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President Chen's Videoconference with Members of the European Parliament

  • Date:2005-03-01


Dr. Willem van der Geest
Good afternoon. Your Excellencies, Members of the European Parliament, Members of the Panel, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Invited Guests:

It is with unique pleasure that I open this unique dialogue between European society and Taiwan. This is the first time that President Chen Shui-bian, the president of Taiwan, the Republic of China, launches a dialogue involving members of the European Parliament, leading journalists from across Europe, academic scholars and analysts. Mr. President, we are greatly honored and extremely privileged that you have kindly agreed to find time in your busy schedule to engage with us here in Brussels.

We are gathered here in the home of the European Parliament, which as you know, is directly elected by the peoples of the 25 member states of European Union. It is a unique institution of political governance which embodies and represents political perceptions and views of the European public and its civil society.

Several prominent members of the European Parliament are on our panel, and with your permission, Mr. President, I would like to introduce them, as well as the other members of our panel. First, I would like to introduce Mr. Graham Watson, Chairman of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and Vice President of the European Parliament. Of course, I'm aware that you know him, in particular in his capacity as the president of Liberal International, of which your own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, is a member.

Graham Watson started his political career working in the private office of the Honorable David Steele, the leader of the Liberal Party in the UK. He has been a member of this parliament since 1994, and has taken a great deal of interest in issues of civil liberty, economic and monetary affairs, as well as the EU's relations with Asia. He's been a member of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with China, and is presently a member of the delegation for relations with the Korean Peninsula. He lived and worked in Hong Kong, as a banker with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in the early 1990s, and has a great deal of first-hand experience with your part of the world, traveling across China and East Asia numerous times and in different capacities.

Next to him, the second very prominent member of the European Parliament, Mr. President, to whom I would also like to introduce you, is Dr. Georg Jarzembowski, second to my right. He is a member of the European People's Party, the EPP, which is the largest party of the present parliament. He was, and has been, an MEP since 1991. I believe you share many interests with him, but there is one I would like to mention in particular. Like yourself, he was a student of law. He earned his doctorate in law in 1980, and he worked as a lawyer and a judge in his home state of Hamburg before joining this parliament. He has stated particular interests in the issues of transport and safety at sea. He is also the chairman of the Japan delegation of this parliament, as well as the chairman of European Parliament's Taiwan Friendship Group.

To his right, I would like to introduce the third member of our panel today here in Brussels, Mr. President, and that is Patrice de Beer, the editor-in-chief of Le Monde, the leading national daily of France, on my right third position. Patrice de Beer has had a very distinguished career at Le Monde, which he joined back in 1970. He knows East Asia very well, working as the newspaper's correspondent first in Bangkok during the 1970s, later in Beijing during the 1980s, and during the 1990s he worked in London and subsequently in Washington DC. Hence, as editor-in-chief of Le Monde, he can truly bring a global perspective to our panel and to our dialogue. As a graduate of l'INALCOL, the French school for Oriental studies and language in Paris, he has always pursued academic scholarship alongside his journalist career and he has published three books about mainland China. The first is about China's civil war, the second is about the awakening of the dragon (my translation), and the third is about China's political transition at the time of the death of Deng Xiaoping. Patrice, thank you very much for braving the storms and snow on the way traveling from Paris today to be with us on this panel.

The first member of our panel is Aidan White, immediately to the right of Patrice de Beer, an Irish national and the general secretary of the International Foundation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists. Aidan White has been an adviser to the EU as well as to UN organizations on the issues of governance of the mass media in Europe and globally. He focuses particularly on issues of media ethics and human rights. One of his recent books, published by his federation in 2002, focuses on journalism, civil liberties and the war against terrorism.

Several within the invited audience, I'm very pleased to see several other members of the European Parliament from Spain, from the United Kingdom, from Lithuania, from the Netherlands, and several prominent scholars from China and East Asia, for example, Professor Plasschaert from Leuven, as well as, of course, your very close colleague and former foreign minister Mr. Chen Chien-jen, now the special representative of Taipei to the European Union.

