Financial Times

Former Taiwan President hails independence opportunity

By Kathrin Hille in Taipei
Published: August 9 2004

Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's former president, has suggested the island faces an opportunity to press for independence over the next three years, claiming China would be too preoccupied with internal problems until 2007 to stop it.

Mr Lee's comments at the party congress of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), an ally in President Chen's "Green coalition", on Saturday indicate that cross-Strait tension could rise as Taiwan's distinct identity and its independence take centre stage in the island's legislative election campaign.

President Chen Shui-bian, whom Beijing has accused of "sneaking towards independence" for his plan of giving the island a new constitution, reverted to a more conciliatory tone towards China when he started his second term in May. He has said the constitution should not touch upon independence.

But the TSU plans to campaign on a platform demanding a new constitution, including a change of the country's name from Republic of China to Taiwan.

The former president said the party stood a good chance of increasing its number of legislative seats from 12 to 50 over the next three years because China would be preoccupied with economic problems and internal power struggles until 2007. "By that time, China will not have time to cope with Taiwan. Taiwan is therefore on the verge of advancing its goal, whatever it will be," Mr Lee said.

Taiwan is set to elect a new parliament on December 11. Mr Chen's government hopes to win a legislative majority for the first time. But observers say Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive party is unlikely to win more than 50 per cent of the vote and the president would have to rely on the TSU for a majority.

Beijing has released a series of tough statements since Mr Chen's re-election, warning that cross-Strait relations are "on the brink of danger".