Offering an Olive Twig
March 7th, 2005
By George Wehrfritz and Jonathan Adams
Taiwan's outspoken leader imagines a possible peace.
March 7 issue He's a leader in search of a legacy. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, often blamed for destabilizing Asia with his fiercely independent rhetoric, now says he wants to talk peace with China. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, he offered to consider a plan to freeze the cross-strait status quo for a generation. Perhaps more remarkably, he dared to imagine a day when Taiwan and China might unify on equal terms. The catch: China must democratize first, and achieve parity in living standards. Chen spoke with NEWSWEEK's George Wehrfritz and Jonathan Adams at the Presidential Office in Taipei. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Your critics say you've contributed to cross-strait tension by being needlessly provocative. CHEN: Over the past 400 years we have experienced various rulers, including different ethnic groups, foreign governments, autocrats and colonial powers. Beijing should understand that the [anti-China] referendum and protests last year only reflect the people's love for our homeland. Some want to misrepresent such events as provocative gestures. But they have overlooked the aspirations of Taiwan's 23 million people to be the masters of their own land, and the fact that China has deployed 706 ballistic missiles, targeting us. Should Taiwan just raise a white flag and surrender?
Political leaders on Taiwan have said that they reject China's "one-country, two-systems" formula for unification. Are any aspects of it acceptable?
What did you achieve by meeting [Taiwanese opposition leader] James Soong this week?
Your joint declaration reiterated past pledges not to declare independence or abandon the name Republic of China.
China is debating a new Anti-Secession Law [that could mandate military action against Taiwan if it declared independence]. How would that impact Taiwan?
Kenneth Lieberthal, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on East Asia, suggested that Taiwan and China delay a final resolution of the island's status for a generation to avoid war. During that period, Taipei would agree not to declare independence and Beijing would agree not to use force against the island. Is that a viable option?
Can you envision a future in which Taiwan and China unify?
Lieberthal suggests setting aside sensitive cross-strait issues for 30 years. Do you have a time frame in mind?