Mr. President, it's a great honor and great pleasure for me to introduce and to moderate this panel. I've had the privilege of being in the same place as you before, back in 1999, when you, as presidential candidate, kindly accepted to deliver an address at our European Institute of Asian Studies. At that time, you spoke about the new middle road for Taiwan, a political perspective. We have followed your presidency very closely since your victory of March of 2000 through a series of international seminars and research publications, and we are extremely interested to have your views today on developments in Taiwan, on the outlook of cross-strait relations, as well as your view on the future of EU-Taiwan relations.

It's a cold and wintry day here in Brussels and it's been snowing incessantly throughout the morning. Fortunately, our present way of communicating, by airwaves and video transmission, transcends these gray clouds as well as the many borders that separate us. Mr. President, we are very pleased to have you here with us. I would like to invite you to make your opening statement. Over to you, sir. Thank you.

President Chen
Good Afternoon! Dr. Willem van der Geest, our host of today and Director of the European Institute for Asian Studies; Mr. Graham Watson, Chairman of the European Parliament Alliance of Liberals and Democrats; Mr. Georg Jarzembowski, Chairman of the European Parliament Taiwan Friendship Group; Mr. Patrice de Beer, Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde; Mr. Aidan White, Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists; Distinguished Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you today via videoconference. All of you are the most wonderful friends to Taiwan, who have, for a long time, supported our efforts in democratization and in seeking participation in international organizations. On behalf of the government and the 23 million people of Taiwan, let me extend my highest regard and sincere appreciation to each of you.

The Lunar New Year is the most important festival for all ethnic Chinese everywhere in the world; it is also a time for families to come together in celebration. To everyone who has vested interests in cross-strait relations, the successful launch of direct charter passenger flights before the Lunar New Year must have brought much delight and satisfaction, for it sends a stream of warm currents rippling through cross-strait relations that have been kept in deep freeze for quite some time. It also opens a window of opportunity for reconciliation and dialogue between Taiwan and China. At last, a ray of sunshine finally arrived.

The two sides of the Strait are now able to seize the opportunity of a "spring blossom," to reach out to each other for reconciliation and actualize positive interactions as a step towards normalization of our mutual relations. Such a positive sign not only fulfills the expectations of the international community; it is also the very foundation on which peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region must be built. In addition, it epitomizes a goal that my government strives to achieve, that is: Creating a new and stable environment for consultation and dialogue across the Strait.

However, a dark cloud now overshadows the atmosphere of reconciliation, as the Chinese government proceeds to pass the "anti-secession law" in the upcoming National People's Congress in early March. The "anti-secession law" is a blatant and unilateral attempt to undermine the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, for it will provide a legal basis for China to define the status quo and permit Beijing to be both the arbitrator and the sanctioning party. Such an action brings negative effects to Taiwan's effort to normalize cross-strait relations; it also poses great challenges to security, peace and order in the Asia-Pacific region.

Disputes in the Strait must be settled with peaceful and consultative means. This is the collective expectation of the international community; and many countries, including the United States, Japan and the European Union, have all reiterated unequivocally such a stance. Taiwan, as a faithful defender of international order and the guardian of democracy and freedom, will continue to extend olive branch to China, as we have done in the past four years. At the same time, we must send a strong message: that more than 83 percent of Taiwan people oppose the "anti-secession law." The passage of such legislation will not be welcomed by myself or by any advocate for peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Therefore, I'd like to call on EU countries to heed the attempt by the Chinese government to exploit the "anti-secession law" as a way to unilaterally change the status quo in the Strait; I also appeal for your support for peaceful, reconciliatory, and goodwill interactions between Taiwan and China.

In comparison to Taiwan's accomplishments of democratization in the past two decades—democratic elections, party politics, building a truly neutral and nationalized military that is not controlled by any individual or political party, protection of human rights, and the peaceful transfer of power between political parties—China remains a semi-open society under authoritarian rule. This "lack of transparency" posits the utmost unpredictability and possible danger in the glamorous allure of the so-called "China emergence" claim. Recently, public discourse on whether the EU should lift its arms embargo against China has stirred many controversies, and countries including the United States and Japan have also expressed grave concerns.

