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US Opposes Proposed Vote on Taiwan UN Membership

The United States Tuesday said it opposes a plan by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to hold a referendum on whether the island should seek membership in the United Nations. China has lashed out against the proposal by the independence-minded Taiwanese leader. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is urging President Chen to "exercise leadership" by withdrawing the idea of the referendum, which it says would serve no purpose other than to increase tensions with China.

President Chen, whose pro-independence moves have frequently drawn U.S. criticism, is backing a plan for a referendum on the idea of the island joining the United Nations under the name Taiwan. The referendum would be held alongside Taiwan's presidential election scheduled for March of next year.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States supports Taiwan's inclusion, as appropriate, in international bodies that do not require statehood for membership.

But he said consistent with the one-China policy the United States has maintained since switching recognition from Taiwan to the mainland in 1979, it does not support its membership in organizations that do require statehood including the United Nations

"The United States opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally," said McCormack. "This would include a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations under the name Taiwan."

"While such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's U.N. 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," he continued.

McCormack said the referendum idea appears to run counter to President Chen's repeated commitments to President Bush and the international community not to upset the status quo in the region.

The Chinese government last week lashed out against the referendum plan, calling it a move to incite conflict and an attempt by President Chen to gain de jure independence for the island, which China considers a renegade province.

A Taiwanese spokesman said Tuesday the referendum would go forward despite the criticism, saying the proposed vote is supported by a majority of Taiwanese and does not violate any commitments by President Chen.

Spokesman McCormack said he expects the issue to be raised by the Chinese side at a two-day U.S.-China "senior dialogue" beginning here Wednesday, led by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo.

The meeting is otherwise expected to be dominated by discussion of U.S.-China bilateral relations and global issues, including efforts to curb the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran and the situation in Darfur.

The United States and Taiwan maintain unofficial relations through nominally private institutions in their respective capitals under terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, approved by Congress at the time of the recognition shift in 1979.

That measure also says the United States would consider any non-peaceful attempt to determine Taiwan's future as a matter of grave concern, and authorizes sales of U.S. defensive weapons to the island.

Late last week, the Taiwanese parliament approved a government budget that featured a 25 percent increase in defense spending, including the purchase of 12 U.S.-built P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, and an upgrade of existing U.S. Patriot air defense missile batteries.

Though Taiwan will be purchasing only a fraction of an $18 billion arms package proposed by the Bush administration in 2001, the State Department applauded the defense increase.

A spokeswoman here said Taiwan's decision, in the face of a sustained Chinese military buildup, is a deterrent to the use of force, and an incentive for Beijing to pursue dialogue with Taiwan.