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Associated Press Interview with President Chen Shui-bian

  • Date:2007-12-10

Office of the President
Taiwan (R.O.C.)
December 10, 2007


In the afternoon of December 10, 2007, President Chen Shui-bian was interviewed by Peter David Enav of the Associated Press. Following is the full text of the interview.

Associated Press (AP): I would like to start by asking President Chen how he would characterize his efforts to advance the rights of Taiwan's people in international organizations like the UN and the WHO during his eight years in office. Some of his critics say that, on the international stage, Taiwan remains more isolated than ever before, now. How does he respond to these criticisms?

President Chen: One must not forget that it was during my presidency, at the end of 2001, that Taiwan finally acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO), formally becoming the 144th member of the organization on January 1, 2002. Of course, it was only after years of hard work that an opportunity finally arrived at the end of 2001. On January 1, 2002, Taiwan then followed close on the heels of the People's Republic of China to become a formal member of the WTO.

We are pleased to see that, even though we have yet to succeed in gaining membership in the World Health Organization (WHO), our efforts toward this end have attracted increasing attention and support from the international community. The European Parliament, US Congress, as well as parliaments of other countries have passed resolutions in support of Taiwan's bid to gain observership in the World Health Assembly (WHA). In 2004, the issue was put to a vote, and I was very grateful to the US and Japan, neither of which enjoys formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, for voting in favor of Taiwan's observer status.

Since 2005, many European and American countries have given us much encouragement. They do not wish to see Taiwan remain the only loophole in the global disease prevention network, so they have supported Taiwan's meaningful participation in the WHO.

This year saw Taiwan's first ever application for membership in the UN under the name "Taiwan," and we are especially grateful that so many of our allies spoke out on our behalf. Even though the letter I sent to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on behalf of our 23 million people to apply for UN membership was, unfortunately, rejected, with the help of our allies, 140 out of the 192 UN member states registered to take part in the discussion on the issue of Taiwan's participation during the second plenary session of the UN General Assembly. The discussion lasted for 4 hours and 15 minutes. Indeed, this year, the question of Taiwan's participation in the UN received unprecedented attention and space for debate.

We estimate that there were at least four to five times more international media reports and comments regarding Taiwan's UN participation this year than there were last year, reflecting a growth of support for Taiwan's UN membership within the international community. Therefore, even though we have yet to gain UN membership, we have taken a promising first step.

China has employed a "three alls" strategy against Taiwan—that is, to take all of Taiwan's diplomatic allies, block all channels for Taiwan internationally, and crush all Taiwan's international room for maneuver. Currently, Taiwan has 24 diplomatic allies, and this is not the lowest number of allies we have ever had. At one point during the Kuomintang (KMT) era, Taiwan only had 19 diplomatic allies. Internationally, we face the "China factor" and China's suppression [of our country], which create many difficulties for us. But we still believe that we will find our way through.

So, during my administration, we have proactively sought to promote and enhance Taiwan's diplomatic relations. For example, this year marked the sixth time Taiwan held a summit with its Central American allies and the Dominican Republic. Also this year, we held the second summit with our Pacific allies, and hosted, for the first time, a summit with our African allies.

Therefore, not only do we wish to participate in international organizations; we also want to expand our circle of friends in the international arena; and apart from strengthening bilateral relations, we are also constantly trying to consolidate multilateral relations.

AP: I'm wondering if I could follow up now by talking a little bit about the campaign to enter the United Nations. President Chen has invested a huge amount of political resources in pursuit of this goal, despite the fact that because of China's veto power there is no chance that Taiwan can enter the United Nations. And at the same time, the cost of this effort in terms of Taiwan's relations with the United States, its most important diplomatic partner, has been very, very substantial. I wonder, given the fact that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome the Chinese veto, and the cost to relations with the United States seems to be so high, how President Chen can justify this effort.

President Chen: Joining the UN is a strong aspiration, expectation, and hope of the 23 million people of Taiwan, who want to enjoy the basic political rights and collective human rights accorded to formal UN members. In Taiwan, people may hold very divergent views on various issues, but regarding the issue of Taiwan's joining the UN, we have support from both the governing and opposition parties, and we have a vast majority of more than 70—up to 80—percent support from the general public.

Right now, the two referendum proposals regarding UN membership—that of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), using the name "Taiwan" to join the UN, and the KMT's version, using the name "Republic of China" to return to the UN—have both received enough support and garnered enough petition signatures for a referendum to be held. It is very rare in Taiwan for such an issue to garner such a high degree of support irrespective of party affiliation. This case, therefore, represents the majority voice of the people of Taiwan, and their wish that their voice be heard by the international community.

