Oct 01, 2004

Taiwan: Chen hints at Vote on Taiwan Sovereignty

Taiwan's President, has implied that Taiwan could hold a referendum on independence, in a statement that appears to reverse his recent softer stance towards China
Untitled Document
Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president, has implied that Taiwan could hold a referendum on independence, in a statement that appears to reverse his recent softer stance towards China.

Addressing a delegation of government officials from Mongolia yesterday, Mr Chen said: "The Republic of Mongolia has in the past successfully confirmed through a referendum the will of the people to safeguard the independence of the country. This is something Taiwan should learn from and turn to."

Although he did not mention any plan for a plebiscite, some analysts said the remarks went further than many statements during his spring re-election campaign and were a clear move to "step on China's red line".

The People's Republic of China claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island and has threatened to attack if it declares independence.

In a speech to mark today's 55th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao pledged yesterday to reunify the mainland with the island of Taiwan: "The sacred goal of complete national reunification must be achieved. It shall be achieved in the end."

Mr Chen's remarks contrast with his pledge in May that Taiwan would not touch upon sovereignty or independence in its planned constitutional reforms. They also appear to counter assurances that Taiwan had introduced last year legislation allowing nationwide referendums not in preparation for a vote on independence but to deepen democracy.

Political analysts ex-pressed surprise at Mr Chen's remarks, as the ruling Democratic Progressive party has moved towards the middle ground over the past few years.

They said the only parallel that could be drawn between Taiwanese and Mongolian history was that foreign powers had for centuries tried to exert influence over both countries.

Mongolia was ruled by the last Chinese imperial dynasty, the Qing, until 1911. The Soviet Union later controlled the country in effect for several decades until it gained full independence through its first free election in 1990. Mongolia confirmed its will to be independent from China in a plebiscite in 1945 held by the Nationalist Chinese government, which later moved to Taiwan.

Lai I-chung, director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Taiwan Thinktank, said he did not believe that Mr Chen was reversing course in cross-strait relations. But after a series of recent anti-China comments from members of his administration, other analysts questioned Mr Chen's sincerity about lowering tension.

"This sends an even worse message to China," said Andrew Yang, Secretary-General of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei. "The only explanation I can think of is that he is trying to increase support for the DPP in the December legislative election, and that he is testing China's patience."

Source: Financial Times