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The New York Times Interview with President Chen Shui-bian

  • Date:2007-10-18

Office of the President
Republic of China (Taiwan)
October 18, 2007

On October 18, 2007, President Chen Shui-bian was interviewed by The New York Times. Below is a complete transcript of the interview.

The New York Times (NYT): The events at the Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing caught all of our attention this week. What is your perception, in particular, of the proposal by President Hu on Monday for what he characterized as a peace agreement with Taiwan?

President Chen: What we see clearly manifested in the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the fact that China is a one-party state, that the CPC runs an authoritarian government, and that no distinction is made between party and state. This would be unthinkable for countries and peoples in the community of democracies. In other words, this party congress has the following significance: first, the CPC is authoritarian; and second, it is repressive. The CPC's authoritarian regime emphasizes one-party totalitarian rule and repression, which means that it has absolutely no concept of democracy, and no respect for others or the feelings of others who live in the community of democracies, especially the 23 million people of Taiwan.

The stance and belief of the majority of Taiwan's 23 million people is very clear, namely that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. Taiwan is not part of China, nor a local government of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Eighty-five percent of the people of Taiwan believe that our sovereignty only extends to Taiwan, Penghu (the Pescadores), Kinmen, and Matsu, and does not include mainland China. Moreover, 70 percent of our people regard themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese. But Hu Jintao disregards this fact and sees those people who consider themselves Taiwanese and not Chinese as his people. Yet more than 75 percent of our people see Taiwan as an independent, sovereign country. This is the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is a nation in its own right, and the motherland of our people. But Hu Jintao still sees China as the motherland of the people of Taiwan. This completely contradicts the opinion of the majority in Taiwan.

We have always welcomed the idea of signing a peace accord with China and have been talking about this for the past seven or eight years. We have continued to appeal to China's leaders and government to sit down and have a dialogue on the establishment of a framework for peace and stability. Should a consensus be reached, we could then sign a peace accord and other related agreements. However, we oppose any preconditions or framework being set and any conclusions being reached prior to discussing an agreement. We are even more opposed to missile threats or the use of non-peaceful means or military force to coerce any party into signing a peace accord.

I detailed this concept in my 2000 inaugural address, when I said that as long as China does not intend to use force against Taiwan, then I would honor my "Four Noes" pledge. But today, the international community only pays attention to the proposal made by Hu Jintao regarding a peace agreement, and overlooks the precondition that Hu laid out--that such an agreement would be possible only if it was signed within the "one China" framework.

That is why, not long ago, I laid out three conditions that would need to be met before we could sit down with China and discuss a peace accord. One, China must openly renounce the use of force against Taiwan. To this end, it must remove the 988 ballistic missiles it has deployed along its southeast coast targeted at Taiwan. Two, China must repeal its so-called "anti-secession law," which represents an attempt to lay a legal basis for a future invasion of Taiwan. Three, and most important, China must give up this notion of the "one China" framework it has insisted upon. In this light, it is very clear now that if we were to sign such a peace treaty under the framework of the "one China" principle, then I think this would mean, for the 23 million people of Taiwan, a treaty of surrender.

So, in speaking about their version of the "1992 consensus" regarding "one China, two interpretations," Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang (KMT) have been repeatedly lying to themselves, our people, and the rest of the world. Today, it is very clear that to China and Hu Jintao, there is only one China, with no separate interpretations on either side. The peace agreement that Ma Ying-jeou insists can be signed under the "1992 consensus" of "one China, two interpretations" is not a possibility. The so-called "one China" principle states that Taiwan is part of China and a local government of the PRC.

This proposal by Hu not only emphasizes peaceful unification but also the "one country, two systems" formula. If Taiwan accepted the "one China" principle and the "one country, two systems" formula, then it would become a second Hong Kong or Macau. It would be made into a special administrative region or a local government of China. That would spell the end of Taiwan as an independent, sovereign country. So, we cannot possibly betray Taiwan and let this independent, sovereign country disappear and vanish from the world map just so we can sign a peace accord.

NYT: Mr. Hsieh seemed to welcome the offer by President Hu. Are you in disagreement with the presidential candidate of your own party? Another theory is that maybe you and he are coordinating your policies, and you are trying to take a hard line in order to make your presidential candidate look like a moderate or centrist.

