Go TO Content

President Chen Shui-bian's July 31 Press Conference ( excerpt : cross-strait relations)

  • Date:2000-07-31

II. Opening Remarks by President Chen

Let there be no more suspicions across the Strait and return to the 1992 spirit of "dialogue, exchange, and shelving disputes"`

To improve cross-strait relations, I recall that in my May 20 inaugural speech and in the June 20 press conference, I repeatedly expressed sincerity and good will. However, the Chinese mainland has so far only replied with a minimum amount of good will. Many of our citizens have told me that we have made enough concessions and shown our sincerity to the fullest, yet have received little positive response from the Chinese mainland. They told me not to make any more concessions. But I wish to say that we should have more endurance and patience. We should not give up and are not giving up hope. I think both sides of the strait have played too many meaningless word games in the past. It was really unnecessary. Today, I would like to urge Beijing to work together again, based on the existing foundation and spirit of the 1992 meeting, and create positive cross-strait interactions.

Of course, the "1992 spirit" corresponds with "dialogue, exchange, and shelving disputes". We believe that as long as there is dialogue, there is exchange; as long as there is exchange, there can be consensus. If there can not be any consensus, then, we would rather put aside disputes temporarily.

It is the long-standing wish of the people and also the unavoidable moral responsibility of the leaders on both sides to improve cross-strait relations. Where it broke off, we should re-connect. We hope that the two sides can begin to "agree to disagree," through a process of "dialogue, exchange, and shelving disputes," and finally reach an acceptable consensus and conclusion for both, so the "agree to disagree" can become an "agreement of consensus". The idea and aim of the new administration is to eliminate mutual suspicion. I believe this is also the common wish and expectation of the more than one billion people who live under the rule of the Chinese communists.

Put an end to the confrontation among political parties and convene a round-table conference for all political parties as soon as possible

Before the presidential election was held on March 18, 2000, everyone clearly knew that this would be a very competitive election. Because of this election, 1999 was also a very tense and confrontational year for every candidate. This is a very normal phenomenon during a democratic election. Now that the election is over, why don't we work together to calm the passions that arose during the election and let our life return to normal as soon as possible? We are confident that in the midst of the competition among political parties, there is also room for cooperation.

There is only one Republic of China, and only one Taiwan. We have only one country. There is only the interest of the nation and the people. No matter how much we talk about national interests and the people's interests, they should be placed above the interests of political parties and any individual. Why can't the ruling and opposition parties sit down together, shake hands, make peace, and discuss national affairs?

The government is newly established and immediately faces numerous national issues that are like thousands of threads and loose ends. These problems cannot be solved by just one person or one political party. With my utmost sincerity, I am facing the present difficulties of our country. I am also considering how to further improve relations between the two sides of the strait, upgrade economic development, and enhance the people's welfare. These are what the whole population earnestly expects us to do. I believe these are not only the responsibility of the ruling party, but also the common obligation of all opposition parties.

This is why last week I asked Secretary-General Chang to deliver my personal invitation to Chairman Lien of the KMT, Chairman Soong of the People First Party, and Chairman Hsieh of the DPP to attend a round-table conference. The reason for this conference is to show that all political parties have no relative superiority or inferiority. All parties are equally important and indispensable to the country. We hope that the issues discussed in this conference will be the result of respecting the different opinions of participating leaders from the major political parties. Issues on relations between the two sides, financial and economic policies, constitutional reform, social security, and other reform measures are all very important. Perhaps the political leaders still have divergent opinions. However, we have no pre-established positions or objectives. We are willing to make any changes on issues to be discussed in accordance with the valuable opinions of the chairmen.

As for the time of the conference, we know that Chairman Lien is traveling abroad on August 3 and Chairman Soong will follow suit on August 9. Therefore, we do not expect to hold the conference in early August. In order to set up a time suitable for everyone, we are willing to hold a preparatory meeting before the conference. We hope that the staffs of these political parties can reach a consensus on the way the conference is to be held, issues to be discussed, and things we should have considered but failed to do so. I am bound to accept all opinions with an open mind.

If sending Secretary-General Chang with my personal invitation fails to show my respect and politeness, I am willing to visit Chairman Lien at the KMT headquarters opposite the Office of the President in my capacity as national leader. Thus, I wish to show my deep respect for him and express the new government's utmost sincerity and goodwill in holding a round-table conference of all parties. I believe that reconciliation and cooperation among all parties after the election is a major step toward ending confrontation among political parties.

