Chen rebuts US' referendum criticism

INTERNATIONAL PROFILE: The president said that sometimes Taiwan's interests do not coincide with those of the US and vice versa but he would work to find a consensus

By Ko Shu-ling and Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 1

Rebuffing US criticism, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday said a planned referendum on a UN bid was not an election ploy or a provocative act but a means to safeguard the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and ensure Taiwan's democracy.

"There are other proposals such as Taiwan independence, a name change and a new constitution," he said. "We could have put them before the people, but we didn't because we paid attention to US concerns and their interest and also ours. We do not want our good intentions to be mistaken."

Chen made the remarks in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He gave the interview on Wednesday.

"Even loving husbands and wives quarrel sometimes," Chen said, adding that Taiwan cherished its friendship with the US and saw its criticism of the proposed referendum as "well-meaning."

"The United States has its interest, while we have ours. Sometimes the two do not correspond and sometimes they even clash," he said.

"We will do our best to find common ground and reach a consensus," he said.

Chen was referring to comments made by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Christensen on Wednesday.

Describing the planned referendum as a "bad public policy initiative" that was "wrapped in the flag of democracy," Christensen said the initiative was the "apparent pursuit of name change" and therefore, made it "appear to us to be a step intended to change the status quo."

He said the referendum was a "frontal assault with no hope of changing Taiwan's actual status on the international stage, while increasing cross-strait tensions and alienating potential supporters of Taiwan's increased international space."

Christensen's remarks were the latest condemnation from the US.

Earlier this month, Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian affairs at the US National Security Council, said that the nationhood of Taiwan was an undecided issue and that Taiwan was therefore not qualified to become a member of the international body.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on Aug. 27 that Washington opposed the referendum plan because it views such activity as a move toward a declaration of independence.

Chen said the referendum was a necessary means to protect the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait.

"I believe the US government and President [George W.] Bush would have done the same, if not more, if it were the Taiwanese government and he the president of the country," Chen said. "It is not about the election, it is an opportunity for the people of Taiwan to think about a very important and serious issue concerning Taiwan's future."

Chen told members of the European Parliament during a video conference yesterday afternoon that it would be a giant step backward for civilization if Taiwan is denied UN membership.

Chen called on the European Parliament to denounce the UN Secretariat's interpretation of UN Resolution 2758 and its abuse of power in rejecting Taiwan's UN application.

Nicholas Dunlop, secretary-general of e-Parliament who hosted the event, promised to urge the European Parliament to condemn the UN Secretariat.

Calling the US Taiwan's "loyal ally" and "best friend," Chen said he was sorry to hear US officials declare that Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) was not a state because this did not tally with the facts.

"Taiwan is an independent sovereign state, whose sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan not the 1.3 billion people of China," he said.

"Taiwan has the absolute right to join the United Nations and the international community should not be afraid of China because of its boycott and intimidation." Chen said.

Blaming China for Taiwan's political predicament, Chen said that the people of Taiwan have the final say on their country's future, but he did not see the prospect of unifying with China at the moment.

Meanwhile, Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文) said yesterday that the US actually stopped recognizing the ROC and began calling the country "Taiwan" in 1979.

"Even their office in Taiwan is called the American Institute in Taiwan," he said. "I believe they were saying what they said for the Chinese government to hear ... Sometimes you have to read between the lines."

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that returning to the UN was the hope of the majority of Taiwanese people, and the KMT would continue pushing its UN referendum bid.

Ma said the KMT's proposal did not involve a change in the country's status quo.

"The DPP proposed the UN referendum in order to change the status quo and establish a new and independent country. The US knows the DPP's intention and that's why it criticized the DPP's referendum bid," he said in a statement.

The KMT said yesterday that its proposed referendum represented the people's desire for a stable society. It said it would not consider withdrawing its proposal unless the DPP dropped its version.

"The DPP provoked the UN referendum issue, and the issue won't be solved until the DPP drops its bid," Yang Tu (楊渡), commissioner of the KMT's culture and communication committee, said at party headquarters.

Yang called the DPP a "troublemaker," and said the KMT's referendum would provide an opportunity for the people to choose stability over risk and danger.

"If the problem produced by the troublemaker is not resolved, the threat and danger won't end and the US' attitude won't change," he said.

In related news, a delegation of more than 80 people was scheduled to leave for New York City yesterday to help promote Taiwan's UN bid ahead of Tuesday's opening of the annual UN General Assembly.

The delegation, organized by the Taiwan United Nations Alliance (TAIUNA), will take part in a rally outside UN headquarters tomorrow timed to coincide with a similar rally in Kaohsiung.

Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志) said organizers are expecting 2,000 people in New York and 500,000 in Kaohsiung City.

The delegation represents a cross-section of society, Lo said, and includes students, newlyweds, senior citizens and academics.

In New York, the members will distribute flyers promoting the UN bid and will try to make Americans understand Taiwan's situation and position with direct conversation on the streets, he said.

Additional reporting by Jimmy Chuang and CNA