President Chen: Yeh Chu-lan, Secretary-General of the Office of the President and Hsieh's campaign chief manager, said that upon hearing the KMT's welcoming response to Hu's peace treaty proposal, her heart bled. If Hsieh's own campaign chief manager could make such a remark, how could Frank Hsieh himself, the presidential candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), welcome Hu Jintao's proposal without any conditions? Even Ma Ying-jeou said that they [the KMT] would sign a peace treaty only under the precondition of "one China, two interpretations" in line with the "1992 consensus." But given that it is impossible that China would agree to such a precondition, even Ma Ying-jeou does not dare to accept such a peace treaty unconditionally.

Hsieh has made it very clear that he will insist on Taiwan-centric consciousness. Since it is a precondition that cannot be compromised, there is no possibility that he would accept a peace treaty under the "one China" principle, which is in complete contradiction to Taiwan-centric consciousness. In this regard, Hsieh and I are in total agreement.

Regarding the referendum on joining the United Nations under the name "Taiwan," some have said that it is my personal agenda and that Frank Hsieh has held certain reservations regarding this proposal. This is not true. The proposal was the result of our discussions. And within the party, Frank Hsieh, a member of the DPP's Central Standing Committee, co-sponsored the proposal. In fact, none of us opposes the idea of signing a peace treaty, but everybody has different preconditions and different conditions of accepting this proposal. Hu has his version and Ma has his conditions, Hsieh has his conditions and I have my own insistence. So you can say that all of us like the idea of signing a peace treaty, but it doesn't mean that we welcome this peace treaty without any conditions--so in that regard, Frank Hsieh and I are in total agreement on this, and I don't think there's any room to divide myself and Frank Hsieh.

NYT: But he spoke in terms of being willing to accept an agreement that gives Taiwan people the initiative and allows a dignified relationship with China. That seems like a more conciliatory stance than your description of this proposal as a surrender agreement.

President Chen: If there are any preconditions for a peace treaty, such as agreeing to the "one China" principle, I am certain that Frank Hsieh would not accept the treaty. If there were no such preconditions, then of course I would accept and welcome a peace treaty.

NYT: You're very visible these days, and I understand you are going to have a seven-part video on YouTube. What role do you see for yourself beyond May? Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked about becoming Prime Minister after his second term as President ends. Do you see yourself doing the same?

President Chen: I will not follow the example of Mr. Putin. After I step down, I will become an ordinary citizen again, and I will not run again for any public office, including the premiership.

I always remember what President Clinton had said to me during his visit to Taiwan on February 27, 2005; he told me that there can be no two presidents in one country. He was then the retired president, and even though he had certain disagreements on Bush policy, he told me he would never, never openly criticize George Bush. I will also keep in mind what former President Lee Teng-hui said very recently about former presidents. He said they should not meddle too much in politics. For me, meddling is meddling, no matter to what extent. After I step down and become a former president, I will refrain from meddling at all. In fact, I am rather envious of former President Lee because when he was president, there were no former presidents. Based on what I have experienced during my seven-plus years as president, I will keep in mind not to offer advice to the new president.

NYT: If Mr. Ma wins the election, would you be willing to stay on as Chairman of the DPP?

President Chen: No, but I do not think Ma will be elected. Next year, if Frank Hsieh is elected, according to the DPP charter, I will not be able to carry on as party chairman, and he will automatically assume that role as the new chairman. In the event he does not want to take on that role, a new chair would have to be elected by party members.

NYT: Would you allow yourself to be elected if Frank Hsieh does not take that job?

President Chen: No. I have assumed the chairmanship because I see it as my solemn duty and as a historical mission. For the next seven months, I will work very hard to be a dedicated party member, to volunteer my help. I hope to do my best to support and guide this election campaign and to fulfill my responsibility and duty. Yesterday, when I was sworn in as chairman, I said that, in the remaining seven months of my term as chairman, I would have three major missions: one, the January 12 legislative election of next year, where we want to win at least 50 seats and try to gain a parliamentary majority; two, I want to ensure that Frank Hsieh and Su Tseng-chang are elected president and vice president in 2008, which will usher in a new era of everlasting prosperity in Taiwan--because the Chinese characters of their names can be read to mean “everlasting” and "prosperity"; three, I want to see passed two referenda on illegally acquired party assets [by the KMT] and Taiwan entering the UN under the name "Taiwan."

So if I could complete these three missions by then, I think I will have fulfilled my responsibility and duty as the chairman, and also my historical mission as the president, and I will happily retire and enjoy myself as an ordinary citizen.