I hope all leaders can understand this situation and appreciate what I am trying to do. I am confident that the change of ruling party is absolutely a trend of the future. I have been given an opportunity to serve the people today. I am sure that one day all political parties will have the same opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the whole nation. I hope that my sincerity and goodwill can gain your support and encouragement. This is the great expectation of the people and the common ideal and goal of the ruling and opposition parties for a long time.

We know that when the Legislative Yuan finishes interpellation, it will be more than two months after the new government was established. During these past two months, Premier Tang was supervised, questioned, and counter-balanced by the legislature. I myself have also done my best to address such issues as bilateral relations, foreign affairs, national defense, and military affairs. At present, the political situation, bilateral relations, and diplomatic situation have been stabilized, and the army's morale has been raised significantly.

Next, we will focus on the reform of domestic affairs. I believe that in August, Premier Tang will set other new policies to be carried out, for which I am very pleased and thankful. Premier Tang's performance in the Legislative Yuan this past month is praiseworthy. I completely affirm what he has done in the past and have great faith and confidence in the new cabinet led by Premier Tang, although I know we still have much work to do on many things.

Taiwan reaches out to the world—the significance of the president visiting people in rural areas and traveling abroad

Finally, I want to let our citizens and members of the media know about my trip to Central America and Africa starting August 13. This is my first trip abroad since my inauguration as president, a trip for our “democratic diplomacy and friendship.” We will transit Los Angeles to the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Nicaragua, and the Republic of Costa Rica for official visits. Thereafter, we will fly to Africa for official visits to the Republic of the Gambia, Burkina Faso, and the Republic of Chad. We expect to return to Taiwan on the night of August 25, making it a 13-day trip altogether. Excluding the transit in the US, we will spend an average of less than two days in each country. Some people joke that this is an “ascetic's trip” around the world, however, we believe foreign diplomacy is symbolic and representative of our nation’s sovereignty. Taiwan must stand up, and it must reach out to the world. In reaching out, Taiwan can see the world and, hopefully, the world can see Taiwan, the Republic of China. My first trip abroad has several meanings:

First, in the Year 2000 presidential elections, the people of Taiwan established a new record and turned a new chapter in Taiwan’s history with their ballots and love of country. In particular, we were able to make it possible for the peaceful transfer of power on May 20, so that Taiwan, the Republic of China, can stand at the center of the international stage. This is an outstanding achievement in democracy by the people of Taiwan. Therefore, my first visit abroad will not only draw the attention of the international community, it will also be a symbolic manifestation of this sovereign state.

Second, I will visit the Dominican Republic to attend the inauguration of President Mejia. The Dominican Republic also made its first transfer of power to a different political party in 14 years. The Republic of China was not absent in this trend of changing political party rule, and we are therefore proud of ourselves. As an incumbent head of state, after the change of political parties, I am paying a very significant visit to the Dominican Republic. Since Nicaraguan President Aleman was here for my May 20 inauguration, I wish to show my gratitude by especially adding this stopover in Nicaragua. As for my visit to Costa Rica, there will be a meeting of ROC ambassadors and representatives posted in Central and South America. Our other diplomatic partners are very important too. Although I am unable to visit each nation on this trip, I am sure we will have the opportunity to visit in the future.

Third, we have eight diplomatic allies in Africa, and have always placed special emphasis on relations with friendly nations in Africa. Most important, in the past, no president of the Republic of China has visited West African nations. Former President Lee Teng-hui, despite a promise to visit these countries, was unable to do so for certain reasons. We certainly apologize to these nations and have overcome all difficulties this time to make such a visit successful. I am also the first ROC president to officially visit nations in West Africa. We hope to consolidate our friendship with these countries so that they may better understand and trust the ROC’s foreign policy.

Of course, some people say that if possible, I should not go. I would like to tell you that communication is needed among relatives and friends to establish close relations. This is also true with countries. Many leaders, delegations, and special envoys from other countries came to Taiwan to attend my inauguration on May 20. As a sovereign state, the Republic of China also has to emphasize leadership diplomacy, and it is very important to have mutual visits between heads of state. It is inappropriate for them to come here only, and for us not to visit them. I hope our compatriots will understand and extend their support and encouragement to us. I want to tell you once more that the arrangement of this visit was done two months ago, and our advance group has just returned home. I can tell you they experienced great hardships during the process.

Countering the interference by the Chinese communists, we still face many difficulties and obstructions when dealing with our diplomatic allies. However, we will do everything possible to overcome difficulties. Therefore, we know the itinerary cannot be changed randomly. We also think there is no relevant problem concerning the timing of this trip. Through careful evaluation by our national security and diplomatic services, we believe this coming visit to foreign countries will not endanger national security or domestic stability. I am confident that Premier Tang is the best and most reliable head of the Cabinet. His recent performance deserves our confidence in his ability to stabilize the overall domestic situation.

