 signatures to the commission on May 21.
The Referendum Law (
The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) also threw its support behind the president, saying that pushing for Taiwan's participation in the UN has always been one of the party's goals.
However, TSU spokeswoman Chou Mei-li (
Holding the referendum together with both the presidential and legislative elections was not an option, either, she said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said such a referendum would be unnecessary and a "fake issue" that could be used to influence the presidential election result.
Saying that the KMT was willing to support anything that helped to promote Taiwan's international status, Su said the party did not understand why the DPP wanted to pursue such a referendum because there was a consensus among the people of Taiwan in favor of joining the UN.
As to whether the KMT would propose another referendum on joining the UN under the name "Republic of China" as a countermeasure against the DPP, Su said a final decision had not been made.
Commenting on the proposal, pan-blue legislative leaders expressed disapproval.
"Joining the UN is everyone's wish, but what name we should use is a question of international reality. The president should not be rigid on this," KMT Secretary-General Wu Den-yi (
Wu said that it was not necessary to join the UN under the name "Taiwan."
"No matter what the name is -- Republic of China, Taiwan, or any other name -- any name that can reflect the country's dignity is fine. But the prerequisite is that the name must be accepted internationally," Wu said.
People First Party policy committee executive director Hwang Yih-jiau (
"It's impossible that the US would support the move," Hwang said.
Hwang called on the president to refrain from taking advantage of the public's unfamiliarity with international affairs to manipulate voters.
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