NYT: I want to make my previous question clear. Are you deliberately taking a hard line toward Beijing in order to help Mr. Hsieh appear as an electable moderate or centrist? And, if so, is that a coordinated policy with Mr. Hsieh?

President Chen: I think the UN referendum will be the main focus of the election campaign. And it is also a very important milestone in the strengthening and consolidation of Taiwan's democracy. Regarding this, Frank Hsieh and I have had many discussions, and we reached a consensus and the same conclusion. So I do not think there is a question of who plays the hardliner and who plays the moderate.

Besides, I am still the sitting president for the coming seven months. And as president of this country, I have my own duties and responsibilities to look after.

Protecting Taiwan and insisting on Taiwan-centric consciousness is the road that we have chosen, and this is also my solemn duty and responsibility. We will not allow the flag of Taiwan to be pulled down nor secretly changed. We should protect Taiwan. This is my responsibility and mission.

Frank Hsieh is the candidate who has insisted on Taiwan-centric consciousness and the person I feel most comfortable handing power over to. He is the most dependable candidate, I believe, for the 23 million people of Taiwan.

NYT: Coming back again to the Chinese Communist Party Congress. As we look at the likely lineups that might emerge for the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, do you see a change in what this means for Taiwan? What is your perception of the quality of leadership of China?

President Chen: Whoever comes into power or falls out of power does not really change the nature of the CPC. That is, it is a one-party authoritarian regime. Regardless of whether we are talking about Jiang Zemin stepping down and Hu Jintao assuming power, or Hu Jintao stepping down and Li Keqiang or Xi Jinping assuming power, I believe the very nature of the CPC's one-party despotic and authoritarian rule will not change. So I do not think much will change.

Some said that when Jiang Zemin stepped down and Hu Jintao took over, Hu would change his stance toward Taiwan. But things have not turned out that way. The nature of the party has not changed. It is very clear that the CPC has continued its efforts to take over Taiwan and make Taiwan a local government of the PRC. So concerning this point, no matter who is the leader, it will not change China's goals and ambitions concerning Taiwan.

I think many have been fooled by Hu Jintao. Hu is a formidable rival, sharp yet merciless -- he is like a smiling tiger, hiding a dagger in a smile, with honey in his mouth but a sword at his stomach.

Let me give you one example. Eighteen years ago, when the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place, the international community condemned the Beijing government's brutal acts, Hu Jintao, then a local administrative chief, was the first to stand up and support Beijing's actions.

And when Hu Jintao served as Party Chief for the Tibet Autonomous Region, it was he who stood beside the tanks and helped suppress the Tibetan people.

Under Hu Jintao, military intimidation, diplomatic suppression, and economic united-front tactics against Taiwan have been even more aggressive than under Jiang Zemin.

In 2000, there were only 200 missiles deployed against Taiwan. In the past seven years, the number has increased fivefold. Under Hu Jintao, the number of missiles deployed now stands at 988. He introduced the so-called "anti-secession law." Under Jiang Zemin, there was no such legislation.

In terms of a diplomatic war against Taiwan, Hu Jintao has employed his "three alls" policy--that is, to constrict all Taiwan's international space, to obstruct Taiwan's participation in all facets in the international arena, and to snatch away all Taiwan's diplomatic allies.

In April and May of 2005, both Lien Chan and James Soong made trips to China and kowtowed to the Chinese government. At that time, Hu Jintao said something that sounded nice. He said that China would support Taiwan's appropriate participation in the World Health Organization (WHO), but just two months afterward, that is, in July of 2005, China's health ministry signed a secret memorandum of understanding with the WHO Secretariat belittling Taiwan, requiring that whenever Taiwan wants to send medical experts to participate in meetings and activities of the WHO, it has to gain prior approval from China's Ministry of Health. And moreover, should an epidemic occur in Taiwan, the WHO must gain the approval of China before it sends experts to assist.

UN Resolution 2758, passed in 1971, does not mention Taiwan at all, but Hu Jintao and the Beijing government have distorted history and pressured the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, into distorting the resolution as saying that Taiwan is part of the PRC. Nations like the United States, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom have expressed their opposition to such a distortion.

NYT: Why in your view do American relations with Taiwan seem so strained as we have seen with the recent criticisms by [the Deputy Secretary of State] Mr. Negroponte, by [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs] Mr. Christensen, of some of your policies? Is it because of what you are doing in Taipei in trying to win membership in the United Nations or is it because of some broader shift by the United States towards closer relations with Beijing because it needs it on North Korea, Iran and other issues?