Considering the importance of keeping military balance in the Asia-Pacific, improvement of China's human rights situation, and control of weapons proliferation, the EU should apply tougher standards to assess whether China takes concrete actions to accept norms and standards of international systems. Furthermore, the international community must discern whether Beijing is capable of handling cross-strait issues through peaceful means as the touchstone to appraise the merit of the "China emergence" claim.

Notably, China currently deploys 706 missiles along its southeast shore targeting Taiwan and is still reluctant to renounce the use of force to resolve cross-strait issues. This resembles a ticking bomb to peace. Therefore, I must urge the EU countries to take heed of potential threats to security in the Asia-Pacific should there be a tilt in the military balance between the two sides.

Democracy in Taiwan is the hard-won fruit of our 23 million people, won with the support of the international community. Although the world's present day reality has kept Taiwan from participating in many international organizations or activities, it has never diminished Taiwan's resolve, nor has it discouraged Taiwan from taking actions to fulfill our international responsibilities. In international medical and health care collaborations, ranging from AIDS prevention and eradication of polio to other humanitarian endeavors, Taiwan has always been part of the global efforts. Moreover, Taiwan also generously provided aid to Afghanistan, Iraq and the tsunami relief efforts. The seeds of our compassion have been planted in all corners of the world.

Such a loyal, responsible, and compassionate member of the international society, like Taiwan, deserves fair treatment and due respect. However, Taiwan's humble aspiration to obtain observer status in the World Health Assembly continues to be sabotaged by China's political interference, even after eight years of strenuous efforts. The cost incurred yet paid for by the Taiwan people is that in the SARS outbreak of 2003, at a time when we were most in need, we were unable to receive timely attention from the international medical network. The noble ideal such as "health care without boundaries" and "medicine without borders" has been greatly compromised.

I urge our friends in the European Parliament: In the World Health Assembly this year, please stand up for Taiwan and put aside any political interference; support our bid to become a part of the international medical network. Let Taiwan become a force of reform and progress. Let all the Taiwan people bring into the global village an invigorating source of vitality.

In closing, I thank you all for your participation, and I would be very happy to take your comments now. Thank you.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Mr. President, thank you very much, of course, for creating a stable environment for consultation and dialogue. But you also referred to a number of developments which we see here to be going against that. I would like to invite Graham Watson of this parliament to comment and to dialogue with you.

Mr. Graham Watson
Mr. President, it's a great honor to have the opportunity to have this dialogue with you. I hope that it may be the first of many as we develop links between democracies across the world. It is the view of the European Union that we must do all we can to promote democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. And we welcome the tremendous progress you've made in Taiwan in recent years as the first part of China to embrace democracy fully in this way. We, of course, are interested in contacts with Taiwan and with the rest of the People's Republic of China to try to encourage the entry in full of the Chinese people into the community of world democracies. Thus it seems to us only logical that we should involve Taiwan for where you have an obvious interest and obvious benefit in participating, such as WTO.

I will be leading a delegation from my group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, to the People's Republic very shortly. I hope to discuss with them a number of ways in which Europe and China can work together to promote democracy and our common interests. But my group, and indeed many of us here in the European Parliament, have been very critical of the moves to lift the embargo on arms sales to the People's Republic of China, believing that we should be selling arms to democracies who need to defend themselves, not to authoritarian societies where they may be used in other ways. I welcome the fact that President Clinton will [sic] visit Taiwan. I hope that the European Union may respond also by sending politicians of a high level to visit your country, and I hope that we might also receive politicians from your country.

But I would be very keen to know from you of your own plans of this area, and indeed, of your ideas on what we might do to promote said contacts.

President Chen
Thank you for your kind questions. Of course, we would love to see further democratization and the start of democracy in China, under which the people there could enjoy regular democratic elections, multiparty politics, and truly neutral national armed forces instead of the current national armed forces controlled by the communist party. We also hope to see that people in China might be able to enjoy all freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We hope that Falun Gong followers will not be treated as criminals in the future, and furthermore, that their rights will be protected. We also hope to see the basic human rights of the Chinese people protected. Taiwan indeed has made remarkable progress in the past few decades. Although, unlike the European countries or the United States, where democracy has deeply taken root, we have yet to further democratize. But we are on the right track and we are doing good things.

