A US-based human-rights group criticized the US government on Monday for pressuring Taiwan to abandon plans for a public referendum on whether it should petition for entry to the UN.
Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization partly funded by the US government, said such pressure was inconsistent with the US push for democracy around the world.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, said the US "has no business in joining with China to bully the Taiwanese people."
The criticism came after US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte gave an interview with Phoenix TV, which is based in Hong Kong, on Aug. 27.
In the interview, Negroponte said the Democratic Progressive Party's bid for Taiwan to enter the world body under the name "Taiwan" would be a move toward changing the cross-strait "status quo" and called it a "mistake."
Then on Aug. 30, the senior director for East Asian affairs at the US National Security Council, Dennis Wilder, told reporters that Taiwan's statehood was an undecided issue and as such it is not qualified to be a member of the UN.
"Membership in the United Nations requires statehood. Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state in the international community. The position of the United States government is that the ROC, Republic of China, is an issue undecided, that it has been left undecided, as you know, for many, many years," Wilder said during a special White House briefing ahead of US President George W. Bush's trip to last weekend's APEC meeting in Australia.
Windsor said that the Bush administration's condemnation of Taiwan's referendum bid sends a message that "the spread of democracy and freedom is not a priority when it offends a large, powerful country."
Beijing views the referendum as a direct challenge to its position that Taiwan is part of China.
Washington, which holds to a "one China policy" but is committed to Taiwan's defense, is wary of getting dragged into a conflict between democratic Taiwan and China.
The referendum would ask voters if they supported applying for UN membership under the name "Taiwan," not the "Republic of China" under which Taiwan participated in the UN until China's seat was transferred to Beijing in 1971.
Using "Taiwan" is seen as provocative because it appears to negate the "one China" policy that Beijing demands and that the US acknowledges.
Any name would be symbolic, as the UN Security Council would have to approve Taiwan's membership and China has a veto there.
Presidential Office Spokesman David Lee (
In addition to Freedom House, Lee said Taiwan had received the backing of human-rights organizations and extensive coverage in international media.
Additional reporting by Ko Shu-ling