Taiwan's President-Elect Brushes Off China's Demands, Looks for Backing
April 11, 2000
By KAREN ELLIOTT HOUSE and RUSSELL FLANNERY
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Rejecting pressure to accept a dialogue on Beijing's terms, Taiwan President-elect Chen Shui-bian said he has the patience to wait for a positive reply to his overtures and expressed confidence Washington, too, will be patient and continue to support the island.
"There's a Japanese expression, 'If a cuckoo bird doesn't sing, you wait,' " Mr. Chen said. "I have the sincerity, the good will and the patience to wait for China's response."
Asked if he believes China's forbearance with Taiwan is running out, the president-elect said, "All Chinese people have patience."
Speaking with a faith reminiscent of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's unshakable conviction two decades ago that the U.S. would triumph over Soviet communism, the 49-year-old president-elect exuded confidence that Taiwan's commitment to democracy will allow it to escape the communist mainland's embrace. While politicians in Washington, Beijing and Taipei debate whether and how Mr. Chen can restart a dialogue with the mainland, Mr. Chen was sanguine that Taiwan won't face a choice between concession or conflict. "I strongly believe both sides will find a way to talk," he said.
Since winning Taiwan's presidential election on March 18, Mr. Chen has invited China's leaders to Taipei and has offered to go to the mainland in an effort to reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait. China has insisted, however, that a resumption of dialogue can take place only if Taiwan agrees to a "one China principle" that would imply the island is part of China. Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party has opposed unification of the two sides, and the president-elect has so far said "one China" can be an item on an agenda, but not a precondition for talks.
Tensions between the two sides are at one of their highest levels in the half-century since Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nationalist government to Taiwan after losing a civil war on the mainland. China's military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, on Monday derided Mr. Chen's vice president-elect, Annette Lu, as "insane and acting provocatively" for suggesting Taiwan may not be part of China. "How can the 23 million Taiwan compatriots feel at ease with a lunatic leader who will lead them into catastrophe at any moment?" asked the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.
Mr. Chen defended Ms. Lu and implied that China's attacks may have been aimed at him. "Vice President-elect Annette Lu is certainly not the only person China doesn't like, or the only person China attacks. Just because someone isn't singled out by name or attacked by China doesn't mean China likes them," he said. "The bonds, the determination and the unity between Chen Shui-bian and Annette Lu, the new leaders of Taiwan, cannot be broken by any of China's attacks."
The president-elect acknowledged that cross-strait tension is running high, but said the Taiwanese people have "learned how to survive and become accustomed to increased tension."
Mr. Chen also sought to convey that he won't be pressured by Beijing's rhetoric into making political concessions in his May 20 inaugural address, as Beijing -- and some in Taipei -- hope he will. "If you ask me on the day of my inauguration to solve the problems Lee Teng-hui couldn't solve in the past 12 years, I'm not that great. Don't have such high hopes," he said, referring to the current president.
Mr. Chen expressed confidence that the U.S. will support Taiwan's democracy and its right to adjust its relations with the mainland at its own pace despite pressure from Beijing. "Democracy is a universal value, and as long as we revere and love democracy, there will be peace and not war. We believe democracy is the key to continuity in relations between Taiwan and America."
The president-elect sought to underscore his own willingness to reach out to Beijing and voiced concern about what he regards as a lack of reciprocation by China. "What I'm worried about is that it's only Taiwan that has goodwill and only Taiwan that will compromise, and that the Chinese side, by contrast, has no sincerity or goodwill, and won't make any compromise whatsoever. This is where the problem lies." Nevertheless, he acknowledged Beijing's response since his election has been "very restrained."
Differences of Opinion
Mr. Chen said it was unreasonable to expect Taiwan to accept Beijing's demand for dialogue on the condition of a "one China principle" because even the U.S. and China don't agree on what is meant by one China. The differences of opinion in Taiwan are even wider, he said. He also said he completely agreed with remarks by U.S. President Bill Clinton in February that the China-Taiwan dispute should be resolved peacefully and that any change in the status quo must be approved by the people of Taiwan.
"The U.S. and Japan are genuine democracies, and don't dare to ignore public opinion," he said. "I believe the U.S. and Japan are clear about the voice of the Taiwan people."
Democratic reform in China itself would help improve ties between the two sides, Mr. Chen said. "A democratic Taiwan and a democratic China can bring about peace in the Taiwan Strait and can aid stability in the Asian-Pacific region."
Mr. Chen's Goodwill Message
Excerpts from the interview by Karen Elliott House, president international of Dow Jones, together with Hugo Restall and Russell Flannery, editorial page editor and Taipei correspondent respectively of The Asian Wall Street Journal.
The Asian Wall Street Journal: You've said cross-Strait relations are very important to your administration. But if the Chinese say your position is not enough, how will you respond?
Chen Shui-bian: We still believe that if both sides of the Taiwan Strait have sincerity and goodwill, then relations will certainly improve. And this sincerity and goodwill must be on both sides, not just on one side.
