Reuters News Report


Newly-appointed FM Mark Chen hopes to "pierce" China's diplomatic block

April 12, 2004

Reuters News report

TAIPEI - Taiwan's newly appointed foreign minister, Mark Chen, who lived in exile in the United States for nearly 30 years due to his fierce pro-independence stance, aims to "break through" diplomatic shackles imposed by arch-foe China.

Chen said Taiwan will renew efforts to join the global organisations that the People's Republic of China (PRC) bars it from but acknowledges pressure from Beijing is unlikely to abate.

China views self-governing Taiwan as a rebel province that must be reunited, by force if necessary. Beijing uses its growing political clout to isolate Taipei internationally and only 26 countries have diplomatic ties with the island.

"I don't think the PRC is going to change its attitude or its diplomatic pressure against Taiwan, no matter what we do here," Chen, 68, told Reuters on Sunday after he was formally appointed foreign minister by Premier Yu Shyi-kun.

"I don't want to just survive. We want to really penetrate the hurdle or the bottleneck."

It was not immediately known how the choice of Chen as foreign minister would be viewed by Beijing or Washington. The U.S. recognises China but remains Taiwan's main arms supplier.

Chen went to the United States for a master's degree in 1964 and joined the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), a group of mostly Taiwanese-American intellectuals who advocated Taiwan independence from China.

He was blacklisted by the then authoritarian Nationalist government and prevented from returning to Taiwan until after democratic reforms in the 1980s.

Chen became a lawmaker for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 1993 and was a popular mayor of the southern county of Tainan -- birthplace of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian -- for seven years.

He was appointed foreign minister after predecessor Eugene Chien quit last week in the fallout surrounding the resignation of Washington's top diplomat for Taiwan affairs, Therese Shaheen, who was perceived to be too pro-Taiwan.

People familiar with Shaheen's departure said she had had repeated clashes with a White House trying to maintain a delicate balance between its ties with Beijing and Taipei.

China views President Chen with deep suspicion as the newly re-elected leader advocates an identity for the island that is separate from the mainland.

The president held Taiwan's first referendum last month, a move Beijing viewed as a pre-cursor to a vote on independence and threatened war. Washington feared the ballot would destabilise the Taiwan Strait and issued a blunt warning to the president.

"I think maintaining a good relationship between Taiwan and the United States is a pivotal thing for the security of Taiwan," said the new minister, who spent 29 years in the United States.

He declined to comment specifically on the status of Taipei-U.S. relations, postponing questions to after he takes office on Wednesday or Thursday.

"As soon as I am in the office, I will do every possible way to repair or to patch or to amend this," he said, referring to U.S.-Taiwan ties.

Chen said Taiwan has to forge better international ties and saw improved chances of winning observer status at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the World Health Organisation, after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

"Last year, when SARS occurred, because Taiwan was not a member of WHA, we had some unnecessary sacrifices and that shouldn't be the case. So we are hopeful," he said.