We hope that the democracy in Taiwan will serve as a lighthouse to China. Since the Tiananmen Square Incident, the European Union has maintained an arms embargo against China. There has been a proposal to lift the arms embargo. Such a proposal raises serious concerns among the members of the international community, including the United States and Japan. I'm glad to see that President Bush, during his recent visit to Europe, expressed his serious concern over this issue, because the United States and Japan have traditionally vested interests in security and peace across the Taiwan Strait. Should the European Union decide to lift its arms embargo on China, it might tilt the military balance in the Taiwan Strait, which would pose a great threat to peace, security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

We appreciate the fact that the European Parliament in the past has passed many resolutions to urge the Beijing authorities to withdraw their missiles targeting Taiwan and renounce the use of force against Taiwan. However, the missiles they deployed have not decreased. Instead, they have increased at the rate of 120 per year. I recall more than a year ago back in 2003, our statistics showed that Beijing had about 490 missiles deployed along the southeast coast. Now, just as I mentioned, there are currently 706 missiles deployed against Taiwan. If the European Union decides to lift the arms embargo on China, it would be indirectly sending a signal to China, that China does not need to continue its democratization effort, that it does not have to accept democracy.

We have taken note of the European Council held at the end of last year, in which the presidency concluded that no decision would result in the increase of arms exports to China by any EU member state, either in quantity or quality. If that is the case, then why would the EC need to lift the arms embargo? Some have said that there is no need to worry, because the EU will introduce a code of conduct for arms exports and strengthen it. It will become the formal legal basis for arms exports for member countries and increase the transparency of arms sales. If that's the case, then why would the EU want to lift the arms embargo and then introduce a code of conduct? Our concern is that the EU will send the wrong signal to China, thereby affecting China's determination to embrace democracy.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Thank you, Mr. President. Before moving on to the next panelist, I would like to ask Graham briefly to say a few words in appreciation of your comments.

Mr. Graham Watson
Very briefly, Willem. There has been of course tremendous change in the PRC since 1989, change which we very much welcome. We enjoy a very healthy trading relationship, which we hope to see grow and flower. It seems to me, and I'm sure that you would agree, Mr. President, that what we need to do is to build on that change. Through increased dialogue with the People's Republic, through confidence-building measures, through resisting mutual antagonisms on both sides, so that we can see China change, not just in the economic field, but also socially towards the introduction of greater and greater democratic reforms, which would then allow us to enjoy full and normal trading relations, and indeed would help economies on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and indeed in Western Europe and North America.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Mr. President, with your permission, I would like to move onto Georg Jarzembowski, a member of the European Parliament from the EPP.

Mr. Georg Jarzembowski
Dear Mr. President, dear friend, I would like to stress that it is an honor to have this discussion with you. Let me point out that it would be much better if we soon could have the possibility of a discussion with you in person in Brussels. I hope that the authorities responsible for visas do honor the wishes of the European Parliament, which has been inviting you to speak at the Conference of Presidents in this building. I hope we can get further on that issue.

To further what Graham has said, I totally agree with you that the "anti-secession law" is a dangerous development in the relationship between the sides of the strait, because it apparently gives some kind of false legal basis for more threats by the People's Republic of China toward Taiwan. Therefore, I think we should all work to ensure that the National Congress of the PRC does not pass that law. By the way, it's astounding that nobody has seen the exact wording of that law, which I would like to have, but nobody has shown me so far. On the other hand, there has been positive development, which you have mentioned, in that there have been direct passenger flights over the Lunar New Year holidays. How much of a possibility can you see that this part of the three links could be forwarded in the future? So, my question is: What chance do you see that the political dialogue on whatever basis—among associations or among professors or political experts—how do you see a chance for political dialogue? I mean, I do understand that Taiwan must insist that it is a sovereign state and a true democracy, and it cannot accept the Beijing interpretation of the "one-China" policy. So, my question is: Do we see a chance for these talks in the near future, and what would be your, not preconditions, but rather would be your framework for such decisions?

I would like to add a second short question. There was bitter fighting in the election campaigns for the national elections in December. The question for me now is a two-fold one. What kind of cooperation will your government find with the majority in the national parliament? And how will you seek to reconcile the different parties and slightly different opinions on cross-strait relations so that the parliament and the whole society of Taiwan, not only the president, can extend a clear and common Taiwanese position on the situation in Taiwan, the status of Taiwan, and the intention to go forward with political dialogue?