There is a threefold significance in holding a referendum on joining the UN under the name "Taiwan." First of all, my view is that referendums are a basic human right and a universal principle, and one should not compromise or apply different standards to such universal human rights and principles. The 23 million people of Taiwan deserve to enjoy the basic right to referendum. They should not be deprived of this right or have it restricted. We wish to follow such a democratic procedure and voice our aspiration to the world. It is only reasonable to expect our rights to be respected and supported.

Second, the people of Taiwan consider their nation to be an independent sovereign country. And our sovereignty rests with the 23 million people of Taiwan. Our sovereignty does not belong to the People's Republic of China. Taiwan and the PRC are two separate sovereign countries. Neither exercises jurisdiction over the other. Therefore, Taiwan has the full right to become a member of the UN.

Third, using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership is to differentiate ourselves from China, from the PRC, because internationally, many regard Taiwan as part of China. Instead of using "Republic of China," we want to use "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership so as to avoid [seeming to] compete with the PRC on this issue of representing "one China" in the UN, an issue that was dealt with in 1971 by Resolution 2758 of the General Assembly. Using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership demonstrates that we have no intention of fighting with the PRC over the representation of China. Instead, we want to seek appropriate representation for the 23 million people of Taiwan in the UN.

Using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership does not mean changing the national moniker, nor does it violate the "four noes" pledge I made. About 40 percent of the 192 UN members states do not use their formal national moniker as their name in the UN. Likewise, Taiwan uses "Chinese Taipei" to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, and "the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" to participate in the WTO.

So if we use names other than our national moniker to participate in other international organizations, surely it can be done in the UN. Where is the sense in saying that using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership constitutes a change of the national moniker? I think some people have tried to distort and misinterpret our UN bid as amounting to altering the status quo and changing our national moniker. We certainly cannot agree with their claims.

We use the name "Taiwan" because we think it is the most familiar, most beautiful, most endearing name that we have, and one that is associated with this land and our people. It is the name of the motherland of the 23 million people of Taiwan. That's why we want to use the name "Taiwan."

As to whether or not we will manage to gain UN membership, in the past 15 years, we have tried very hard to participate in the UN, but we have failed, largely because we were using the wrong strategy. We used the name "Republic of China" in our attempts to rejoin the UN, but by using this name, we were [giving the misimpression of] competing with China for the right to represent China in the UN, a question which was dealt with by Resolution 2758. That is why Taiwan did not stand a chance in the past. But now we are employing a new strategy. We want to acquire a new seat for the 23 million people of Taiwan instead of [seeming to] compete for the old China seat in the UN.

The PRC fought for 21 years before it was admitted to the UN, and Taiwan has only fought for 15 years. Previously, we employed the wrong strategy, but now we have come up with a new strategy with which to seek new membership. I believe that we will not waste another 15 years. Although we understand that success cannot be achieved overnight, we have taken the right first step, and now we have the opportunity to take the second, third, and further steps forward. As long as we work hard, persevere, and do not give up too easily, I don't think we will need to wait another 15 years. I think we will succeed before then.

During the time when the PRC was trying to join the UN, the ROC was a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and had veto power. In the end, however, it did not succeed in stopping the PRC from joining the UN.

I think the key to Taiwan's success in its UN bid lies not in the international community or external factors but in internal factors—whether we are united and have the same goal at heart. The common goal of all our people should be to join the UN under the name "Taiwan." This is more important than any external factors. As long as we are united in expressing our aspiration and have enough internal strength, we will succeed.

AP: Getting back to the question of relations between Taiwan and the United States, I wonder, given statements that we've heard in the past from Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Christensen and, of course, Director Young, Mr. Burghardt, who has just been in this same building, has asked President Chen to cancel the referendum, what he [President Chen] told him [Burghardt].

President Chen: This referendum was not initiated by the president, and is different from the first national referendum held on March 20, 2004. The first referendum on defense was referred to as the "peace referendum" as it involved voting on two issues, namely, strengthening Taiwan's self-defense capabilities and taking part in a dialogue across the Taiwan Strait based on the principle of parity. A top-to-bottom approach was adopted, with the president invoking Article 17 of the Referendum Act. That time, people did not participate in an initial petition process. If the referendum on entering the UN were initiated by the president, then he could reconsider, change, or withdraw the proposal.

