The US has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian's (
In an exclusive interview on Monday with the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called the proposed referendum a "mistake" and warned that it would be seen as violating Washington's policy against any attempt by Taiwan to alter the "status quo" with China.
"We oppose the notion of that kind of a referendum because we see that as a step toward a declaration of independence for Taiwan, towards the alteration of the status quo," Negroponte said.
"We believe it's important to avoid any kind of provocative steps on the part of Taiwan," Negroponte said.
The US State Department official's interview with Chinese media comes as Washington has come under increasing pressure on the issue from the Beijing administration, which considers the referendum to be what one leading US analyst described as a "referendum on independence in disguise."
The interview also comes three weeks before the opening of the UN General Assembly, at which several of Taiwan's allies are poised to introduce a resolution on Taiwan's membership in the world body.
China has also threatened to push for a UN resolution that would officially define Taiwan as part of China.
Such a resolution could harm efforts to break out of the international isolation Beijing has succeeded in imposing on Taiwan and could also force Washington to make a wrenching decision on whether to vote with China on the issue.
But it is not clear why the administration of US President George W. Bush decided to use a Chinese TV station as the medium through which to make its strongest and most extensive case against the referendum, though the US administration has generally rejected interviews with Taiwanese media.
In the Phoenix TV interview, Negroponte reiterated US friendship for Taiwan as well as Washington's strong support for Taiwan's democracy.
Asked whether it concerned him that Taiwan's democratic development was "sliding out of US hands," Negroponte said: "We feel that this is a time for the authorities in Taiwan to behave in a responsible manner, to behave in a way that would advance the interests of Taiwan while, at the same time, not disturbing the situation across the Taiwan Strait."
"I think there's a way of doing that, of pursuing their democracy, pursuing their vibrant economy, benefitting from the friendship, the strong friendship of a country such as the United States and we are certainly committed to continuing that," he said.
"But we believe that it has to be done in a serious and responsible way," he said.
In a reference to Chen's pledge during his first inauguration to adhere to his so-called "four noes," Negroponte indicated that the referendum would be seen as a violation of that pledge.
"I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan," Negroponte said.
The commitment not to change Taiwan's official name was one of the four noes and the Bush administration has viewed the UN referendum as a subtle method of promoting such a change.