Apr 01, 2004

Taiwan: BBC interview's Taiwans President Chen Shui-bian

President Chen Shui-ban speaks on long-term peace plans, security and the future of Taiwan.
30 march Mr Chen gave his first broadcast interview since he was re-elected
The following are excerpts from an interview given to the BBC by Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian. Mr Chen spoke in mandarin Chinese, and the translation was provided by Taiwan's Government Information Office.

BBC: In your victory speech you said that this was the start of a new era in relations with China and yet, already with the political uncertainty over the last few days, we have seen China threatening to intervene if this continues. It's not a good start is it?

Chen Shui-bian: The fact that I've been re-elected President of Taiwan is not something the Beijing authority is happy to see, but it happened anyway, and I hope that the Beijing authority would accept the new choice made by 23 million people of Taiwan...

I think it is very important to improve the cross-strait relations and stabilise the cross-strait relations in order to have a normalisation across the strait and this is the top priority for my policy implementation for the next four years. We will not give up any effort or any possibility in improving cross-strait relations because we understand the whole international society is very concerned about the new developments across the straits and the improvement of cross strait relations also is the expectation of our people.

BBC: Your referendum that you held on the same day as polling day failed because not enough people took part. That referendum asked whether the government should beef up its defences and whether it should re-open peace talks with China. Now that that referendum has failed, does that mean that those policies can't take place?

Chen Shui-bian: I think there are three factors that have influenced the result of this referendum. Number one is the intimidation and threat from China. Number two is the opposition camp's attempt to sabotage this referendum and they tried to mobilise their people not to take the referendum ballots, and the third factor comes with the fact that we respected the decision made by our local government in introducing a 'U' shaped voting procedure. That is to say people received their presidential ballot and cast their presidential ballot first and then received the referendum ballot and cast that ballot. Some have just forgotten to take the referendum ballot after they have voted for the president, so I think these three factors have all led to this less than expected voting percentage for this referendum.

However, I must say that I am very happy to see that we have such a positive result for our first referendum in our history and that gives me more confidence in Taiwan's democracy.

Protests at the election result appear to be dying down

BBC: But the fact remains that the referendum failed. Are you now going to abandon your plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution for Taiwan?

Chen Shui-bian: I have great confidence in Taiwan's democracy. I have great confidence in the universal value and in basic human rights and I have great confidence that referenda will eventually take root and become part of our daily lives in Taiwan.

This time we had 7.4 million people who cast their votes in this referendum and this is the first step taken in Taiwan and it has not been easy. In the future, even though this referendum didn't pass this time it will not have any impact on our referendum regarding the new constitution because we understand fully the importance of having a tailor-made new constitution that is suitable for Taiwan.

In our constitutional reform effort, we intend to deal with the issue of whether to adopt a presidential system - that of the US style - or a cabinet system - in the British style - or to have the governmental division of power with five branches of power or three branches of power like that of the United States and the United Kingdom, and we also intend to deal with the issue of halving our legislative seats and adopting a single district two votes system.

This new constitution will have no bearing on the issue of unification or independence nor will it change the status quo

We also intend to deal with the issue of incorporating basic human rights into our new constitution. These basic human rights include the right to peace and also rights of labour, which includes the right of solidarity, of justice and of negotiation. We also intend to dedicate a special chapter to the indigenous rights in which we will define the relationship amongst the indigenous groups with the government as a new partnership and we will also define our relationship with the indigenous group as a quasi-country to country relationship, namely as a country within a country. Also in the new constitution, we want to lower the voting age from 20 years to 18 years and also gradually implement a voluntary military service in replacement of the current compulsory military service.

These are all issues of great concern that we intend to deal with in our constitutional engineering because we have witnessed that in the past 10 years we have had a constitutional revision six times, but no-one is completely satisfied with the result and we do not wish to repeat the same mistakes again.

That is why I propose that after we have concluded our constitutional reform conference, we will by-pass the ad hoc national assembly representatives of 300 people voting to pass and validate the new constitution.

Instead we want to put the new constitution to a direct referendum of the people to decide whether they want to accept the new constitution or not, and this new constitution will have no bearing on the issue of unification or independence, nor will it change the status quo, it will continue to maintain the status quo and the timetable we have in mind is to have the new constitution completed by 2006, and also have it enacted on 20 May 2008.

That is the day I will step down from the presidency and it is very clear that this new constitution is not made for me, personally, and it's not made for the Democratic Progressive Party.

Instead it will be made for Taiwan's long term peace and security and also increasing government efficiency and I'm sure our people will support such an effort.

