At the time of this writing _ the beginning of July 2000 -- President Chen and his new administration had been in office for slightly over a month. The general consensus was that the transition from President Lee Teng-hui and the Kuomintang to Chen Shui-bian and the DPP had taken place with only minor hitches. Below, we focus on four major issues/events during this period.
Mr. Chen's inauguration speech on 21 May 2000, was awaited with great anxiety around the world because of China's insistence that he accept their "One China" concept. As it was, Mr. Chen's speech focussed largely on domestic issues, in particular on the need to strengthen Taiwan's democracy and root out corruption. Mr. Chen identified vote-buying and "black gold" as his "top-most" priority. Governmental restructuring and efficiency, judicial reform, quality of life and educational and cultural development all received ample attention.
An important symbol was the title of the speech: Taiwan stands up, a subtle reference to Mao Tse-tung's speech at the establishment of the PRC on 1 October 1949, when Mr. Mao stated "China stands up." President Chen emphasized:
Taiwan stands up, demonstrating a firmness of purpose and faith in democracy.
Taiwan stands up, representing the self-confidence of the people and the dignity of the country.
Taiwan stands up, symbolizing the quest for hope and the realization of its dreams.
However, the international media, focused almost entirely on the cross-strait dimension, combing the last few paragraphs of the speech for clues as to how well Chen can handle the pressure from China.
Mr. Chen handled the issue skillfully, when he referred to the question of a future "one China," emphasizing that "one China" is a topic that Taiwan is willing to discuss in talks, but not a precondition for talks. Standing firmly on the strength of Taiwan public opinion, he did not give in to China's demands for a concession on this point of principle, but continued to leave the door open for genuine talks.
While many of Mr. Chen's supporters were disappointed that he felt the need to mention the so-called "five no's" in his speech, Mr. Chen added an important qualifier: "as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan." Thus, unless China renounces the use of force, he reserves the right to take any of the five steps named. The text of Mr. Chen's statement:
Therefore, as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called "state-to-state" description in the Constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regards to the question of independence or unification. Furthermore, the abolition of the National Reunification Council or the National Reunification Guidelines will not be an issue.
In the closing part of his speech, Mr. Chen referred to another important symbol, Taiwan's historical name "Formosa", and the fact that the island has its own 400-year of recorded history, instead of perpetuation the fiction that it is part of China's 5000-year history. President Chen:
Dear countrymen, 400 years ago, Taiwan was called "Formosa" the beautiful island for its lustrous landscape. Today, Taiwan is manifesting the elegance of a democratic island, once again attracting global attention, as the people on this land create a new page in our history.
The full text of President Chen's speech can be found on the web-site of the Taipei Times at http://www.taipeitimes.com/news/2000/05/21/print/0000036938
On 20 June 2000, President Chen's held his first press conference. Standing on the grass lawn of the government's Taipei Guest House, the President made a 40-minute speech and then answered questions from representatives of local and worldwide media. The full text of the speech and the Q&A can be found on the website of the Presidential Office at http://www.oop.gov.tw/english2000/index.htm
Inspired by the mid-June 2000 meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea, President Chen Shui-bian appealed to Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to engage in a similar "historic handshake," as the two Kims had done. "We, Jiang and I, could sit down and shake hands in a spirit of reconciliation anywhere, on any lines, but without preconditions," Chen said. "That is the common wish of all people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait."
Chen told reporters that he had hung a picture in his study of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shaking hands during their meeting last week in Pyongyang. "The Koreans have made a historic stride forward," Chen said, "we can also make changes and create history. I believe we will bring the same wisdom and imagination to bear on what may seem to be a similar mission impossible." However, on the next day, his overture was rejected by Beijing.
Chen also reaffirmed that he expected the US to play a more active role in improving cross-strait relations. He went on to praise President Bill Clinton for reminding Beijing of the need to solve problems that exist between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait peacefully, as well as to respect the democratically expressed will of the 23 million people of Taiwan. He said: "For the first time, this year President Clinton has added an important fourth pillar to US policy, namely that the issues should be resolved with the consent of the people of Taiwan."
Chen stated that he appreciated that President Clinton warned Beijing against using military force and urged China to respect Taiwan's right to self-determination, adding, "that is how the US can play an active role."
On 30 June 2000, President Chen reiterated his rejection of the "One China" concept on Beijing's terms, and vowed to defend Taiwan's dignity and sovereignty. In a meeting with Mr. William J. Flynn, chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, President Chen said: "From Beijing's view, One China refers to the PRC, and that Taiwan is part of it. This is not acceptable to the Taiwanese people."
The move came after Mr. Chen caused quite a bit of confusion a few days earlier, on 27 June 2000, when he stated during a meeting with Mr. William Fuller of the Asia Foundation, that he was willing to accept the 1992 "One China, each his own interpretation" agreement between the KMT and the Communist rulers in Beijing. Mr. Chen added that "1992" allowed the sides to go forward with talks, while agreeing to disagree on the definition of "One China."
The international press pulled the June 27th statement out of context, and implied that Mr. Chen had "accepted" the One China concept. The Washington Post had the erroneous headline "Taiwan leader backs `One China' idea" on its front page, while the International Herald Tribune mistakenly stated that Mr. Chen had accepted the "One China" principle.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: This episode of course should be a lesson that it would be wise for officials in Taiwan to say less about this issue for the time being. Mr. Chen and his new administration have made all the friendly gestures possible, and now should sit back and wait for China to reciprocate.
As the Taipei Times said in an excellent editorial on June 29th, the 1992 "One China, respective interpretations" notion is a useless fig-leaf, and that going back to that idea would be a major step backwards.
Taiwan should thus wait for China to make some goodwill gestures such as dismantling the more than 200 missiles aimed at Taiwan, or stating that they will work towards a peaceful solution instead of threatening with war all the time and avoid looking too eager to make any further opening towards China.
For instance, business leaders and Kaohsiung mayor Hsieh Chang-t'ing should look for business opportunities and strengthening ties with democratic countries in the West instead of being so pre-occupied with China.
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