Thursday, June 28, 2007

Washington is ignoring reality in the Strait

by Dr. Lo Chih-Cheng

“The US should not show such a lack of confidence in Taiwan's democracy and public opinion.”

It was no surprise that the US State Department should declare its opposition to the announcement by President Chen Shui-bian that he is pushing for a referendum on the question of whether Taiwan should make a bid for UN membership under the name of "Taiwan."

Nevertheless, if the US were able to obtain a deeper understanding of the underlying meaning of the proposed referendum bid, it would see that there are no grounds for its opposition.

First, if the US is opposed to using the name "Taiwan" for a UN membership bid, then it is overreacting. It is worth noting that among the more than 190 UN member states, more than 80 applied for UN membership using a name other than their official national title. Thus, it is clear that using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership has nothing to do with changing the country's national title.

Second, if the reason for US opposition is that it opposes Taiwanese membership in the UN, this would be totally unreasonable. Since 1993, Taiwan has made continued efforts to join the UN, so this aspiration is not something new. The US has never given its support for UN membership for Taiwan, and there is no need to change that stance into one of outspoken opposition.

Third, if the US' opposition stems from concern over Taiwan holding a national referendum, there is even less ground for concern from that standpoint.

Referendums are an important link in Taiwan's democratization process. In addition, the threshold for initiating and approving a referendum is very high, which means that the result of such a referendum would be a product of careful public choice.

The US should not show such a lack of confidence in Taiwan's democracy and public opinion. It is not difficult to see that Washington's opposition is a result of China's reaction to Chen's announcement and pressure on Washington.

Undoubtedly, officials in Beijing have found that the shortest way to Taipei is through Washington, and US response to Chinese pressure on Taiwan shows that Washington has walked straight into an elaborate Chinese trap.

Clearly, the only result of Washington helping Beijing put pressure on Taiwan will be a deterioration of Taiwan-US relations that leaves Beijing the sole victor.

Several opinion polls conducted by Taiwan Thinktank have showed that Taiwanese have less positive feelings for the US government than they have for Japan’s; this is a growing trend possibly connected to Washington's negative attitude toward Taiwan on a series of issues such as referendums and the writing of a new constitution.

Washington must wake up to the reality that the US is losing the support and friendship of Taiwanese. In the end, we will have to face a crueler question: Who lost Taiwan?

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