France opposes Taiwan referendum - Sarkozy

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BEIJING, Nov 26 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his Chinese counterpart today that France opposes Taiwan's contentious plan to hold a referendum on UN membership next year, a comment apparently intended to placate China.

A diplomatically isolated but increasingly assertive Taiwan plans to go ahead with the referendum on whether to seek to rejoin the world body despite repeated warnings from the United States and China.

''It is important to promote dialogue, cooperation and stability in the region,'' Sarkozy said in a speech in the presence of Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.

''France therefore firmly opposes the proposal to hold a referendum on joining the United Nations under the name of Taiwan.

It is not a useful initiative. It is therefore regrettable and I hope it will not be pursued''.

Sarkozy earlier made similar remarks to Hu at the opening of bilateral talks.

He also said that he had taken note of Hu's offer in a speech last month to the Communist Party Congress to enter into negotiations with Taiwan to reach a peace agreement.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since their split in 1949 when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and drove Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Nationalists to the island.

The Nationalist government, still formally styled the Republic of China, held China's UN seat until 1971 when the world body switched recognition to Beijing. It has failed in successive re-entry bids over the past 15 years.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Taiwan's bid is doomed because China has veto power on the UN Security Council.

But political analysts say China sees passage of the referendum as tantamount to a declaration of independence. China has long threatened to attack the self-ruled democratic island if it formally declares statehood.

Hu told US President George W Bush in September the next two years would be a period of ''high danger'' in the Taiwan Strait, which many see as one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

''As far as France is concerned there is only one China and Taiwan is an integral part of Chinese territory. France does not support the independence of Taiwan,'' Sarkozy said, describing Taiwan's status as part of ''the turn of historical events''.

But Sarkozy said the issue should be resolved by negotiation. Any unilateral initiative would be a ''serious mistake'', he said.

REUTERS PD BD1625

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