President Chen: We took special note of the recent remarks made by President Bush during the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Sydney in September. On one occasion, he commended Taiwan's democratic transformation, noting that Taiwan is "a success story," and he pointed out the contribution Taiwan has made in terms of maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. We sincerely appreciate his remarks.

We have also noted that during Hu Jintao's opening address this Monday at the 17th National Congress of the CPC, he did not comment on Taiwan's referendum to apply for UN membership. Whether this is because of the concern the US had expressed, which could have made the Chinese leaders somehow restrain themselves, remains to be seen.

Over the past several months, military exchanges and cooperation between Taiwan and the United States continued as usual. There were neither setbacks nor breaks in this regard. Taiwan and the United States have different views regarding certain issues. This is a fact, and I think that it is unavoidable. Every country is concerned about its own national interests. Sometimes the interests of two countries may overlap and sometimes the two countries may not reach consensus on certain issues. This is only normal, and that is why we need to have continued dialogue and communication to further clarify issues and resolve misunderstandings.

The government of Taiwan made a request for military procurement during the Clinton Administration regarding submarines, P3C anti-submarine fixed-wing aircraft, and PAC-III missiles, but the Clinton Administration did not approve the request. It was not until the new administration, that is, the Bush Administration, came into power, that the arms sales package to Taiwan was approved.

As for the F-16C/D fighter aircraft, we can understand why although we have the budget ready, the US government has yet to issue a letter of offer and acceptance, and that it seems likely that we will have to wait until the new administration comes into power and the new US president takes office before the deal can be approved. This follows the same pattern as that seen with the three previous procurement items, so it is not a surprise to us.

Of course, we have paid close attention to the statements made by the deputy secretary of state, Mr. Negroponte, as well as the senior director for Asian affairs of the US National Security Council, Mr. Dennis Wilder. We have noted that some have said that the status of Taiwan is still undecided, and therefore Taiwan is not an independent, sovereign country. Some have said that the referendum on Taiwan's bid to enter the United Nations under the name "Taiwan" would constitute one step further toward Taiwan independence. Much has been implied.

Despite such comments by some US officials, the US government shared with us its strong views on this misinterpretation of UN Resolution 2758 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Chinese government. The US stated that it would be unable to accept such an interpretation and expressed its opposition to the misinterpretation of Resolution 2758 to the United Nations on several occasions. This implies that the US government does not support or agree with the claim that Taiwan is a part of the PRC.

Regarding the referendum on Taiwan's entry into the United Nations, this is the most direct and democratic way for our 23 million people to express to the world their strong aspiration, expectation, and collective voice to join and become a formal member of the United Nations.

Holding such a referendum does not involve changing the national moniker, nor does it violate the "Four Noes" pledge.

Even if the referendum is passed, we will not become a UN member. We still need to apply for membership according to the proper procedures and regulations of the General Assembly and also the Security Council. The US could then still oppose our move and China could still use its veto power, but the point is that we want our collective voice to be heard by the whole world. The 23 million people of Taiwan will not be silenced just because of China's military intimidation, its missiles pointed at us, its coercion, and its threats.

NYT: I have two last questions if I may now; first on the military and then on economics. On the military, will Taiwan deploy cruise missiles with a range sufficient to reach Shanghai, and second, will Taiwan deploy short-range ballistic missiles?

President Chen: Part of being a member of the community of democracies involves strengthening our national defense and enhancing our self-defense capabilities, because it is a duty and responsibility to defend and safeguard peace, stability, and security in the Taiwan Strait and to avoid the military balance tilting in China's favor.

Having an "effective deterrence and a solid defense" is the guiding principle of our national defense policy and, therefore, we will under no circumstance engage in an arms race with China. Being prepared does not mean seeking a future war; it is to make sure war does not happen--to ensure peace.

Should there be any R&D or deployment of defensive weaponry, we will be frank about that and communicate directly with the US Defense Department. Communication and dialogue on this is going on all the time. Since last year, there has been no break in communication. Recently, in fact, some of our commanding officers went to the US. Exchanges between our two sides have been excellent.

NYT: So would you classify cruise missiles, separately, ballistic missiles, as defensive weapons in this context?

