Taiwan Chief Seeks More Arms, Not Better Ties to China
|By Keith Bradsher
Published: January 02, 2006
HONG KONG, Jan. 1 - President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan called Sunday for increased arms purchases and warned against greater economic ties to mainland China, in a televised speech that silenced months of speculation that he might soon seek to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait.
The speech was Mr. Chen's first major policy address since his Democratic Progressive Party fared badly in islandwide municipal elections on Dec. 3. His party favors greater political independence from the mainland.
The Nationalist Party, which favors closer relations with Beijing, did much better in those elections. The Nationalists have been riding a surge in popularity since the departing chairman, Lien Chan, visited the mainland in late April. He retired last summer.
But Mr. Chen made clear on Sunday in his annual New Year's Day address that Taiwanese policy had not changed fundamentally. He used several politically charged phrases that appeal to independence advocates in Taiwan but are likely to offend mainland China. He also urged the legislature to approve his long-stalled plans to buy more weapons from the United States and raised again the possibility of a referendum to rewrite the Constitution, two steps strongly opposed by mainland China.
He was particularly emphatic in warning of the risk posed by the rapid modernization of the People's Liberation Army on the mainland, especially its heavy investments in missiles that can reach Taiwan. "In the face of such imminent and obvious threat, Taiwan must not rest its faith on chance or harbor any illusions," he said.
Beijing had no immediate reaction. Wang Daohan, China's chief negotiator on Taiwan issues for many years, died Dec. 24 at 90, and political analysts have said that his death may make the mainland less likely to change policies toward the island soon.
Philip Yang, the director of the Taiwan Security Research Center at National Taiwan University, said Mr. Chen's speech seemed to emphasize shoring up support from hard-line supporters of independence. The Constitution bars the president from seeking a third term when his current term expires in 2008, and there have been growing signs of challenges to what used to be the president's nearly absolute control over the Democratic Progressive Party.
"He tried to prove he is still in control," Mr. Yang said.
The president referred as many as 70 times to the island as Taiwan instead of its legal name, the Republic of China, even though Jan. 1 has long been a public holiday in Taiwan to commemorate the founding of the Republic of China on Jan. 1, 1912. The Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, defeated on the mainland, retreated to Taiwan in 1949.
The island's Constitution still states that the Republic of China has jurisdiction over all of China, including the mainland, but President Chen has shifted away from this in his own comments for years. He also said in his speech on Sunday that his country had an area of just about 14,000 square miles, which is only the area of the island itself.
Mainland China considers Taiwan a breakaway province.
Lai I-chung, the international affairs director at the Taiwan Thinktank, a research group in Taipei that is independent of the Democratic Progressive Party but politically aligned with it, said President Chen's hard line showed that he had concluded that his party's internal divisions contributed more to its defeat in the municipal elections than the Nationalist Party's overtures to Beijing.
One common worry in Taiwan involves growing economic dependence on the mainland and the extent to which the mainland economy now dwarfs Taiwan's. China's economy is expanding more than twice as fast as Taiwan's and is now six times the size of Taiwan's.
On Dec. 20, statisticians in Beijing raised their estimate of the size of the Chinese economy by an amount equal to the entire annual output of Taiwan, after an economic census found that small private businesses in service industries, like restaurants, had previously been undercounted.
Mr. Chen said Sunday that more than two-fifths of all orders placed with Taiwanese companies for manufactured goods were filled by factories elsewhere. The mainland accounts for 90 percent of these shipments from factories outside Taiwan, he said.
"Although we cannot turn a blind eye to China's market, we should not view the China market as the only or the last market," Mr. Chen said. "Globalization is not tantamount to China-ization. While Taiwan would never close itself off to the world, we also shall not lock in our economic lifeline and all our bargaining chips in China."