In an apparent attempt to justify his controversial proposal to scrap Taiwan's National Unification Council, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has put the blame for the move on his opposition rival, Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou. 'Ma recently clearly indicated in an interview with foreign news media that unification is the final goal of his party,' Mr Chen told a group of Taiwanese businessmen at the Presidential Office yesterday. 'Most people, including myself, are unable to accept such an eventual unification theory.' It was his first public remark on the controversy since the US voiced its concern over his proposal. In a January 29 Lunar New Year statement, Mr Chen said it was time to consider scrapping the council, set up in 1990 to leave open the possibility for cross-strait unification and keep Beijing from using force to retake the island. In his statement, he also said his government was pushing for the island to join the UN under the name 'Taiwan' and crafting a new constitution. The remarks were seen by the US as an attempt to change the cross-strait status quo, contradicting promises Mr Chen made since taking office in 2000. Yesterday, Mr Chen said only the 23 million people of Taiwan could decide the future of the island. 'Any preset stand on cross-strait unification is a restriction of the freedom and rights of Taiwanese people to make their own choice,' he said. Speaking in London, Mr Ma said eventual unification was one of the KMT's options, but that it would only be achieved when the mainland evolved into a country of freedom, democracy and prosperity, and the majority of people in Taiwan opted for unification. 'President Chen always thinks that what we propose should not be an option. As long as some people support it, it is an option,' the Taipei-based Central News Agency quoted Mr Ma as saying. Opinion polls have shown that the majority of people in Taiwan back the status quo, with some supporting independence and others unification. Mr Ma said Taiwan could choose to maintain the status quo and wait until conditions were ripe to decide its future status. An opinion poll conducted by news channel ERA yesterday showed that 52.4 per cent of Taiwanese voters saw no need to scrap the council, as opposed to the 21.1 per cent who favoured its abolition. It also found that 41.8 per cent of respondents blamed Mr Chen for increased cross-strait tension, compared to 14.3 per cent who blamed President Hu Jintao .