This time, however, the process is totally different as it involves a bottom-to-top approach. It is initiated by the people, not the president. More than 80,000 signatures were garnered in the [first stage of] the petition, and in the second stage, a total of 2,726,499 signatures were collected. Therefore, this referendum can be held, as it accords with the procedures of proposing a referendum and collecting signatures through a petition as stipulated in the Referendum Act.

The referendum has nothing to do with the president, and the government has no right to overrule or veto it. Taiwan is a democratic nation, and our Central Election Committee has to conduct itself according to laws and regulations. No one can simply change or overrule the referendum as it has reached a stage where it absolutely cannot be withdrawn. Even the president is powerless to stop such a referendum from being held. There is no doubt about this.

This UN referendum is not a referendum on independence for Taiwan, nor is it a step towards "de jure independence." Rather, it is a way of expressing the powerful determination, aspiration, and hope of the 23 million people of Taiwan to join the UN. Our people no longer wish to remain an orphan abandoned by the international community. We must look at this issue at the level of political and human rights, and the right to freedom of speech. This referendum has no bearing on the issues of unification versus independence, and does not constitute a change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

The US has been the most faithful ally to Taiwan, and Taiwan has always been a friend to the US. Therefore, we greatly value the United States' concerns and opinions. We believe, however, that at times, the US seems to be overly worried about certain things; some of the statements or interpretations that people in the US have made are misrepresentations of reality. Since Taiwan and the US are friends and allies, we would like communication between our countries to be candid. If the US has any concerns or differences of opinion, we are more than willing to provide detailed information or explanations.

Right before this interview, I had a conversation with AIT Chairman Ray Burghardt. We provided him with clarification on a broad range of issues and concerns. I am certain that the United States, being our best friend, will be able to understand that our referendum on joining the UN merely represents the voice and desires of the 23 million people of Taiwan to be a member of the international community, and indeed the largest international organization, the UN.

AP: I'm sure President Chen is aware that some people in Beijing believe that you will make a formal de jure declaration of independence before leaving office, putting China in the difficult position of having to respond, perhaps even with force, before the Olympics. Are you prepared today to offer assurances to Beijing and Washington that you will refrain from doing this, from making a de jure declaration of independence before you leave office?

President Chen: I have reassured AIT Chairman Burghardt, who represented the US government on his visit to Taipei, that during my presidency, there is no way I would declare martial law, just as there is no way we would choose to take a step back on our road to democracy. I could not possibly make as wrong a policy decision as Chiang Kai-shek did, when he put Taiwan under the rule of martial law for 38 years during the KMT era.

Further, I will definitely abide by the rules and regulations in the Constitution as well as the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act and the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act. We will hold both the legislative elections and the presidential election on schedule, and we have no intention of finding excuses to postpone or suspend these elections. Holding these two elections according to the original plan is a true realization and practice of democracy here in Taiwan. It is also the basic right of the 23 million people of Taiwan, and neither the president nor the government should wield power to deprive our people of this right.

As to speculation that I will take everybody by surprise by announcing de jure independence, this is totally unfounded, and is used as an excuse by China to intimidate and pressure the United States. There is simply no substance to this accusation. We regret that the Chinese government has resorted to such dirty means to influence and intimidate the US government into interfering with Taiwan's coming elections—and even the results of the elections—and stopping Taiwan's referendums. We totally oppose China's actions, and must fight against its "united front" tactics and intimidation, so the world may know that these things will never bear fruit.

I have reassured Chairman Burghardt that from March 22 to May 20 next year before I step down, I will not take any action or issue any statement that would violate my "four noes" pledge.

AP: Following up on that statement, the United States was very unambiguous in condemning the scrapping of the National Unification Council on February 28, 2006, I believe it was. You have spoken of the attempts by Beijing to use the United States unfairly to put pressure on Taiwan. Do you think that the Chinese have succeeded in getting the United States to do this?

President Chen: I think the results of this development are clear to everyone. After several attempts at directly pressuring and threatening Taiwan, China has learned its lesson and realized that the most effective way and quickest route to achieve its aim is to indirectly put pressure on Taiwan through Washington.

We all know how much the world has praised and affirmed Taiwan's democracy, and it is only right that Taiwan's future role in cross-strait relations be determined by the 23 million people of Taiwan, without any preconditions, criteria, or foregone conclusions. The Guidelines for National Unification clearly listed as its pillars the so-called "one China" principle and ultimate unification. These Guidelines were not approved by our national legislature, but were the result of decisions made within the KMT, which proceeded to establish the National Unification Council and formulate the Guidelines. The KMT imposed these Guidelines on the people of Taiwan, attempting to force them into accepting the "one China" principle and ultimate unification.

