Will Chinese Fight Chinese?
Chen Shui-Bian is the president of Taiwan. He
was interviewed in Taipei just after the spring elections for NPQ by Los
Angeles Times columnist Jim Mann.
NPQ | What do you hope to achieve over this four-year term? Do you hope
to preserve the status quo, or do you hope for some kind of agreement
with China concerning Taiwans relationship with the Peoples
CHEN SHUI-BIAN | Before the election, I pledged to push for three
areas of normalizationcross-straits normalization, the normalization
of the economic system in Taiwan and the normalization of the democratic
The cross-straits normalization is just as important or even more important
than the economic and democratic areas, because only with peace in the
Taiwan Straits can the latter be achieved. As Taiwans leader, my
task is to protect Taiwans national security and enhance peace.
And only then can Taiwan progress in economic normalization and democratic
normalization. And only then can we put an end to the corruption and can
we reform the constitution as well make reforms in education and the judicial
system. The maintenance of peace and coexistence across the straits is
the top priority.
NPQ | Would keeping the status quo preserve peace, or does preserving
peace require some kind of agreement with China?
CHEN | The normalization of cross-straits relations is our goal and our
ideal. But we know that it requires sincerity and goodwill from both sides.
We have already made a number of goodwill gestures to the other side,
and we hope that both sides can cooperate in the interests of goodwill,
reconciliation, acts of cooperation and permanent peace.
What we mean by peace is a very firm and free, autonomous peace. We dont
want the peace that is weak or peace that comes under pressure.
In our sincerity, goodwill and responsible gestures, we have already pledged
the following: First, that we would not initiate the inclusion of state-to-state
relations into the constitution. Number two, we would not initiate a referendum
on the independence-reunification question. Three, we would not propose
a change in the national title. And unless Taiwan faces a military attack
or invasion from China, we will not declare Taiwan independence.
I would like to reiterate a very important point. And that is, although
I am a very proud member of the Democratic Progressive Party, and I hope
to continue to contribute to this party and the democratic values it represents,
as president of Taiwan or as the national leader, I am the leader not
just of the DPP but of the entire nation. And, therefore, the national
interest must come before partisan interests or individual interests.
When there is a conflict of interest between the national interest and
party interests, I must consider first the national interest.
NPQ | You have said you were willing to discuss anything with China, including
the idea of "one China." What does that mean? Would that include
some discussion of the sovereignty issue? And you have seen (Chinese President)
Jiang Zemins statement, that any discussions would have to be preconditioned
on (Taiwans) acceptance of "one China." Whats your
response to that?
CHEN | According to Chinas recent white paper, they mentioned the
point of parity or equality in the dialogue across the straits. And we
take note of that. In fact, we feel that is a very important condition
to talks. But given such a condition, China should not set other preconditions
or principles. Otherwise, it would be very difficult actually to enter
into discussions on an equal basis.
But since for the Chinese, "one China" is so important to them,
for us we feel there is more understanding necessary. Many of us in Taiwan
are not clear what exactly they mean by "one China," what the
implications are for Taiwan. And there are various interpretations of
"one China." And, therefore, we do not refuse the possibility
of discussing "one China." We are open to talking about it to
enable more understanding on this principle.
NPQ | What if China, the Peoples Republic of China, simply refuses
to talk? What if they ignore you for four years?
CHEN | I believe that as long as there is sincerity and goodwill on both
sides, cross-straits relations can be improved. We recognize that there
are many differences, but we dont expect the differences to be solved
in the short term. However, we feel that we can frst put aside the differences
and discuss areas of agreement and cooperation. And maybe once these other
areas of agreement are resolved or improved, then we would in the process
gradually overcome the differences that we have and build more trust and
consensus. This is to put aside and seek common ground, in hopes that,
gradually, we can rebuild trust and confidence.
NPQ | Do you feel prepared for some kind of military actionnot necessarily
an attack, but some kind of military response or threat from the PRC?
CHEN | I believe that across the straits, leaders of both sides want peace.
When there is a problem, then we can sit down and talk about it. We cannot
say that if one side refuses to talk, then we would beat each other up.
This is not democratic. In our democratic beliefs, in our society, it
is essential to tolerate differences. War, or threats, should not be seen
as a means of overcoming differences. The Chinese leaders have said repeatedly
that "Chinese do not fight Chinese." But if they use threats
or force against us, then wouldnt that phrase be meaningless?
NPQ | By some interpretations, the phrase "Chinese dont fight
Chinese" is a request for Taiwan to admit that its Chinese.
