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Taiwan president seeking UN membership referendum

[JURIST] Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian [BBC profile] is proceeding with plans to hold a largely symbolic national referendum on whether Taiwan [JURIST news archive] should attempt rejoining the United Nations (UN) [official website] under the name of Taiwan, despite opposition from China, the United States, and members of the opposition party, presidential spokesperson David Lee said Wednesday. The proposal, which will require a million signatures to end up on the ballot, appears to be an apparent departure from Chen's 2000 "Four Noes and One Without" [Wikipedia backgrounder] inaugural pledge, in which Chen promised not to formally declare Taiwanese independence, alter the national title and constitution to pursue Taiwanese independence, promote a national referendum on the issue of Taiwanese independence, and not to abolish the the National Unification Council (NUC) [Wikipedia backgrounder]. Chen effectively scrapped the NUC [BBC report] in February 2006.

Reiterating the US position on the issue, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack [official profile] told reporters at the daily press briefing [transcript; recorded video] Tuesday that:

the United States opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally. This would include a referendum on whether to apply to the UN under the name of Taiwan. While such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is of vital interest to the people of Taiwan and serves U.S. security interests as well. Moreover, such a move would appear to run counter to President Chen's repeated commitments to President Bush and the international community. We urge President Chen to exercise leadership by rejecting such a proposed referendum.
The proposed referendum, which Chen hopes will be on the ballot during the next Legislative Yuan [official website] elections on January 12, 2008, or the still-unscheduled 2008 presidential elections, will not affect whether Taiwan will be able to rejoin the UN because Taiwan lacks the support in the UN General Assembly and China wields a UN Security Council veto. Critics allege that the referendum is an attempt by Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] to attract independence-leaning voters amid low-approval ratings. Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the Republic of China (ROC), was kicked out of the UN by General Assembly Resolution 2758 [PDF text]. The ROC government retreated from the mainland in 1949 following its defeat in the Chinese Civil War. AP has more.

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