Under such circumstances, we believe that even though the people were supposedly given the full right to referendum, any referendum could only exist in form rather than substance, because the preconditions and conclusion regarding Taiwan's future had already been decided upon by the KMT based on its partisan interests. This violated the principle that sovereignty rests with the people.

That is why we needed to mothball the National Unification Council and its Guidelines. And we are fine now that they are gone. The majority of people feel that there was nothing wrong with Taiwan's government getting rid of the council and its Guidelines, as it was a realization of democracy.

Last year, when we were in the process of mothballing the National Unification Council, the Chinese authorities were proclaiming to the world that such an action would result in cross-strait tensions. But I must point out that the missile crisis in the Taiwan Strait during the run-up to our first direct presidential election in 1996, occurred at a time when the National Unification Council and its Guidelines were still in place. The KMT was then in power, upholding the "one China" principle and the ultimate goal of unification with China. The missiles landed right on our doorstep, one of them about 55 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan. It made no difference whatsoever that the National Unification Council and its Guidelines were in place, or whether people accepted the "one China" principle and ultimate unification. China still carried out its diplomatic suppression of Taiwan, trying to snatch away all our allies.

I just mentioned that, during the KMT era, at one time, Taiwan only had 19 diplomatic allies even while the "one China" principle and the goal of unification were being upheld in Taiwan. So it really makes no difference whether Taiwan has a National Unification Council and Guidelines for National Unification or not.

AP: On the question of Chinese military pressure, I wonder if President Chen believes that the Taiwan military, should China move by force of arms against Taiwan—whether he believes the Taiwan military can hold off China until the United States arrives to help, whether it has that ability. And also, particularly given the recent difficulties in relations between Taiwan and the United States, whether he is confident that the US military indeed will intervene on Taiwan's side in the event of a Chinese attack.

President Chen: According to the Taiwan Relations Act—a US domestic law—and based on repeated statements made by the US government, should war occur in the Taiwan Strait, and not as a result of Taiwan's actions, the US government will fulfill its obligations and help Taiwan defend itself. Although the United States is obligated by the Taiwan Relations Act to help defend Taiwan, we would not put the entire responsibility for defending our nation on the United States' shoulders. We believe that if we depended purely on others to fight a war on our behalf, we would lose. That is why we have worked very hard to enhance our self-defense capabilities in the areas of air defense, anti-submarine warfare, and naval capabilities.

True, the balance of military power in the Taiwan Strait has tilted in China's favor, as the defense reports issued by the United States and Japanese governments as well as the [United States'] report on China's military power have indicated. If this trend continues, Taiwan's security will become an issue of ever graver concern. That is why, in the past several years, we have worked very hard for the passage of three major military procurement packages, namely, for submarines, P-3C anti-submarine patrol aircraft, and PAC-III missiles. These procurement packages were proposed by the KMT administration before 2000, and we were very grateful for President Bush's approval of arms sales to Taiwan in April 2001, which came so soon after he took office. This administration has done its utmost to garner enough support to see the passage of these procurement packages. Unfortunately, the process was dragged out for years. We were thus relieved, not long ago, to see part of the budget for these systems passed.

At least the first step has been taken. This administration will continue to work hard to gain further support from the Legislative Yuan. In our national defense report, we have set the goal of increasing the military budget to 3 percent of our GDP by 2008. In 2007, we have managed to increase it to 2.85 percent. We have proposed a budget in accordance with our goal. Only in this way were we able to bring about such a dramatic increase in our national defense budget in 2007—an increase which squeezed the budgets for social welfare and national construction, among other areas. But in the interest of national security, these efforts toward beefing up our national defense and self-defense capabilities were necessary.

Last year, our budget proposal was partially frozen by the Legislative Yuan, but this year, we have continued to insist that 3 percent of our GDP should go toward the national defense budget for 2008. This demonstrates our will and determination to defend Taiwan, and shows that we will not put the responsibility of defending ourselves onto others, and that includes the US.

China's intensive preparation for an attack on Taiwan and its refusal to renounce the use of force against our country have led to a modernization and expansion of China's military that far exceeds the needs of its self-defense. However, Taiwan does not intend to engage in an arms race with China. Our goals for our military are defensive in nature, and we must, therefore, ensure that we have effective deterrent and counter-strike capabilities, because we could not possibly afford to take part in a game of shooting missiles back and forth across the Taiwan Strait, and sending submarines to attack China while it does the same to Taiwan, to see who has the most weapons.

