Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Taipei undeterred by US opposition to UN referendum

REFERENDUM UPROAR Chen Chin-jun said Taipei understood why the US was so negative but it hoped Washington would listen to the voices of the Taiwanese

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA, ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

Cabinet Secretary-General Chen Chin-jun (陳景峻) said yesterday that the government would continue to discuss the UN referendum proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with the US, after a senior US diplomat told a gathering of US and Taiwanese businesspeople that Washington was strongly opposed to the idea because it believes the proposal is not just about UN entry.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen told the Defense Industry Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, that the US "is not opposed to referendums," but the referendum being promoted by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) concerns the US government "considerably more than would a generic referendum on applying to the United Nations."

Christensen said the proposed referendum "raises the question of what Taiwan should be called in the international community," in what could be a "legally binding popular vote."

"It is the apparent pursuit of name change in the referendum, therefore, that makes the initiative appear to us to be a step intended to change the status quo," he told the gathering organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council.

Chen Chin-jun, however, said freedom and democracy-loving nations around the world should understand Taiwan's appeal.

"We respect the US' stance [on the issue], but we hope the US can listen to the voices of Taiwan's 23 million people that have been yearning to enter the UN and other international organizations for 10 to 20 years," he told reporters after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

The bid to join the UN using the name "Taiwan" enjoys the support of more than 70 percent of the public, he said.

He said the government understood why the US had to make such remarks.

"If US [officials] came to Taiwan more often, I believe they would understand public opinion and change their views," he said.

Christensen's statement was the latest, and the most detailed, expression of the US' position.

He said the US has "exhausted every private opportunity through consistent, unmistakable and authoritative messages over an extended period of time" and has found itself "with no alternative but to express our views directly to the Taiwan people."

He dismissed as "purely legalistic" arguments by Taiwan that the referendum, even if passed, would not amount to a pursuit of name change, saying that such arguments seem to overlook Taipei's commitments to the US.

"In the world of cross-strait relations, political symbolism matters, and disagreements over it could be the source of major tensions or even conflict," Christensen said.

"President Chen recognized the importance of such `symbolic' issues in 2000 and 2004 when he promised our president and the international community not to pursue a change in Taiwan's official name, and he has reaffirmed that promise repeatedly," he said.

He rejected the accusation that the US is meddling in Taiwan's democracy, pointing out that the US has for decades been committed to supporting Taiwan's security and democratization.

"Friends have an obligation to warn friends who are moving in an unwise direction," he said. "After all, it is not just Taiwan's peace and stability that Taipei's action may threaten."

Claiming that "bad public policy initiatives are made no better for being wrapped in the flag of `democracy,'" Christensen warned that the referendum would limit Taiwan's international space.

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