President Chen
Thank you very much for your comments and questions. Of course, I very much look forward to the day when I will be able to deliver an open speech in the European Parliament. Also, thank you very much for your encouragement.
In December 1999, as a presidential candidate, I had the honor of visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. However, in 2001, when Liberal International decided to confer on me the International Freedom Prize, I could not obtain a visa. Therefore, it was rather ironic that I was awarded the Freedom Prize, yet I did not even have the freedom to travel there and receive it.

Yes, indeed, the "anti-secession law" that you just mentioned is something that we cannot understand. While there are signs showing that there is a gradual normalization of cross-strait relations, why then did China want to cast a shadow over such a positive atmosphere and destroy all of the olive branches that we have extended? This is very unwise and unnecessary and, in fact, could cause many problems. I am very concerned about the situation, because just recently during the Lunar New Year we were able to operate direct charter passenger flights. Everyone was very happy about it and had high expectations for the furtherance of such operations. However, the passage of this law could destroy our goodwill and positive gestures.

We have made strenuous efforts in normalizing economic and trade relations across the Strait. From these mini-three-links to an expansion thereof, we hope to realize the three direct links. Back in 2003, when we had the Lunar New Year charter flights, they were only operated one way and weren't reciprocal. Moreover, flights had to stop in a third place, namely Hong Kong. However, this year we have made big improvements and have taken a great step forward. This year's flights were not only two-way and reciprocal, but also did not have to stop in a third territory.

Originally our plan was to start from Lunar New Year direct charter flights and gradually move to operating direct charter cargo flights. Eventually the direct three links could be implemented. We hope to start formal consultations and negotiations very soon and put our disputes aside, so as to seek common ground among all our differences. This is what I have emphasized again and again. I look forward to welcoming a new and stable environment for consultation and dialogue across the Taiwan Strait. We have made a proposal to use the 1992 Hong Kong meeting as a basis for further consultation and dialogue.

As you are aware, just a few days ago I had a meeting with an opposition leader, Chairman Soong. I think that this is the best demonstration of our efforts in trying to seek common ground among our differences. We want to set an example of cooperation between the governing party and opposition parties. Based on the same spirit, we hope to start our dialogue with the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

Right after the election at the end of last year, I proposed that, as long as something is helpful and conducive to our political situation, as long as something is helpful to enhancing the welfare of our people and to harmonizing our ethnic relations as well as cross-strait peace, anything can be open to reconciliation and cooperation between not only the governing party and the opposition parties, but also between both sides of the Taiwan Strait. It takes courage and confidence to reach reconciliation. We have great confidence, and we have great courage. We want to pursue reconciliation amongst political parties, and we want to have a dialogue with the other side.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Thank you, thank you very much, Mr. President. These are very clear answers on both pressing issues of cross-strait dialogue as well as reconciliation and consultation across the domestic spectrum in Taiwan. May I now invite Patrice de Beer, the editor-and-chief of the French daily Le Monde, to put his question to you. Patrice.

Mr. Patrice de Beer
Mr. President, I am very happy to have the opportunity of taking part in this dialogue. It's not easy indeed to interview a Taiwanese president. I tried with some of your predecessors in vain, so I'm going to be very greedy and ask more than one question. It is important in the present circumstances, where Taiwan has come to the forefront of the world's actuality in several ways, by which I mean the controversy over the arms embargo on China, the US-Japan statement on security in the Taiwan Strait, and the debate you mentioned over the "anti-secession law."

Let's talk first about this EU-US controversy on the arms embargo. One might not feel great sympathy for President Bush's missionary zeal in world affairs, but his line on Taiwan and China does make some sense. Why should we Europeans give Beijing a blank check on strategic weapon matters, at a time when we demand safeguards and guarantees from all the countries in the world? Why should Europe lift an arms embargo if the Europeans themselves say they don't want to sell more weapons to China, as Mr. Solana said recently? But then, why did the French defense minister say the opposite? What is the official line of the EU? Rather than strengthening the Far East, lifting the arms embargo could indeed be giving a full sense of impunity, a blank check to use these newly acquired weapons, and inside the Chinese leadership, towards less moderation in the world today. That is why I feel personally that there is a degree of hypocrisy on this arms embargo question. And I would like to ask your views, Mr. President, on that.

