UN assembly rebuffs fresh Taiwan membership bid

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 (Reuters) The United Nations rebuffed today what appeared to be Taiwan's final attempt of the year to have its long-standing quest for membership considered by the General Assembly.

The island's few allies in the world body raised the issue at an agenda-setting session of the full assembly, despite a recommendation on Wednesday by a key committee that the matter should not be put on the schedule.

Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations in 1971 in favor of China. Its latest bid to gain re-entry foundered after an overwhelming majority of member countries spoke against it in an argument that lasted most of the day.

''May I take it that it is the wish of the General Assembly to approve the recommendation of the General Committee not to include item 165 of the draft agenda in the agenda of the current session?'' asked assembly president Srgjan Kerim.

''It is so decided,'' he ruled after silence greeted his question. The assembly began a new annual session on Tuesday.

Taiwan's repeated membership bids have now failed for 15 straight years. But it had launched a high-profile campaign this year, applying for the first time under the name ''Taiwan'' instead of the island's formal title, ''Republic of China''.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian also has scheduled a referendum for March on the U.N. membership drive, a move that has displeased Washington, which fears it will increase tension between Taiwan and China.

At issue is whether Taiwan is part of China or not. Beijing says it is and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence. UN membership could be considered a move toward independence.

Sixteen of the 24 countries that recognize Taiwan -- mainly small Caribbean and Pacific islands, plus a few African states -- sought on Friday to reverse the General Committee's recommendation. But with 170 UN members backing China their bid was doomed to failure.

Supporters of Taiwan said the island's 23 million people had a right to U.N. representation and denounced as illegal the rejection in July by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office of a letter of application from Taiwan as ''unreceivable''.

But most speakers agreed with Russian delegate Igor Shcherbak that Taiwan was not a separate country and Beijing should hold China's seat. ''There is only one China and the island of Taiwan is an integral part of it,'' he said.

Beijing's backers said the issue had been settled once and for all by a 1971 General Assembly resolution that expelled Taiwan from the United Nations and awarded its seat to the People's Republic.

Mainland China and Taiwan have faced off since Nationalist forces lost to the Communists and fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.

REUTERS AK PM0405

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