Taiwan church leaders disappointed at failure of UN referendum

By Ecumenical News International
March 28, 2008

The Anglican Bishop of Taiwan and one of his senior priests say they are saddened by the failure of the electorate on the island to pass two referendums asking whether Taiwan should enter the United Nations - writes Francis Wong.

One referendum sought to have the island seek UN membership under its own name of Taiwan and the other would have sought to apply to the United Nations under its official name, the Republic of China.

Noting that low turnouts sank the two referendums asking voters to decide if the island should join the United Nations, Anglican Bishop David Lai said that "the result cannot represent [the will of] the people".

"We would like to be part of the UN," Bishop Lai told Ecumenical News International on 25 March in a telephone interview. "We feel sad and sorry for the referendum results. Taiwan makes a contribution to the United Nations and to the world."

Taiwan's Central Election Commission announced that the referendum on joining the UN under the name of Taiwan received 5.8 million valid votes from 35.82 percent of the electorate. The referendum on joining as the Republic of China received 5. 7 million votes from 35.74 percent of the eligible electorate. To be valid, a referendum has to be voted on by at least half of the eligible voters; and a simple majority passes it.

"Neither of the referendums was valid," said a spokesperson for the CEC, which holds and supervises elections as well as referendums. The one referendum was sponsored by the ruling party and the other by the opposition party. Either if passed would have backed Taiwan trying to rejoin the United Nations.

For its part the Beijing government of the People's Republic of China welcomed the failure of the referendums in Taiwan.

The referendum voting was held on the same day as Taiwan's presidential election, which was won by the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, who sought closer economic ties and negotiations with China. The referendum of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party stated that the island should join the UN under the name of Taiwan, while that proposed by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) stated that the island should join the UN under the name of the Republic of China.

Bishop Lai, who will attend the Lambeth Conference in England this summer, said he would raise the issue at proposed gathering of the 77 million strong Anglican Communion. "I will not raise the issue at any public occasion, but I will raise it during those talks," the leader of the 6000-member Taiwan Episcopal Church said.

Taiwanese Anglican priest, the Rev. Samuel Lin Ying Chiu, dean of Taipei's Anglican cathedral, and a member of the general committee of the Christian Conference of Asia, a regional umbrella organization, shared the bishop's disappointment about the outcome of the referendum vote.

"Taiwan is an active player in the international community. What we want is a fair treatment for the churches in Taiwan and for those in China," Lin told ENI.

But both the bishop and the dean welcomed the vote in the general election that swept the Kuomintang back into power after being in opposition from 2000. "Compared with the window dressing democracy in mainland China, Taiwan has entered a mature stage of party politics. It's a good model for many Asian countries," said Bishop Lai.

Taiwan had been a member of the United Nations as the Republic of China from 1949, when the Kuomintang lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan. The UN expelled Taiwan in 1971 and accepted in its place the People's Republic of China.

The communist-ruled People's Republic became a member of the UN Security Council alongside the four other major victorious allied countries from the Second World War: Britain, France, the then Soviet Union and the United States. Taiwan's past applications for reinstatement to the UN have been rejected.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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