So I've received a few e-mails from concerned readers recently asking about my view of the 'U.N.' referendum situation. Although there was some variation across e-mails, the main thrust of each was essentially: "Now that the U.S. has labelled the referendum a 'mistake,' will Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian go through with it? Is there a chance the Kuomintang will intervene?
The answer to those questions is unfortunately yes and no. President Chen has demonstrated before that he is willing to beat the independence drum to garner votes from the activist wing of his Democratic Progressive Party, even when such actions only wound the cross-strait relationship further. It appears that the DPP leadership will continue to embrace this tactic, as evidenced by the party platform they recently crafted for the 2008 elections.
In terms of KMT intervention, the situation is far more complex. The members of the panel charged with implementing referendum questions are apportioned according to party representation in the Legislative Yuan. Since the KMT leads a coalition that has a legislative majority, they have an procedural veto. They have already used this veto to throw out a more inflammatory referendum question about whether the nation should seek U.N. membership under the name 'Taiwan.'
The problem is that pursuing membership in international organizations, particularly those that do not require de jure sovereignty, is quite popular. KMT leaders understand that they can't not put that issue to a vote now that it has been raise by the DPP. As a result, they moved to water down the language of the referendum question. It currently reads:
Do you agree on Taiwan's using a practical and flexible name to apply for reentering the U.N. as well as joining other international organizations? In other words, do you agree on Taiwan applying for reentering the U.N. and other international organizations under the name of Republic of China, Taiwan, or any other name that would be helpful both to the U.N. bid and to maintaining Taiwan's dignity?
The only way to make that question any more confusing is to offer voters a 'GTFO' option in addition to the more traditional 'Yes' and 'No' choices.
This watered down language will temporarily inflame nationalism on the mainland, strain relations with the United States and increase the political divide between pan-Green and pan-Blue. With a bit of luck, it will only take a few months for the Taiwan situation will drift back into the equilibrium it has occupied off-and-on since 2000.
In the meantime, grey hairs will continue to proliferate at that Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs as things ramp up to the vote in March.