Everybody hopes that the problem of cross-Strait relations can be resolved peacefully, using dialogue. Of course this dialogue must be on the basis of equality. Only with equality can there be dialogue. Of course, there must be compromise on both sides. If one side is willing to compromise and the other isn't, then it will be difficult to have equality or dialogue.
When you talk about the one-China principle, what the U.S. means by "one China" and the Chinese Communists mean by "one China" are not necessarily the same. Moreover, when China puts forward the one-China principle, Taiwanese people are not clear on what it means. Even among people who say they know what it means there is disagreement. Therefore, given this lack of a common understanding of what "one China" means, making it a precondition for talks without discussing it further makes it hard to reach a consensus among Taiwanese people, and even harder to reach a consensus across the Strait.
If the one-China principle means that Taiwan is a part of the P.R.C., or that Taiwan is a province of the P.R.C., then never mind that Chen Shui-bian couldn't accept it, the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people also couldn't accept it. Therefore the principles for talks or negotiations must be founded on certain common beliefs. But at the moment there aren't any. This is why I have suggested that the one-China principle be a topic for discussion, but the outcome shouldn't be decided ahead of time, or discussion precluded.
Recently it was reported that President Jiang Zemin said the one-China principle could be changed to the one-China "foundation," and [chief negotiator] Wang Daohan also pointed out the one-China principle could become the one-China "subject." If this news proves correct, this shows China's sincerity and goodwill. Chinese people on both sides of the Strait certainly will be intelligent and creative in resolving the present difficult situation and difference of opinions.
AWSJ: If China sticks to the precondition of the one-China principle, how can it be resolved?
Mr. Chen: The white paper on the Taiwan problem which [U.S. President Bill] Clinton released in China contained a few important points, one of them being that he believes the cross-Strait problem should be resolved peacefully, and any resolution should have the consent of the Taiwanese people. This sentence of Clinton's is extremely important. Clearly, according to all the opinion polls, Taiwanese people will not accept being a province of China, or the one country, two systems formula, or becoming a second Hong Kong. If the cross-Strait problem is to be resolved with the consent of the Taiwanese people as Clinton said, then any effort to force Taiwanese people to accept the one-China principle is a very serious subject.
AWSJ: If there is no dialogue, what do you expect from China?
Mr. Chen: The American government, including President Bill Clinton, hope that the two sides of the Strait will resume dialogue. But it's very clear that if the final resolution of the cross-Strait problem requires the consent of the Taiwanese people, then there will be some conflicts between the two that must be overcome. This is why I say it will require sincerity and goodwill on both sides to find a resolution. What I'm worried about is that it's only Taiwan that has goodwill and only Taiwan that will compromise, and that the Chinese side, by contrast, has no sincerity or goodwill, and won't make any compromise whatsoever. This is where the problem lies.
But it isn't necessarily true that China doesn't have any sincerity or goodwill. In fact after the election, China's attitude was very restrained. I feel that this alone was a sign of goodwill and sincerity. There's a Japanese saying, "If a cuckoo bird doesn't sing, wait." I have the sincerity, the goodwill and the patience to wait for China's response.
AWSJ: But does China have this kind of patience?
Mr. Chen: All Chinese people have patience.
AWSJ: If there is no dialogue, and China adopts more radical measures like missile tests, what will you do?
Mr. Chen: We hope to resume dialogue immediately. We have sincerity, goodwill and a sense of responsibility to promote as quickly as possible the resumption of dialogue. We want dialogue not conflict, peace not war.
Pursuing lasting peace in the region is not only our highest goal, it is also the moral responsibility of the leadership. Similarly, regional peace and security is not only in Taiwan's interests, it is also in the interests of America, Japan and China. America and Japan are genuine democracies, and don't dare to ignore public opinion. I believe the U.S. and Japan are clear about the voice of the Taiwan people. The problem is, since the overwhelming majority of the Taiwanese people cannot accept the one-China principle, Taiwan as a province of China, or the one country, two systems formula, can America or Japan really force them to accept it? If the problem is with China and not with the Taiwanese people, should the consequences really fall on the Taiwanese people?
AWSJ: You seem very confident. Is that because of the support of America and Japan?
Mr. Chen: Democracy is a common value, and it is the key to the continuity of U.S.-Taiwan relations. If Taiwan was not democratic, America would not support Taiwan.
AWSJ: Is China demanding more of you than Lee Teng-hui?
Mr. Chen: If China wants me to resolve all the problems Lee Teng-hui was unable to resolve over the last 12 years in my May 20 inaugural speech, then that does show that China is adopting a more rigorous standard. . . . If you ask me on the day of my inauguration to solve the problems Lee Teng-hui couldn't solve in the past 12 years, I'm not that great. Don't have such high hopes.
AWSJ: Is the U.S. underestimating the instability in cross-Strait relations?
Mr. Chen: I believe that America's strategic objectives toward China are very clear, that is peace and stability. Therefore, the normalization of American-Chinese trade relations or theater missile defense are both good for regional peace and stability.
AWSJ: You seem to be like Ronald Reagan, believing that democracy will triumph in the end.
Mr. Chen: Democracy is a universal value, and as long as we revere and love democracy, there will be peace and not war. We believe democracy is the key to continuity in relations between Taiwan and America.