I would also like to hear from you on the recent US-Japan statement on security in the Taiwan Strait, on their common concern about the future of the security of Taiwan, and on the potential threat caused by the PRC's new military procurements in the region. It is interesting to note that President Bush is, if I am not wrong, the first Western leader to talk tough to China since President Nixon went to Peking in 1972 more than 30 years ago. Contrary to the politically correct line of the day that you must appease the Middle Kingdom if you want to do business there, it seems that the US remains the major trading partner of China and doesn't appear to have suffered much. So, at the same time, does Mr. Chen think that this new US pressure on China and the new Japanese assertiveness in the region—whether political or military—can help Taiwan's security? Or just the opposite, could it lead to increased tension across the Taiwan Strait? And a final question: What would you have to say to those European leaders like the French or the British, or others who have consistently demeaned the politics and politicians of Taiwan and given their support to China's policy over Taiwan, often without getting much in return? Thank you.

President Chen
We have taken notice of the two-plus-two meeting between the United States and Japan and the joint statement that they issued on 19th of February, which included Taiwan among their common strategic objectives and encouraged a peaceful resolution through dialogue over the Taiwan issue. Of course, the two-plus-two meeting and the joint statement cover more than issues concerning Taiwan. It also covers global security. We should really pay attention to the significance of this being the first time over the past several decades that the Taiwan issue has been included in the common strategic objectives.

We have taken notice of China's arms expansion and the rapid increase of its defense budget. Every year it increases at a double-digit rate, not to mention the missile deployment. I have just said that currently there are 706 ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan. However, I didn't mention that there are also 173 strategic missiles targeting Taiwan. Maybe Europe is very far from the Taiwan Strait, and the European continent is also far from the Asia-Pacific region. But the United States and Japan are right in the Pacific Rim, and that is why they are very clear about the developments and the situation. However, I do think that Europe should be more concerned and pay more attention to such a threat. So not only does the joint statement of the two-plus-two meeting include Taiwan among its common strategic objectives, but President Bush and many others have also expressed serious concern and opposition over the European Union's lifting of its arms embargo on China, because they think it will tilt the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.

Regarding these two issues—the two-plus-two statement and the EU's lifting of its arms embargo—Taiwan has taken a relatively low profile because we don't want to over-interpret the significance or content of these issues, and we also don't want to relate them to the "anti-secession law." Democracy, freedom, human rights and peace are universal values, and security and stability in the Taiwan Strait, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region, are the common goals that the US, Japan and other countries want to achieve. This is also our common and greatest aspiration. We believe that the continuation of the arms embargo against China and the inclusion of Taiwan issues into the common strategic objectives by the two-plus-two meeting are conducive to peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Also, I am rather reluctant to criticize another government or the leadership of another government. Even though I have been criticized many times by leaders of some countries, I can only say that I am very sorry to hear that. If based on the decision of their national interests or personal interests, they decide to embrace China, we cannot say anything about it, really. However, we must say that we are saddened to learn that some countries have adopted a double standard on the universal values of human rights, democracy, freedom and peace.

For example, when the people of Taiwan tried to introduce a referendum, which is one of the basic human rights and one of the universal values of democracy, some national leaders made criticisms against it. We all know that the people in France enjoy the basic human right of referendum; and on some constitutional reform issues, referendums are often held to reflect the people's decisions. Even the term of the presidency is decided by the people via referendum. Last year on March 20, Taiwan held its first-ever national referendum. The items we put to vote were very simple and clear, but also very important. The first was to strengthen our national defense capability; the second was to start a peaceful dialogue with the other side of the strait. However, such a simple and clear referendum was severely criticized by some national leaders; it was indeed very unfair to the twenty-three million people of Taiwan.

