President Chen Shui-bian (
"The international community is concerned what step Taiwan will take after the UN referendum. Please don't worry. We just want to make our voice heard around the world -- that Taiwan wants to join the UN using the name `Taiwan,'" Chen said.
He made the comments in response to remarks by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs Thomas Christensen.
During a press briefing with Taiwanese media in the US capital on Thursday, Christensen, when asked to comment on the UN referendum, including Chen's statement that US opposition to the referendum could trigger an emotional backlash in Taiwan and affect bilateral relations, said that Washington had an obligation to let Taiwanese clearly understand its position on the issue.
Stressing that the US honors democracy and has no intention of dictating what Taiwan should or should not do, Christensen said the US respects the wisdom of Taiwanese and believes they will choose a policy that is favorable to the nation as well as cross-strait peace and stability through a democratic process.
Christensen said both Taiwan and China should avoid taking any "needlessly provocative actions" to avoid escalating tension and that the referendum was an example of such an action.
The US is opposed to any unilateral action by either side to change the cross-strait status quo, and the UN bid referendum is obviously designed to seek changes to the status quo, he said.
Christensen said the proposed referendum was inconsistent with Chen's promise that he would not change Taiwan's official name during his term of office.
By implying that the referendum will give Taiwanese a chance to express their opinion on whether Taiwan should unify with China, Chen is also going against his pledge that he will not promote a referendum on the unification versus independence issue during his term, he said.
Calling the referendum initiated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) "unwise," Christensen said it was not only dangerous and provocative, but would also scare away potential friends who might help Taiwan, including the US.
On Chen's claim that the referendum might prompt the US to change its "one China" policy if it were passed, Christensen said the US government had no plans to alter its decades-long policy because it had proven helpful in maintaining cross-strait peace and is favorable to Taiwan.
Chen yesterday said he appreciated and took the US' concern seriously.
"Four years ago, referendums were taboo in the country. I was also under a lot of pressure. But now, even the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] does not oppose holding a referendum in tandem with an election. This is progress," Chen said.
The proposed UN referendum is a reflection of the major opinions in the country, Chen said, adding that he would continue to communicate with the US on the issue.
Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Lin Chia-lung (
Lin said Taiwan would not back away from the UN referendum bid because the nation would never change its commitment to democratic progress.
The Mainland Affairs Council also condemned China for asking US and European leaders to oppose the referendum.
"This crude method of China using international politics to seek recognition for its `one-China' principle internationally and put pressure on Taiwan will only add to regional tension," the council said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that US-Taiwan relations would not be affected as the issue stemmed from "different understandings" of the UN referendum issue.
In his briefing on Thursday, Christensen also said that the US would continue to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons based on the Taiwan Relations Act as well as Taiwan's long-term military defense needs.
Despite Chinese discontent with US military sales to Taiwan, Washington will continue to carry out this policy in the belief that maintaining Taiwan's solid defensive capabilities is conducive to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, he said.
He also urged the Beijing leadership to engage in dialogue with Taiwan's democratically elected leaders.
China on Wednesday urged the US to stop selling advanced weapons to Taiwan.
The US Defense Department informed Congress last month about a possible sale to Taiwan of Patriot missile system upgrades valued at US$939 million.
"We hope the US side ... will stop selling advanced weapons to Taiwan, stop US-Taiwan official engagement and military contacts and cooperation," China's Xinhua news agency yesterday quoted Ma Xiaotian (馬曉天), an air force lieutenant-general, as telling US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in Washington on Wednesday.
Weapons sales send the wrong signal, emboldening Taiwan to push for formal independence, Ma said.
Xinhua did not say whether a spat over China blocking the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier from docking in Hong Kong came up in the meeting between Ma and Negroponte.
The US has complained that China, at the last minute, blocked a Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong by the Kitty Hawk and accompanying ships last month.
China later reversed its decision but Washington said it was too late.
The Pentagon also accused China of refusing to let two minesweepers shelter from a storm in Hong Kong last month.
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