The US does not have the right to tell Taiwan whether it can hold a referendum on joining the UN under the name "Taiwan," Cabinet Spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey (
"A referendum is a representation of democracy. It is also the bottom line for maintaining human rights in Taiwan," he said.
"This country will not give up its bottom line. The Taiwanese people will not allow the president or the government to do so," Shieh said.
"A country's sovereignty comes from its people. The Taiwanese people have the right to participate in international society based on the principles of democracy and human rights. Nobody should say no or threaten Taiwanese people, especially a democratic country," he said.
Shieh's remarks came after the US Department of State criticized President Chen Shui-bian's (
McCormack had to deflect a question about the possibility that the US would risk international stability to uphold its policy that Taiwan should not participate in world organizations that require "statehood."
McCormack called on the Chen government to exercise "leadership" -- a State Department euphemism for restraint -- "by rejecting such a proposed referendum" on UN membership.
"While such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait," he said.
McCormack said the referendum plan "appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally."
He also said that the referendum plan "would appear to run counter to President Chen's repeated commitments to President [George W.] Bush and the international community."
Much of what McCormack said had been voiced the day before by a department spokesman speaking anonymously, who was repeating what the department's East Asia and Pacific (EAP) Bureau officials had allowed him to say.
But the administration's annoyance with Chen's referendum proposal was made more authoritative by McCormack's restatement.
While the EAP policymakers are known to take a dim view of many of Chen's pronouncements, which they see as potentially aggravating China and hurting other US foreign policy objectives that would require Beijing's cooperation, the flap over the UN referendum has apparently spread to other sectors of the US foreign policy establishment.
Senior officials outside the State Department have also voiced unusually strong concerns in recent days over the referendum plan, sources say.
McCormack repeated that the US supports Taiwan's inclusion in world organizations that do not require statehood for membership, but opposes membership in organizations that require statehood.
"The US opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally. This would include a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations under the name `Taiwan,'" McCormack said.
Pressed to expand on his statement, McCormack refused three times, offering only to repeat what he had said.
Reporters questioned whether the policy he had enunciated would apply if Taiwan's participation would help the fight against avian flu, SARS or other such global threats.
At one point, a reporter asked: "Are you willing to forsake issues of international stability to make a point that Taiwan is not a state?"