Does that Chinese phrase apply to the people of Taiwan?
CHEN | Another way of interpreting it is that, at least for now, China
has not given up the threat of force. As such, they dont see us
as Chinese. If China says "Chinese do not fight Chinese," then
obviously they should not threaten to fight Taiwan.
NPQ | Let me turn to the United States. What role do you see the United
States playing now with respect to Taiwan?
CHEN | Peace in the Taiwan Straits, as well as security and stability
in the Asia-Pacific region, is in the common interest of all countries,
including the United States, Taiwan, Japan and China. Therefore, President
Clintons response to the Chinese white paper, his very strong and
firm rejection of the threat to use force, his commitment to support a
peaceful resolution of the cross-straits issue, as well as (his commitment
to) the consent of the people of Taiwan in resolving the issue is welcome.
NPQ | What do you think should be done about three specific issues in
the United States? One is the pending request for military equipment,
including Aegis destroyers, for Taiwan. Second is the legislation called
the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. And the third, Permanent Normal Trade
Relations for China?
CHEN | First of all, for the maintenance of peace across the straits and
to avoid the loss of military balance across the straits, the US through
the Taiwan Relations Act has a commitment to assist in Taiwans defense.
We welcome this and we appreciate this. Second, in regards to the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act, we know that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly
supported this act, and we appreciate the bipartisan support expressed
and the bipartisan commitment to defending Taiwan. But even if this act
may not be passed by the Senate or even approved by the White House, regardless
of whether it passes, ultimately the significance is in the process of
expressing support and concern on behalf of the American people. And this
process gives us confidence that Taiwans peace is indeed in the
common interest of Taiwan and the US.
I must reiterate that the significance of this expression of support is
in the process, not the result. And of course we would welcome any effort
to enhance Taiwans security, or any legislation that would have
a positive effect on peace in the Taiwan Strait.
In Taiwan, we welcome the normalization of US-China trade relations, just
like we hope the cross-straits relations can also be normalized. We also
understand that the normalization of US-China relations contributes to
peace across the Taiwan Straits as well as the stability and security
in the Asia-Pacific region. And therefore we look forward to both the
PRCs and Taiwans accession to the WTO. Then, as such, both
sides would be abiding by international norms and regulations. If we can
both join the WTO, this would be an important step to cross-straits cooperation
in the goal of peace across the straits.
NPQ | How much effect did (Chinese Premier) Zhu Rongjis press conference
(warning Taiwans people not to vote for Chen) have?
CHEN | Overplaying the "China threat" card or the terrorizing
card, ultimately backfired. Polls showed that most Taiwanese people would
not be affected by threats, that Taiwanese people feel they are electing
their own leader, and they want to do so free of pressure and free of
threats. They dont want to have to make this decision under irrational
or terrorizing circumstances. And I feel very proud and pleased of the
maturity of the Taiwanese people.
NPQ | Sixty percent of the people did not vote for you. Do you feel that
you have a mandate in which you can represent all of Taiwan?
CHEN | First of all, what we consider democracy is that the majority must
respect the minority opinion, but the minority must accept the majority
opinion, even if it is only by one vote.
In many countries, the presidents are elected with only 20 or 30 percent
of the vote. Like President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines had 20-something
percent. Former South Korean President Roh Tae Woo only had 30-something
percent, and President Kim Dae Jung had roughly 40 percent. But this did
not affect their ability to govern. In the same way, President (John)
Kennedy defeated his opponent by only 0.1 percent of the vote, and that
was 110,000 votes, which is a very small number compared to the population
of the US. But this did not affect their ability to govern effectively.
NPQ | Have you heard indirectly or gotten any messages from China beyond
Jiang Zemins public statement?
CHEN | Well, we have gotten many direct and indirect messages. But one
thing is clear, that the leaders of mainland China are observing our words
and actions right now. This is a period of listening and watching us.
Not only are the people of Taiwan watching us. China is watching us. The
whole world is watching us. And history is also watching us. And we have
confidence that in dealing with this very sensitive and volatile issue,
we have the wisdom and creativity to improve relations.
NPQ | You have mentioned you would like to see more investment and economic
relations with China. In Beijing, people say they hope thats the
case, so that the mainland can absorb Taiwan or have it be more dependent
upon the mainland. Are you worried that that kind of dependence could
jeopardize Taiwans status?
CHEN | Some people are worried about Taiwans security. And therefore
we believe maintaining Taiwans national security is an important
condition for opening up Taiwans economic relations with China.
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