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President Chen Interviewed by Wall Street Journal

  • Date:2006-04-20

'We Believe in Democracy' By CHEN SHUI-BIAN April 20, 2006; Page A14 Over the past quarter of a century, the emergence of Taiwan as a democracy and the emergence of China as an economic and military power have added new dimensions to the dynamics in the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwan people have struggled, with some success, to adapt in an era of globalization while building institutions that guard against one man, a single party or an outside power from imposing its will on them without their assent. Our progress is continuing, but we have much to be proud of. China's government has struggled, with some success, to sustain high economic growth rates and significant military expansion while maintaining stable relations with the major global powers and avoiding liberalization of domestic (especially political) institutions. Unfortunately, China's success has unleashed forces that challenge Taiwan's political and economic development, as well as its security. One cannot talk about cross-Strait issues without considering the defining trends in Northeast Asia. Changes in two major regional powers, Japan and China, have lead to further complications in their bilateral relations as well as their relations with neighboring countries. Despite China's growing importance to the regional and global economy, its rapid military buildup has raised concerns from the international community. As for Japan, the key points of interest are its constitutional revision and the fact that, after recovering from a decade-long economic recession, it has expressed a desire to play a leading role in world affairs by becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Japan's moves have raised concerns from other countries in the region, especially China. But these concerns are misplaced, given the strategic importance of Japan's democratization, which irreversibly moved the nation away from the militarism and expansionism of its past. In recent years, China has criticized and tried to marginalize Japan. It has formed a closer relationship with Russia, though certain problems remain to be tackled. In the six-party talks, China's perceived influence over North Korea provided it with additional leverage. Meanwhile, China has worked hard to improve relations with South Korea. Last year, there was high-profile debate about whether South Korea could serve as an honest broker between China and Japan, and between the U.S. and China, thus playing a role as a balancer to prevent conflict and clashes in the region. Under such circumstances, Taiwan's relations with China must be handled with extra caution. However, China's approach to Taiwan seems to err on the side of aggression rather than caution. Politically, Beijing has refused to interact with Taiwan's democratically elected government for the past six years. By inviting Taiwan's opposition party leaders to visit, Chinese leaders attempted to undermine the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. These visits were very cynically timed to draw attention away from the passage of China's so-called "Anti-Secession Law." The Taiwan people can never forget that, despite skepticism and criticism from the international community as well as strong public opposition in Taiwan, the Chinese government deliberately proceeded to unilaterally change the status quo by passing legislation codifying non-peaceful measures against Taiwan. In the face of such pressure, consultation and coordination among ruling and opposition party leaders is crucial. Separate negotiating channels expose divisions within Taiwan without narrowing differences with China. China has also spared no effort in squeezing Taiwan's international space, blocking us from participating in each and every international organization. Taiwan's humble application for World Health Assembly observer status is one example, to our regret. Moreover, even though Taiwan is now a formal member of the World Trade Organization, China has done everything possible to downgrade our status, not to mention buying off our diplomatic allies to sever ties with us. In the military dimension, China has deployed more than 800 missiles targeting Taiwan, and that arsenal is still increasing by 100 to 125 per year. This information came out as Beijing defended its recent announcement of another double-digit increase -- 14.7% -- to its annual military budget. This radical expansion of China's military strength has the potential to upset not only the delicate balance between China and Taiwan, but also the overall strategic equilibrium in a region increasingly vital to U.S. interests, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted at a security conference in Singapore last year. Economically, we understand that continued trade and investment across the Taiwan Strait is an inevitable trend. Bilateral trade has increased dramatically over the past decade. As a result, China has surpassed the U.S. as Taiwan's largest trading partner. Statistics show that Taiwan's total trade volume with China rose to $71.7 billion in 2005 -- a 16.3% increase from 2003. This phenomenon of increasing economic reliance on China has put Taiwan's economy at risk by causing structural unemployment and stagnation of wages. China's growing influence in all of the above-mentioned areas underscores the complexities confronting Taiwan and others in Northeast Asia. For Taiwan, the situation has become antagonistic and has created an incremental change of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait that my government can not afford to ignore. While we may not be able to curb this trend completely, we still strive to maintain a peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait. As the president of Taiwan, it is my responsibility to find viable ways to prevent this trend from tilting further to the detriment of the interests of Taiwan's people. Taiwan also has an interest in helping to maintain a strategic balance in northeast Asia and safeguarding the cross-Strait status quo, thus ensuring our democracy, freedom, human rights and economic prosperity. It is unfortunate that the process of shoring up such efforts has been interpreted by China as evidence of moving toward formal independence. At times, I also hear concern from the U.S. and the international community suggesting that developments in Taiwan -- in particular, our struggle in dealing with governing institutions established before human rights, multiparty democracy, and economic globalization were a reality -- are aimed at changing the cross-Strait status quo or worse, provoking confrontation with China. That certainly is not the case. Our actions are intended to bring the situation back to a stable middle ground. To reassure friends who share an interest in preserving the status quo, I stated on Feb. 27 that Taiwan has no intention of changing the status quo and strongly opposes its alteration by non-peaceful means. I must point out that it is China -- not my government -- that is determined to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and Northeast Asia. Since regional security responsibility is shared by all involved, Taiwan is willing to cooperate with Japan, the U.S. and even China to seek a peaceful solution. We believe in democracy and uphold the principle of popular sovereignty, which means that Taiwan's future and our relations with China can only be determined by the will of Taiwan's 23 million people. We oppose the non-democratic approach that Beijing has taken against its own people and against the people of Taiwan. Meanwhile, we continue to seek better relations with the people in China through economic and cultural exchanges, in the hope that eventually, democracy could become a reality in China -- which the whole world would benefit from. My government remains open to direct cross-Strait dialogue without preconditions. As for functional issues such as charter flights, tourism and investment protection for Taiwanese businessmen in China, we are willing to engage in dialogue and consultations with China about peaceful solutions through peaceful means. Our people continue to invest unprecedented amounts in China and are a factor in its economic success. Many in Taiwan wonder what China is prepared to do to reassure us that it respects the aspirations of the people of Taiwan. Meaningful reduction of the military threat and dealing directly with Taiwan's duly elected leaders would be a good foundation on which to start. Meanwhile, we recognize, as President Bush has noted, that the survival of Taiwan's democracy depends a great deal on the success of liberty elsewhere. Thus we hope to achieve more than simply getting our own house in order. Taiwan is prepared to be a "responsible stakeholder" and "a defender for democracy, freedom and peace" in the international system and supports U.S. efforts that encourage China to rise to these standards as well. I urge the leaders in this region to take responsibility to promote universal values of democracy in northeast Asia. Only by doing so will peace and stability in this region be preserved. Mr. Chen is president of the Republic of China (Taiwan). 【Source: Office of the President】