Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has, once again, shamefully opted to exploit the separatist sentiments of a segment of the island's population for electoral purposes. At the weekend, he led rallies calling for a seat on the United Nations for Taiwan. Mr Chen well knows that his actions will infuriate the mainland and prompt criticism from the island's ally, the United States. He is banking on the possibility that strident criticism from Beijing and Washington will help galvanise support for his Democratic Progressive Party for the presidential polls next March. For the sake of victory, he is prepared to push the island to the brink. But there is no chance of the island winning a UN seat. China, with the power of veto at the UN, has already made its position known in no uncertain terms; such a move is tantamount to declaring independence, and the consequences, though unspecified, could lie in the military forces massed on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. Most UN members have diplomatic ties with Beijing and have no intention of harming the relationship by supporting a seat for Taiwan. Mr Chen has promised a referendum on the same day as the presidential election. Under the circumstances, the opposition Kuomintang has no choice but to go along with it. In a clear attempt to distinguish its bid from the DPP's, however, the KMT is seeking the island's return to the UN as Republic of China. The large turnout at the rallies led by its leading presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, showed that many Taiwanese regard themselves as Chinese and adhere to the principle of 'one China'. In any event, the result of such a referendum would be purely academic: Taipei will not win back the UN seat it lost to Beijing in 1971; nor will it have any notable support to break away from China. Taiwan is a de facto independent political entity. Any change of its status without Beijing's endorsement will result in uncertainty, affect the island's prosperity and threaten regional security. Until a peaceful resolution of the mainland-Taiwan divide can be reached, it is in everyone's interest that the existing state of affairs is maintained.