III. Question and Answer Session

Q1: When you were discussing the cross-strait issue earlier, you did not mention "one China." Does this imply a change in your attitude toward the "one-China" issue? Or does it mean that it is only a topic for cross-strait dialogue? Can you please elaborate further?

A: I especially emphasized earlier that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have wasted too much time for too long playing word games. In 1992, Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits discussed the "one-China" issue without reaching a unanimous conclusion. Nonetheless, the spirit of the 1992 meeting is very important, and we especially mention it, because it covered dialogue, exchange, and shelving disputes. If we can build on the existing foundation of the 1992 spirit, I believe that it will definitely be a very good beginning to re-establish positive interactions between the two sides. It will also be a common experience for the leaders and governments on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Otherwise, we will only be repeatedly emphasizing areas of discord and dispute, with each side standing by its own views, never reaching a consensus with the other and arriving at no conclusion in the short term. Under these circumstances, if may be very difficult to have everyone sit down to calmly devote their best efforts to improving cross-strait relations. This is why I again mentioned that if we build on the existing foundation in the 1992 spirit, we will have a chance to improve cross-strait relations and resume cross-strait negotiation.

Q4: What do you think about the recent disturbance caused by the secret envoy issue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait? At present, the communication channels between the two sides do not function well. Under this condition, is it feasible to send someone reliable to secretly communicate with Mr. Jiang Zemin in order to extend our goodwill and further enhance bilateral relations? Will frequent visits and exchanges at the current stage be favorable to mutual understanding between the two parties? Why are legislators paying visits to the Chinese mainland being labeled as Beijing’s representatives stationed in Taiwan? Please elaborate on the new government’s attitude and position toward its interaction with the Chinese mainland.

A: I’d like to thank former President Lee Teng-hui for his great assistance and advice to the new government, including myself, during the process of peacefully transferring political power from one party to the other. Former President Lee told me much about the issues of national security, mainland affairs, and what we have done to develop our relations with the US and Japan. However, he has never mentioned anything about the secret envoys between the two sides of the strait. Right now, related agencies are investigating whether there are secret envoys between the two sides or not. They have issued an official letter to the Office of the President, asking for our help to find the file on secret envoys. So far, we haven’t found any. We are also trying to determine whether there is a confidential file on this issue. However, since former President Lee has never told me anything about the secret envoys between the two sides, we have no comments on whether this matter is important or even if it is true.

I deeply understand that before the Koo-Wang Talks were held, the two sides did not have a direct communication channel. We don’t know if there were secret envoys at that time or not. If the answer is yes, I believe that the communication channels between the two sides have developed progressively from exchanging secret envoys at that time to establishing the current dialogue mechanism. Therefore, whether it is necessary to continue the communication channel of sending secret envoys still requires our careful consideration.

However, one thing is very clear. That is that the new government still believes that the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits are the best institutions for conducting dialogue between the two sides. They are also the most reliable agencies that I highly trust. If you ask who my best secret envoy is, I’d say that we should respect the current mechanism. In other words, I think that the chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, Mr. Koo Chen-fu, is the best candidate for my envoy and representative.

All of us hope that the two sides can resume dialogue and re-open consultation channels at an early date. Sometime ago, Mr. Koo told me that someone from the private sector expressed his intention to represent the SEF in visiting the Chinese mainland. Mr. Koo asked for my view, and we have discussed this issue during the staff meetings of the National Security Council. I don’t think it is right to brush aside Chairman Koo and ask someone who is irrelevant to the SEF to represent the SEF or Mr. Koo in talking with the Chinese mainland. Since we have such an established institution, the Chinese mainland should talk to the SEF, if they are to hold talks with Taiwan. We can ask the SEF to send a representative, delegate Chairman Koo himself, or assign other high-ranking SEF personnel. All these people are qualified representatives from an established official system. Why should we give up these people and choose a third party? This is why I always hope to resume the dialogue mechanism between the two sides as soon as possible and make everything open and clear, under the supervision and checks-and-balances of the parliamentary bodies, the entire populace, and the media. This is my faith and my ideal of holding dialogue between the two sides. I proposed it only for your reference.