How can the French government hold a referendum and the government of Taiwan be deprived of such a right? How come the people of France can enjoy the basic human right to hold a referendum, yet the people of Taiwan and their rights to hold a referendum were subjected to humiliation and distortion? Here, I must say that the 23 million people of Taiwan at last enjoy the basic human right to a referendum, which has been held once already. The holding of a referendum is no longer considered a taboo. In the future, we will also apply the right of referendum to our impending constitutional reengineering project.

I hope that in the future, before criticizing Taiwan, others really try to understand what is truly going on and what the people of Taiwan are doing. Detractors cannot offer strong criticism just because they have a vested interest in China and because they have decided to embrace China for personal or political gain.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Thank you, Mr. President. Patrice, you asked four very tough questions, and you got some answers and some questions in return. For the sake of time, I would like to move on and invite Aidan White to address the president and put forward his questions. Over to you, Aidan.

Mr. Aidan White
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I'm very pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words. I have to say that my colleagues have asked all the questions. I am at the end of the line at which all my questions have been asked. But one of the things I do feel, of course, is that this discussion is interesting because someone is missing from the table. It should be really a question of the future of dialogue, the commitment to dialogue and commitment to reconciliation. To what extent, what steps are necessary to make reconciliation a meaningful objective, if not in the short term, then in the long term? To what extent is Taiwan able to be committed to moving toward reconciliation in a way that will protect the values that you have already embraced? That's what I'm interested to know about: what specifically you have in mind and what you think are the benchmarks necessary to promote dialogues.

I do think that the question of human rights, which has been referred to a lot here, is not properly examined perhaps by many European governments in a manner to which they should be. Certainly it's my own view, and from what you have said, I get the impression that … European countries … this stage … political attachment to a core values of human rights, but those core values of human rights are not ... until the picture is full … political interests, and then they are sacrificed.

That is unfortunately what we have seen in the area of media, where large global media corporations have seen fit to sacrifice … impose censorship on their own operations in order to have access to markets, lucrative markets, in China. How is it possible to seek credible, political solutions that will have the support of communities in New York and elsewhere, when there is such cynicism acting in the political world? I feel very strongly that the issues that human rights need to be focused on are not theoretical questions. I represent journalists of Taiwan also, who are … that basket of rights around freedom of expression, free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. While these to one extent or another are … or … subject to terrible restrictions.

Just in the last few days, we have seen how China's failure to properly address international obligations, to conventions and treaties, has a terrible human price. The deaths of … 200 mine workers … not ten days ago another almost part of a continuing story of terrible deaths that take place in the Chinese mining industry. Last year 6,000 mine workers were killed, 80% of those who died in the mines around the world, and yet China has not ratified the ILO (International Labor Organization) convention on the protection of mine workers' safety. It is almost extraordinary to have the European Union, which is attached to its core values of peace, stability, and social decency, to be thinking of lifting an arms embargo without seeking to have some attachment, on the part of China, to its international obligations.

The point I am making is a simple one: What in specific terms do you think is necessary, and what would you be prepared to accept as being the conditions for the lifting of the arms embargo? Should it be signing of international conventions and treaties? Should it be the release of all prisoners in Chinese jails? What specifically do you think is necessary in order to move on? [ellipses denote words or phrases missing due to poor transmission]

President Chen
I greatly admire the comments you have just made. I think the most important issue is that we uphold the common values of humanity. Yes, national interests may be very important, but more important are universal values, especially democracy, freedom, and human rights.

In my opinion, if China’s purpose of military procurement is not to maintain world peace, or if the sales would lead to regional instability and threaten security across the Taiwan Strait, then European countries, based on the values that they most strongly uphold –namely, the universal values of human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, and so forth – must not ignore or be oblivious to such reality.

The EU decided to introduce the arms embargo on China after the Tiananmen Incident – an event that was in great violation of human rights – because China is not a democratic country, and the people there do not enjoy basic human rights. That's why the EU decided to introduce such an action. Over the past decade, we have not seen much improvement or genuine improvement in China with regard to human rights and democracy. Their human rights standards are yet to be greatly improved, to be brought in line with international standards.