BBC: So are you ruling out any moves towards independence during this second term?

Chen Shui-bian: Taiwan is an independent sovereign country. Under the current constitution its name is the Republic of China. In the 1999 resolution regarding Taiwan's future passed by the Democratic Progressive Party, it is stated very clearly that any change to the status quo of Taiwan must be decided by the people of Taiwan through referenda.

It is very clear that our timetable for introducing the new constitution through referendum in 2006 and having the new constitution enacted in 2008 is just a timetable for Taiwan's democratic reform and constitutional reform. It is never a timetable for independence. If anyone who regards this as a timetable for independence then it is a serious misunderstanding and a serious distortion.

As we can see from the election this time, even the opposition parties cannot oppose the mainstream value, the will of the people, [who] oppose unification of the two sides and insist on Taiwan being an independent sovereign country.

The agenda I have in my mind for the next four years is to unify Taiwan and stabilise cross Strait relations, stabilise our society and re-invigorate our economy

Taiwan is one country and the other side is another country and neither side exercises jurisdiction over the other, and I think this important consensus has been reached during this election and it represents and signifies that the 23 million people of Taiwan, irrespective of their political affiliations or whether they are in the opposition parties or the governing party - they all refuse the one country two systems formula.

The majority of Taiwan people cannot accept Taiwan becoming a second Hong Kong, nor can we accept Taiwan becoming a local government of the People's Republic of China or a Special Administrative Region of China.

If during this election campaign the opposition parties had insisted on unification with China and accepted the One China principle - Beijing's version of One China Principle of course - I think they would have lost even more because it is very clear that the mainstream value of Taiwan is to embrace the Taiwanese identity and we have seen a rise in Taiwan awareness and our party has chosen to stand on the right side of history.

That is why we're able to win more than 50% of the support from our people and also have garnered an increase of 1.5 million votes compared with four years ago and this rising of Taiwan identity and this mainstream value should not be taken lightly.

BBC: You said last week that you're now more free to act without the pressure of having to campaign for the job again because here in Taiwan your time is limited to two terms as president. What does that mean, that you feel you're more able to do in your second term that you weren't able to do in your first term?

Chen Shui-bian: The agenda I have in my mind for the next four years is to unify Taiwan and stabilise cross Strait relations, stabilise our society and re-invigorate our economy. After the election we have seen a division of the society and division among different ethnic groups and this gap must be mended. We must unify Taiwan, we cannot afford to have our society being divided in half.

Secondly I would like to make continuous efforts of stabilising cross Strait relations, eventually reaching peace across the Taiwan strait and stability and security in the Asia Pacific region. I think this would be in accordance with the common interests of the United States, Japan and the Asia Pacific countries and I will continue to make efforts in this regard and we will hopefully eventually we will become a peace-maker instead of a trouble-maker.

Even though there is turmoil after the election. Even though there was this shooting incident. I regard these as minor episodes and small ripples on our long quest to democracy

BBC: There was an attempt on your life on the eve of the polls. There are still people outside in the street who are suspicious about that. There are still people who believe that somehow the election itself was suspicious. How do you answer those allegations and how do you begin to win back the trust of your people?

Chen Shui-bian: We have never rigged the vote nor have I attempted to stage any kind of incident in trying to solicit more support. Such allegations and accusations are not fair to myself, nor is it fair to the 200,000 election workers and the many others involved in the election process.

I understand the harsh feelings and sentiments from my opponents and their supporters because I myself have been defeated twice in my political life in the past and I understand very well it is hard to accept your own failure.

I'm confident that this kind of turmoil will soon be over. What concerns me more is that some people refuse to face their own election failure and they went into such extent to mobilise their supporters to engage in long protests, which resulted in the instability and division of our society and people.

We have had a long wait for democracy. It has been well over half a century and I'm glad to say we have taken the right path from authoritarianism to democracy and this is a road of no return. This is also a correct path that we have taken. The road to democracy may be winding and is like a river taking many curves, but eventually the river will reach the ocean.

I believe in the greatness of our people. I believe in the greatness of our democracy. The grandeur and strength or our people and democracy are as big as a forest. Even though there is turmoil after the election. Even though there was this shooting incident. I regard these as minor episodes and small ripples on our long quest to democracy. Even if one tree falls down it wouldn't affect the entire forest. Even if I were knocked down by one gunshot it wouldn't affect our democracy and I wasn't knocked down and I have great confidence in our democracy and in Taiwan and in the people of Taiwan.

Source: BBC