President Chen: They, of course, are part of our R&D and deployment of defensive weapons, which are in line with our strategic goal of effective deterrence and a solid defense. By so doing, we can also live up to the US expectation that Taiwan shoulders the responsibility of enhancing its self-defense capabilities.

NYT: Last question, and I appreciate your spending so much time. You talked in your 10/10 [national day] speech about how you thought the mini-three-links had helped the Taiwanese economy grow. Would full three links then help your stock market, which has lagged those in China and Hong Kong; help your manufacturing, which seems to be moving to the mainland; your tourism industry? Can the Taiwanese economy prosper without full three links?

President Chen: Our stock market index is 1,000 points higher than when I took office as President on May 20, 2000. Of course, this is not the whole story, but we cannot be too naïve and so deluded as to think that, with the three links [direct postal, transportation, and commercial links], Taiwan's economy will immediately perk up. This is too simplistic, a case of wishful thinking.

Rather than imagining that Taiwan's economy would take off after launching the three links under Beijing's "one China" principle, should we not take an alternative approach and ask, would not our entire economy be boosted if we could join the United Nations and become a full member? Then, we could freely conduct talks with the entire world and sign free trade agreements, and we could take part in all of the organizations under the UN umbrella, including the IMF and World Bank.

Taiwan's relationship with China is a country-to-country relationship. Of course airplanes can fly directly between one country and another, as between Taiwan and the United States or Japan. If Taiwan today were a full member of the UN, there would of course be nothing strange about direct flights between Taiwan and any city in China. Should we not instead be stressing that only if Taiwan is admitted to the UN can it look forward to steady economic growth?

In fact, during my seven years as President, we have seen an unprecedented intensiveness and closeness of economic relations and business cooperation between Taiwan and China, including Taiwanese investment in China. This administration launched the "mini-three-links" [direct mail and commercial links are already in place, while direct transportation is only provided between Taiwan's Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu islands and ports in China's Fujian Province] and has expanded it--something that had not been done before 2000. Moreover, 70 percent of Taiwan's outbound investment goes to China, and 90 percent of Taiwan-based manufacturers' orders are filled by factories in China. So, with regard to Taiwan-China economic relations and China-bound investment, the problem is one of overheating, not of any inadequacy.

Taiwan is an island nation, but we belong to the world and are not cut off from it. So we have to stride out into the world in order to have a path of survival and a bright future. We know Taiwan cannot afford to isolate itself, but we most certainly cannot put all our resources and economic lifeblood into China.

In consideration of our national security and national interest, we cannot afford to throw our doors open to a belligerent China that refuses to renounce the use of force against us and is actively scheming to annex us. Therefore, we have to adopt a policy of active management in conjunction with effective liberalization in our economic relations with China. Our guiding principle is to move forward pragmatically while maintaining a firm stance [regarding protection of our national interest].

No worthy goal can be achieved overnight. Things must progress in a steady, step-by-step manner. So only after launching the [experimental] mini-three-links could there be the three full links. Similarly, we already have direct charter flights between Taiwan and China and have expanded them to include four categories [passenger flights on certain holidays as well as special-case cargo flights, ambulance flights, and other humanitarian flights]. We hope, first, to further open up regular direct cargo charter flights, to be followed by regular direct passenger charter flights and, finally by ordinary scheduled flight services. This cannot be done in one fell swoop.

Direct transportation is no panacea for enhancing Taiwan's economic development. This applies to the recent promises made by KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou. If elected, he says, he will totally open up Taiwan to direct flights between Taiwan and China. In Hualien, he promises to start direct flights from Hualien Airport. In Taitung, it is Taitung Airport. In Taichung, it is Taichung Airport. He wants direct flights to everywhere he goes. Can Taiwan accept this?

I do not think so. Looking at the matter from the perspective of national security, if we throw all our doors wide open, it would be like giving China the chance to penetrate to any locale without meeting with resistance. Could we then maintain the semblance of a nation?

If Taiwan is a nation, then Ma Ying-jeou cannot possibly make good on his promise within one year after being elected, as he says he will. This cannot happen unless he intends to demote Taiwan to the status of a locale of China, turning it into another special administrative region like Hong Kong or Macau, or into a province like Fujian or Jiangsu. If that happened, then, of course, he would have kept his promise. But could the people of Taiwan accept this?

[In the case of discrepancies between the English and Chinese texts, the Chinese should be taken as authoritative.]

【Source: Office of the President】