Taipei : Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, in his latest bid to tell the world that Taiwan is not part of China and deserves UN membership, led a torch relay Wednesday.
“Joining UN is the common aspiration of the 23 million Taiwan people,” Chen said before kicking off the torch relay from the presidential office in Taipei.
“This torch relay is to show our condemnation against China’s using the 2008 Beijing Olympics to downgrade and belittle Taiwan’s status,” he added.
Chen, wearing a white T-shirt and holding the flaming torch, ran a few hundred metres before handing the torch to another official.
Taiwan recently declared Oct 24 UN Day a national holiday in honour of the UN Charter being signed on Oct 24, 1945.
Holding Wednesday’s torch relay is meant to counter the 1,200 km Olympic torch relay that will take 11 days, passing through 25 cities and counties, as well as a warm-up for a referendum on Taiwan joining the UN to be held on March 22, 2008.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 when the Republic of China (ROC) government lost the Chinese Civil War to the Communists and fled to Taiwan to set up its government-in-exile.
The ROC government continued to hold China’s seat in the UN until 1971 when the UN expelled Taipei to accept Beijing as the legitimate government of China.
Taiwan launched an international campaign to join the UN in 1993 but has failed each year due to opposition from China, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who have veto power.
In an attempt to improve its chances of joining the UN, Chen’s government submitted an application to join the UN as a new member called Taiwan.
The move has triggered sharp reaction from China because Beijing sees Taiwan’s applying to join the UN under the name of “Taiwan” instead of its formal title “ROC” as a step towards changing its name to pave the way for formal separation from China.
China sees Taiwan as its breakaway province awaiting reunification with the mainland and has warned Taiwan that Beijing will use force if Taipei declares independence or indefinitely delays unification talks with Beijing.