We cannot deny the fact that the Chinese communists have been hoping to set aside the dialogue mechanism between the two sides. They even try to denigrate it and make it nothing more than an empty shell. I think this is a very bad idea. They have been trying every way to achieve this goal. For example, they spent much time and energy on our national assemblies, political parties, ROC offices in foreign countries, overseas Chinese organizations, and commercial and industrial sectors. This is what our fellow countrymen must watch. However, as long as we can work together with one heart, I am confident that we can do something to further improve bilateral relations. The problem we have is that we now are being thrown into confusion by ourselves. This is very dangerous. I earnestly solicit your support for my ideal, so that the dialogue mechanism between the two sides can begin functioning as soon as possible. Thank you.

Q5: The former administration held a policy of “patience over haste” with respect to cross-strait trade and economic exchanges. According to recent reports, however, the new administration is planning to re-evaluate this policy. Mr. President, what new ideas do you have regarding the “three direct links” and “patience over haste” policies? In addition, the current and former US Secretaries of Defense Cohen and Cheney both mentioned phrases of “six months.” Does this mean that your administration is planning some big breakthrough or other major action in cross-strait negotiations before the end of the Clinton administration?

A: First, I believe that the issue of establishing “three direct links” or “three small direct links” is very important for cross-strait affairs. It is an issue that cannot be avoided forever; sooner or later, we will have to face it. It is for this reason that I stated before that we would promote the establishment of three direct links by the end of the year. Pleases note, however, that the promotion of three direct links does not imply that implementation will be carried out immediately; it simply reflects our true sincerity to see the three direct links realized. Indeed, we not only feel that now is the right time to promote the three direct links, but we also feel that it is a necessity to do so. Under the paramount premise of maintaining national security, we will seek to establish policies on the three direct links that can be implemented independent of any time frame, while upholding basic proportional principles, reciprocal principles, and relevant trade laws. If the Chinese mainland is unwilling to sit down and talk with us, and despite our determination to see things through, a substantial amount of time will still be required to develop such policies. Regarding the preliminary “three small direct links,” the problem we face is the same: If both sides cannot calmly sit down with one another, it will be difficult to have any breakthroughs on even minor matters, such as customs and quarantine issues. Thus, I feel that we already have good policies for the three small direct links and must actively plan for their possible implementation. Hopefully, cross-strait relations can then progress and improve.

Regarding US Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s hope that dialogue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait be resumed within six months, I know for a fact that—based on the Six-point Guarantee of 1982—the United States will not be a mediator in cross-strait relations. However, I do hope that the United States can play a more active and constructive role as a stabilizer and balancer to maintain peace in cross-strait relations. Indeed, not only do we feel it necessary that the US take a greater role, but the US government itself appears to be already doing so. In particular, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s visit to the Chinese mainland and the subsequent visit there made by US Secretary of Defense William Cohen affirm this. Those visits obtained several positive reports on the status of cross-strait relations: first, that the situation wasn’t tense; second, that matters weren’t pressing; and third, that there wasn’t any threat at the time. These reports reflect how the situation appears to the US and explain why Cohen hoped the two sides could resume dialogue within the coming six months. Please note that these were the hopes and expectations of the United States, not ours. For our part, we have been ready to resume dialogue and negotiations all along and do not want to wait six months before beginning. We are very grateful for this question, and we hope that everyone can give the new government more encouragement and support. Thank you!

Q7: Mr. President, in his book Asia Strategy, former president Lee Teng-hui said the Republic of China is the “second” republic. Do you agree with this view? Do you feel that after your election and the change of ruling parties that the Republic of China has reached the stage of the second republic?

A: Regarding Asia Strategy, I have not read this book, so I am not able to fully understand former president Lee Teng-hui’s strategies and some of his fundamental views on the future of Taiwan. The “second” republic is not a term that appeared recently. I know that several years ago in promoting constitutional reforms, somebody proposed a draft constitution for the second Republic of China. Therefore, as I have said about constitutional issues, we will take note of it. We also hope that our citizens interested in constitutional reforms, academics and scholars, different political parties, the ruling and the opposition, should all pool their wisdom. It is very clear that I am elected as the tenth-term president in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of China. Today, it is still the Constitution of the Republic of China and not that of the second Republic. Therefore, whether this strategy of the second republic is feasible will be left for everyone to think about and discuss, pooling their wisdom to form a basis for future constitutional reforms.

Q12: The name list for the inter-party committee is about to be decided. However, the KMT and the People First Party still refused to participate. If these two parties do not change their attitude in the long run, will the committee continue to operate? In addition, when you received the legislators some time ago, you talked about adding another vice president to the Legislative Yuan and another vice premier to the Executive Yuan by revising the constitution. Will you ask for the support from all sectors in order to achieve this goal?

