Amid speculation that the US and China may thwart Taiwan's UN bid at next month's UN General Assembly, President Chen Shui-bian (
Speculation is mounting that the US government might persuade Taiwan's diplomatic allies to oppose the UN campaign and China might ask the General Assembly to vote on Taiwan's sovereignty.
As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is planning to hold a referendum on whether to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" concurrently with the presidential election in March, Chen said that approval of UN membership is a rare consensus reached by the ruling and opposition parties.
Chen made the remarks while chatting with the Taiwanese press corps on Saturday in El Salvador. Chen yesterday left for Nicaragua -- the third and last leg of his three-nation visit.
Chen said that he welcomed opposition parties' change of heart and proposal of a different referendum on joining the UN, as they used to see referendums as potentially disastrous and politically taboo.
"Weapons are not the best way to protect Taiwan, a referendum is," he said.
Chen said that the UN campaign and referendum demonstrate the DPP's long-term position of upholding freedom and democracy.
"A democracy without referendums is not a true democracy," he said. "Despite political division over national sovereignty and international opposition to the UN bid, I am confident that the public will gradually understand the meaning and value of the referendum on Taiwan's UN membership."
Chen said while the country is entitled to full democracy, other countries keep repeatedly changing the rules and then blaming Taiwan for unwittingly violating them. Chen said he felt sorry that he could not transit in the continental US while travelling to and from Central America.
While the US government has asked Chen to reject the UN referendum in return for better treatment, Chen said that he, in his capacity as president, cannot and will not stop an initiative that was launched from the bottom up and approved by the DPP's Central Standing Committee.
Chen said he was willing to sacrifice his personal traveling comfort and bear hardships in a bid to protect Taiwan from becoming a part of the People's Republic of China.
"What is the meaning and value of being president for eight years if I cannot protect Taiwan?" he said.
American Institute in Taiwan honorary chairman William Brown greeted the president on the plane when Chen transferred in Anchorage en route to Central America. Chen told Brown that he found the transit in Alaska "inconvenient, uncomfortable, unsatisfactory and [felt] disrespected."
Chen will transfer in Anchorage on his way home.
Also on Saturday, Chen said that Taiwan "cannot afford to not maintain diplomatic relations with all the countries in the world," adding that having no allies would adversely affect national morale.
Chen made the remarks after being quizzed on whether it could be an option for Taiwan to maintain no formal diplomatic relations with any countries.
Chen said that if Taiwan took this option, it would become "an international orphan" and national morale would be crushed.
He added that the number of countries maintaining formal ties with Taiwan changes, but that it would be unacceptable for Taiwan to maintain no formal ties and that such a scenario would be "impossible."