Taiwan slams US remarks on UN bid

THE PEOPLE'S WILL: The government was quick to defend its plan for a referendum on UN membership after some strong comments from the US State Department

By Charles Snyder, Jimmy Chuang and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN WASHINGTON AND TAIPEI

Thu, Jun 21, 2007 - Page 1

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 (謝志偉) said yesterday.

"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 (陳水扁) plan for a referendum in a testy exchange between reporters and department spokesman Sean McCormack about a statement that he had read in Washington on Tuesday.

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?"

"I can read it to you again, if you like," McCormack said.

"That won't be necessary," the reporter responded.

McCormack also refused to respond to a questioner who noted that Taiwan is a democracy and that Chen was responding to polls that showed that 80 percent of the voters support Taiwan's bid for UN membership.

In Taipei, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) voiced his support yesterday for Taiwan to join the UN, but condemned the government for taking an aggressive approach with its referendum campaign.

"We approve of any efforts seeking Taiwan's participation in international organizations, but we must adopt a feasible approach," Ma said in Nangang.

He accused the government of manipulating the UN bid issue.

"Most Taiwanese people want the country to return to the international community. I believe the purpose of the referendum is not to `understand public opinion,' because the people's voice is clear," he said.

Arguing that the US was opposed to the referendum plan because of the politics behind it, Ma said the government should prioritize its efforts to join international organizations and adopt more practical measures.

Citing the example of Taiwan's entrance into the WTO under the name "The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" and APEC under the name "Chinese Taipei," Ma said that the government should show flexibility.

"What's more important is to increase the opportunities for us to attend international events with dignity," he said.

Ma declined to say what name the country should use to apply to international groups.

KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) responded to McCormack's statements by saying that the US had clearly voiced its "opposition" to the referendum bid, instead of "not supporting" it.

"[That] reflects the fact that the US regards the move to join the UN under the name of `Taiwan' as an act of de jure independence," Chiang said.

He disagreed with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers who said the US was meddling in Taiwan's domestic affairs.

"When meeting with AIT [American Institute in Taiwan] Chairman Raymond Burghardt [on June 14], President Chen demanded the US restate its `six assurances' to Taiwan. Was the president asking the US to interfere in Taiwan's domestic affairs?" Chiang said.

People First Party Legislator Hwang Yih-jiau (黃義交) urged Chen to take McCormack's words seriously, saying it was unlikely that the US was using a "two-pronged strategy" of opposing the plan publicly while supporting it privately.

"I hope that President Chen will not be impetuous enough to launch the bid just to show his bravery," Hwang said.

That West Germany and East Germany were both UN members before their reunificiation and North Korea and South Korea both have seats in the UN shows that a divided country is allowed to join the world body, Hwang said.

But such membership could be achieved through "negotiations" with the US and China rather than making a "mad dash" for it, he said.

KMT Legislator Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said McCormack's press conference had proved that the president's UN plan was unrealistic.

"Everyone, including the KMT, would be happy to see the country's entry into the UN under the name Taiwan, but will the name do the trick when the country's formal name -- Republic of China -- is not accepted?" Hsu said.

When approached by reporters before the party's Central Standing Committee meeting yesterday, DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun said the party would continue to push for a referendum.

"Democracy and freedom are the founding spirits of the US. No matter what the US State Department says, I believe the American people will support Taiwan holding a referendum to show the will of its people," he said.

The committee passed a resolution to continue campaigning for a referendum, DPP Secretary-General Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said.

Lin said a demonstration would be held ahead of the UN General Assembly in September to support Taiwan's participation under the name "Taiwan."

DPP caucus whip Wang Tuoh (王拓) said the caucus could not accept the US' "overbearing" comments on the referendum plan.

Wang said Taiwan's campaign to join the UN was not the reason for cross-strait tensions.

"China should be held responsible for heightening cross-strait tension because it targets Taiwan with more than 1,000 missiles. Why doesn't the US do anything about China?" he said.

"The US does not have the right to force Taiwan to deny that it is a nation," DPP Legislator Wang Shu-hui (王淑慧) said.

Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih and Flora Wang

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