Taiwan watches Kosovo's independence, but won't follow suit

( dpa )- Taiwan was closely watching Kosovo's expected declaration of independence on Sunday, but although the island will congratulate the breakaway Serbian province on its move, analysts do not see a corresponding change in Taipei's dealings with China.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry has drafted a statement to congratulate Kosovo on independence and to reiterate Taipei's support for the United Nations' principle of respecting sovereign state's right for self determination.

Taiwan has long sought to gain membership in the UN without success. The island, officially known as the Republic of China, and the communist People's Republic of China split at the end of a civil war in 1949. Taiwan lost its UN seat in 1971, and today all but 23 small nations recognize only Beijing.

Taiwan separatists see Kosovo's move toward independence as proof that their own struggle for self-determination will eventually win.

"It is Kosovo people's basic right to decide their future. The UN should support Kosovo and accept it as a member. If the UN refuses to accept Kosovo due to opposition from Russia, then it violates its founding principle - the right of equal participation and self- determination," said Luo Jung-kuang, secretary-general of The Taiwan United Nations Alliance.

He said the UN should not exclude any sovereign nation, including Taiwan, as a matter of justice.

Luo is pinning his hopes on a March 22 referendum on Taiwan's joining the UN.

But Taipei's attempt to re-enter the global body as Taiwan is seen by Beijing as an attempt to change the status quo between the two sides, and the United States worries it could spark a cross-strait conflict.

"The UN referendum is Taiwan's first step towards independence. Taiwan people must let the world hear their voice through the referendum," Luo said.

China regards Taiwan as China's breakaway province awaiting unification with the motherland, and has threatened to recover Taiwan by force if Taipei declares independence or indefinitely delays unification talks with Beijing.

The island off the coast of China has had a tenuous relationship with the mainland throughout its history, and tensions grew after 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War.

For survival, Taiwan must avoid offending China while seeking international recognition. Taiwan's UN bid, which began in 1993, has failed each year amid objections from China, which holds veto power on the UN Security Council.

Lin Chung-pin, a China expert at the Tamkang University, said Kosovo's example is only partially applicable to Taiwan since the two countries' situations are so different.

China is a much greater force than Serbia, which has a population five times that of Kosovo and territory eight times larger. China's population is 56 times that of Taiwan, and its territory 225 times that of the island.

Fearing attack from China, 70 per cent of Taiwanese prefer the island to maintain its status quo, while only about 10 per cent want immediate independence or unification with China.

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