Today's date:
Summer 2000

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 Taiwan’s relationship with the People’s Republic?

Before the election, I pledged to push for three areas of normalization—cross-straits normalization, the normalization of the economic system in Taiwan and the normalization of the democratic system.

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 Taiwan’s leader, my task is to protect Taiwan’s 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 don’t 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 Zemin’s statement, that any discussions would have to be preconditioned on (Taiwan’s) acceptance of "one China." What’s your response to that?

CHEN | According to China’s 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 People’s 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 don’t 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 action—not 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 wouldn’t that phrase be meaningless?

NPQ | By some interpretations, the phrase "Chinese don’t fight Chinese" is a request for Taiwan to admit that it’s 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 don’t 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 Clinton’s 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 Taiwan’s 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 Taiwan’s 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 Taiwan’s 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 PRC’s and Taiwan’s 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 Rongji’s press conference (warning Taiwan’s 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 don’t 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 Zemin’s 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 that’s 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 Taiwan’s status?

CHEN | Some people are worried about Taiwan’s security. And therefore we believe maintaining Taiwan’s national security is an important condition for opening up Taiwan’s economic relations with China.

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