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U.S. official calls Taiwan's U.N. membership referendum "a mistake"

U.S. official calls Taiwan's U.N. membership referendum "a mistake"

A senior U.S. official has warned Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian that his push for holding a referendum on Taiwan's U.N. membership was "a mistake" that could provoke the island's longtime rival China.
"We oppose the notion of that kind of a referendum because we see that as a step towards ... a declaration of independence of Taiwan, towards an alteration of the status quo," Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John Negroponte said Monday.
The remarks, made in an interview with the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, were the harshest from a U.S. official since Chen expressed the wish early this year to hold an islandwide referendum on the government bid to rejoin the United Nations.
Over the weekend, Chen defiantly rejected any U.S. intervention in the referendum move during a trip to Central America.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. China continues to claim the self-governing island as part of its territory, and has threatened to use force if Taiwan moves to formalize its de facto independence.
Taiwan was expelled from the U.N. in 1971 when the seat it held under the name of Republic of China was transferred to the Beijing-based government of People's Republic of China.
Taiwan has made annual attempts to rejoin the U.N. since 1993. The island is using its name of Taiwan for the first time for its membership application this year.
Washington has repeatedly warned Taiwan against making unilateral moves to change the fragile status quo in the Taiwan Strait, fearing a war with China could soon involve the U.S.
"We consider (the Taiwan referendum) to be a mistake," Negronponte said. "This is a time for the authorities in Taiwan to behave in a responsible manner ... not disturbing the situation across the Taiwan Strait."