A:According to my understanding, it shouldn’t be long before the composition of the inter-party committee will be decided. Naturally, there have been some difficulties, for which there are active remedial measures. In fact, the goal of the inter-party committee is quite clear. That is, we hope its members will reach a minimum consensus or common denominator on the cross-strait policy between the ruling and the opposition parties and among different parties. Thus, we can consolidate the strength of the people on Taiwan to negotiate with the Chinese mainland for the best interests of the people and the country.

Despite resistance, reservation, or even disdain for the committee, I believe its operations in the future will not be affected. In fact, the original plan did not require political parties to formally designate representatives. However, later some people suggested that political parties dispatch members to participate in the inter-party committee. In such a difficult position, Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh, as the convener of the committee, took great pains, with the determination to do things for the country, the people on Taiwan, and the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and his efforts should not be questioned. People should not resisted or refuse to cooperate with Dr. Lee, because of their personal prejudices.

I just mentioned that it is not time for constitutional reform. Perhaps conditions are not mature enough. However, I have no special opinions on the content and subject of the reform. I just want to point out that two years ago, I also suggested adding another vice premier to the Executive Yuan and one more vice president to the Legislative Yuan. Our considerations were very clear. We all know that the Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, and many large counties have two deputy mayors or two deputy county chiefs. As the highest administrative organ of the country, the Executive Yuan has only one vice premier. Perhaps the workload of former Vice Premier Yu was too heavy. He told me recently that he has to work very hard, because there was only one vice premier.

Since the Vice Premier is not able to handle so many economic and trade matters, the Premier usually asks the Secretary-General to handle them. Yet, the related executive departments seem to have some opinions about this arrangement, therefore discouraging heads of the executive departments from attending meetings personally.

Even former Vice Premier Yu felt a need to add another vice premier post to the Executive Yuan. It would be helpful to the Premier. The Legislative Yuan is in the same situation. Korea has two parliamentary speakers. One of them is from the largest opposition party. In fact, the consideration of slowly cultivating parliament leaders has its merit. Just like the present executive departments, which have experienced unprecedented party change.

Who can guarantee which party will one day become the majority in our parliament or our Legislative Yuan. It is difficult to predict. Therefore, we should consider it as it stands. Perhaps we should consider adding another vice president post to the Legislative Yuan. Many people think about this. I just raise it and ask for your advice. I have no specific prejudice. I mean we all should put considerations to constitutional reform. I have no prejudice against subjects for discussion on constitutional reform. I am willing to listen to you all.

Q14: Mr. President, based on your previous statement, I believe that everyone can clearly perceive your goodwill and sincerity—whether it is with respect to improving finance and economics or cross-strait relations. However, although we can sense your goodwill and sincerity, you have yet to give us a clear idea about what your specific policies are since taking office. Specifically, what is your actual position for Taiwan in cross-strait relations? During the presidential campaign when former President Lee Teng-hui stated his policy on the two sides was based on “special state-to-state relations,” you firmly insisted on Taiwan’s independent sovereignty. Has your stance on this changed any since then? Thank you.

A:I already outlined my cross-strait policy in my May 20 inaugural address, and I expounded upon it during my June 20 press conference. To this day, there still have not been any changes or advancements made with respect to cross-strait policy. To refresh everyone’s memories, I clearly stated that: First, we will definitely maintain our nation’s sovereignty, dignity, and security while seeking the greatest welfare for the people; and second, we feel that both sides of the Taiwan Strait should respect the people’s freedom of choice. I never used the term plebiscite, nor did I use the term of right of resident self-determination. Again, what I stressed was respecting the people’s freedom of choice. In other words, regarding Taiwan’s future, only the 23 million people on Taiwan have the right to make that final choice and decision. This point is completely consistent with the remarks made by US President Clinton that any resolution of cross-strait relations must have the consent of the people on Taiwan.

I have continuously stated that we hopes the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can improve their relations and deal with the future question of “one China” according to the principles of peace, democracy, and parity. The resolution of cross-strait relations is the unavoidable responsibility of the leaders on both sides, and my words on this matter have already been made extremely clear. However, it is impossible for me to tell you choices in a multiple-choice question or which is right in a true-or-false problem each time immediately after I am given the test paper.

I only hope that everyone can understand my sincerity, goodwill, and sense of responsibility. Indeed, our current cross-strait policy has not only met with the approval of the majority of the people on Taiwan, but is also acceptable to both the ruling and opposition parties. Thank you.