TAIPEI – President Chen Shui-bian, dismissing U.S. objections as appeasement of China, said Taiwan will press ahead with a controversial referendum on whether the self-ruled island should apply for U.N. membership under the name Taiwan.
Chen’s defiant stand, outlined in frank language during an interview Friday, raised the prospect of a rocky period in Taiwan’s relations with the Bush administration and a rise of tension across the volatile 100-mile-wide strait separating Taiwan from mainland China.
China and the United States have complained that the referendum, which would have little practical effect, in fact is designed to promote a change in the island’s official name, from Republic of China to Taiwan. This, both governments charged, could be read as a unilateral change in the island’s status, something China’s rulers have said they will not tolerate.
The island has been called the Republic of China since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces fled here after being defeated by the Communists of Mao Zedong in 1949. China has said it must one day reunite with the mainland and has vowed to use force if necessary to prevent a decisive move toward independence – such as changing the official name to Taiwan.
But Chen, an ardent independence advocate who is nearing the end of his presidential term, said the idea of such a referendum has been endorsed by the main opposition group, the Nationalist Party.
Although the plan still faces legal challenges, the government has said it will be held at the same time as the election to choose Chen’s successor, scheduled for March 22.