What we need to do is make China understand that if it ever chooses to engage in military action against Taiwan, it will have to pay a dear price, one which is not worth paying. Given the United States' obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself, if Taiwan's defense capabilities are currently not enough to hold out until the US comes to Taiwan's aid, then I believe that, based on the common interests of Taiwan and the United States in the West Pacific and in this region, the US will continue to assist Taiwan in enhancing its military capabilities.

On the other hand, I want to point out that national security does not rely on military capabilities alone. I think that sometimes democracy may be the best and most effective defensive weapon. Therefore, a comprehensive national defense, democracy, and the rule of law will unite and strengthen us. Such is the crucial foundation for our national security.

AP: I have three more questions that I would like to ask. [The] first question I want to ask concerns the DPP candidate for president, Mr. Hsieh Chang-ting. He has made it clear that he wants to improve economic relations across the Taiwan Strait by, among other things, getting rid of the across-the-board 40 percent asset limit on investment in the mainland. What I want to ask President Chen, given the fact that this is not his own position, if Mr. Hsieh is elected, will President Chen—then, no-longer-President Chen—try to do anything to interfere with this new direction in cross-strait economic policy?

President Chen: I must clarify here that Mr. Hsieh has never said we should lift the 40 percent investment cap—he believes that we still need it. He has only said that there may be certain cases that can be reviewed based on their individual circumstances. In fact, when Mr. Hsieh was premier of this country, he was already doing this. The 40 percent investment cap was in place then, but we gave special consideration to, and allowed special reviews of, a very small number of particular cases.

AP: The next question I would like to ask: To me it has been an amazing accomplishment that you have achieved in the past year and a half, coming from a position where the future of your presidency seemed to be in doubt to having put foursquare on the political agenda of Taiwan the question of independence and national sovereignty. I wonder if you are worried that this achievement, this legacy, may be cancelled by either Mr. Hsieh or Mr. Ma Ying-jeou—whoever wins the elections in March.

President Chen: Taiwan-centric consciousness is the mainstream road. It will not change just because I leave office, because it is a road of no return. Taiwan-centric consciousness is not only a trend—it is a core value shared by the 23 million people of Taiwan.

Back in 2000, when I became president of this country, according to surveys, only some 30 percent of people in Taiwan considered themselves Taiwanese and not Chinese. But, seven years later, this figure has more than doubled, and now, approximately 70 percent of our people consider themselves Taiwanese and not Chinese. The rise of Taiwan-centric consciousness is a sign of the times and the necessary result of the evolution of cross-strait relations. Whoever becomes the new leader of this country cannot possibly resist or go against such a major trend.

I have indeed been through a few political crises and storms, but I am not so omnipotent as to be able to create such a trend on my own. It is just that I have always stood on the side of Taiwan's mainstream values, on the right side of Taiwan's social history with the majority of our people. That is the reason I have been able to turn the situation around for the better.

AP: I wonder, I'm just looking at this beautiful caoshu [cursive Chinese calligraphy], and I want to ask President Chen why he's working so hard to "de-sinify" Taiwanese culture. Isn't Taiwanese culture Chinese culture? I'm referring, for example, to initiatives in the educational system to deemphasize the role of China in Taiwan's culture, things like that.

President Chen: We have not tried to "de-sinify" our culture. We have merely tried to emphasize that there is a culture of Taiwan that incorporates not only Chinese culture but also other cultures. Chinese culture is a continental culture, whereas Taiwanese culture is oceanic in nature.

The ocean receives water from many rivers and unites them. Taiwan is an oceanic nation, and the people of Taiwan are an oceanic people. Ours is a society of immigrants. The culture that came from China constitutes just one part of the whole of Taiwanese culture.

Let's look at the example of Singapore. It is an independent sovereign country. Though it has been heavily influenced by Chinese culture, Singaporean culture cannot be called Chinese culture. The United States provides another example. It is enriched with numerous cultures from around the world that together have created a rich and pluralistic cultural melting pot. We cannot say that just because in an earlier period of its history the United States was heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon culture, today we should equate American culture with English culture. Nor does it make sense to ask why Americans "de-Anglicize" American culture. English culture only constitutes one part of American culture.

We can't say that just because China and its culture are very strong and powerful today, it can negate the existence of other cultures in the world. Taiwan has its own identity and culture. Just as we have an independent economy, so too do we have our own cultural identity.

If our culture lost its Taiwan-centric quality and Taiwan became one of China's appendages, or one of China's marginal, peripheral cultures, then we would lose our own cultural identity. And if we lost that, our roots would be gone and we would become a people without a culture or a country.

【Source: Office of the President】