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    Rice Calls Taiwan's UN Referendum 'Provocative'

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday criticized plans by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to hold a referendum on U.N. membership for the island under the name Taiwan. Rice called the planned vote in March provocative. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Departnment.

    Rice used an opening statement at a yearend news conference to deliver the strongest U.S. criticism to date of the referendum plans by Mr. Chen.

    The Taiwanese leader intends to hold the referendum in March alongside presidential elections, ignoring repeated criticism by the United States and warnings from China.

    Rice said the United States remains committed to peace and security in the Taiwan Strait and opposes any threats of the use force or unilateral moves by either side to change the status-quo.

    She said the United States has a one-China policy and does not support Taiwan independence:

    "As we have stated in recent months, we think that Taiwan's referendum to apply to the United Nations under the name Taiwan is a provocative policy," she said.  "It unnecessarily raises tensions in the Taiwan strait, and it promises no real benefits for the people of Taiwan on the international stage.  That is why we oppose this referendum."

    Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said in August the referendum plan was a cause of great concern for the United States because it is seen by Washington as a step towards an independence declaration for Taiwan and an alteration of the status-quo.

    Anticipating the new U.S. statement by Rice, Taiwanese foreign minister James Huang said this week it was regrettable that the planned vote was being demonized as an independence step, and said the United States should trust in the wisdom of the Taiwanese people in holding the referendum.

    Several key conservatives in the U.S. Congress have expressed support for the referendum.

    The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the communist mainland in 1979, but maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan through nominally-private institutes in Washington and Taipei.

    In his August remarks, to the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, Negroponte said the United States is very committed to the defense of Taiwan under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act of the U.S. Congress, which provides for sales of American defensive weapons to the island.

    China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province, and has not ruled out the use of force in dealing with the issue.

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