Washington Post



Chen Seeks To Reassure China After Election Win

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 4, 2001

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Dec. 3 -- In his first appearance since his party won Taiwan's legislative elections, President Chen Shui-bian sought to reassure China today that he remains committed to improved relations and urged Beijing to stop ignoring his government.

Chen told a group of visiting scholars that he plans no major changes in his policies toward China and he repeated an offer to open direct talks with Chinese leaders. His remarks, made two days after his Democratic Progressive Party captured the most seats in parliament for the first time, seemed intended to soothe China's Communist government, which considers Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to seize it by force if necessary.

Chinese officials have yet to comment on the election results, but the strong showing by Chen's party, which favors independence for Taiwan, seemed likely to disturb them.

"My sincere wish to improve cross-straits ties remains unchanged, as does my eagerness to see the normalization of relations and the leaders of both sides shake hands," Chen said. "The mainland authorities despised me and the new government before the elections. But after these elections, I hope they will be able to accept the choice of the Taiwanese people and seize this window of opportunity."

In an interview, Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of Taiwan's ministry-level Mainland Affairs Council, said Chen would keep his promise not to provoke Beijing by formally declaring independence. But she also said he would continue to reject Chinese demands that Taiwan agree that it is part of one China, whose sole legitimate government is in Beijing.

The Chinese government has refused to meet with Chen unless he accepts the "one China" principle. It has tried to weaken Chen by wooing his political opponents and Taiwanese businesses. Some officials in Beijing have said the government is willing to wait for him to be replaced by a leader who supports reunification. But the Democratic Progressive Party's victory may force Chinese leaders to reconsider that strategy because the election results suggest that Chen may stay in power longer and that support in Taiwan for reunification may be falling.

Despite Taiwan's deepest recession on record, Chen's party won 87 of the 225 seats in the legislature, sweeping aside the Nationalist Party, which endorses eventual reunification and ruled Taiwan for five decades before it lost the presidency to Chen last year in the island's first democratic transition of power.

Also likely to upset China is the political comeback of Chen's predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, whom Beijing detests because of his efforts to break Taiwan out of diplomatic isolation in the 1990s. Lee came out of retirement this year and formed a new political party that won 13 seats in the legislature.