I think true national interest should lie in the protection of our common values of humanity and those common values of universal human rights, such as democracy and freedom. For example, we have tried to gain observer status in the World Health Assembly. This is a very simple issue concerning our basic human rights, as it is a simple healthcare and a simple disease prevention issue. However, our efforts unfortunately became politicized. Yes, indeed, as you have rightly pointed out that the differences between the two sides of the Strait should be resolved through peaceful dialogue. However, China's insistence on the "one China" principle is something we cannot agree upon. By setting such precondition or insisting on reaching a conclusion, it makes it very difficult for both sides to sit down and talk.

I have mentioned during our conversation that we hope to use the 1992 Hong Kong meeting as a basis on which we could proceed with our consultation and dialogue with the other side. Our short-term objective is to realize the direct charter flights. As to political relations across the Strait, we think that as long as we have the consent of Taiwan’s 23 million people, we will not exclude any possibility to form any kind of political relations.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, no dialogue in Europe is complete without involving the audience. We are also very pressed for time. It's very close to midnight already in Taipei, and I would like to invite one or two journalists, and also perhaps a member of the European Parliament, to put forth very brief questions. Can I invite Sergio Cantone of the EuroNews? He is the correspondent of the EuroNews to Brussels. Over to you.

Mr. Sergio Cantone (EuroNews)
Yes. My question is, you see, it's about the PRC, which has a growing potential, economic potential, for the European countries. It's a big opportunity for the new century. So, this could overshadow the position of Taiwan and the reason of Taiwan, and could be the origin of the double standard that you mentioned before, as well as explain the lifting of the embargo. So, how do you think you will deal in the next years with this overshadowing position or situation that could destroy the reasonable position of Taiwan?

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Mr. President, if I may take the second question at this time for reasons of time: May I invite Charles Tannock, Member of the European Parliament from the UK? Please, Mr. Tannock.

Mr. Charles Tannock
Thank you, Mr. President. I've always been a great admirer of Taiwan's democracy and economic miracle. My questions are as follows: Would Taiwan be satisfied by a declaration from the European Council of Ministers of a guarantee of security for Taiwan as a sweetener in exchange for ending the EU embargo? This battle has been recently in the press. Second, is there any chance that Japan, United States, or any other state, might establish full diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the event that force is used if the arms embargo is ended or lifted? Thank you.

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Mr. President, may I ask for your permission to take the third question from John Chalmers of Reuters?

Mr. John Chalmers (Reuters)
Yes. Mr. President. … they were resigning over what they call your softer stance towards China. My question is … why have you turned ... to it … after for example, … promising to write a new constitution ... Talk about situation … Secondly, how are you going to … pro-independence supporters such as the three advisors I just mentioned?

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Mr. President. Three very complex questions. We hope that you will be able to address those. Over to you.

[some difficulty with transmission, requiring that questions be repeated]

Dr. Willem van der Geest
Well, let me repeat, in reverse order, the questions. Lastly was that of Mr. John Chalmers from Reuters, about the resignation of three of your advisors, and the pressure you may face to take a tougher stance on China; and about your constitutional reform rather than constitutional amendment.

President Chen
I am very sorry about the delay resulting from the bad transmission. Of course, the economic interests of each country are very important. Common values or universal values override the interests of each nation, however. Taiwan is small in size and our population is also small when compared to that of China. And, of course, our market is not as attractive as the Chinese market. Nevertheless, we think that Taiwan and the European Union can strengthen mutual trade and economic relations, as well as exchanges and cooperation in other areas. We were very happy that the EU set up a representative office here in Taiwan on March 10, 2003. By 2004, just one year after the representative office was established, the total trade volume between EU countries and Taiwan amounted to US$38.9 billion, which represents an increase of 18.6 percent on the 2003 figure. Exports from Taiwan to the EU in 2004 increased by 14.2 percent on 2003, while EU exports to Taiwan enjoyed a 25.1 percent increase. The EU is currently Taiwan's fourth largest trading partner after only China, the US, and Japan, and it is thought that soon enough, it will become Taiwan's third or even second largest partner.

Regarding the second question, Taiwan does not have formal diplomatic relations with the US and Japan at the present time, and I do not think that, in the foreseeable future, there is any likelihood of establishing formal relations with these two countries. I must say, however, that Taiwan shares with US and Japan the best "value alliance," built on our common values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and security. My mission is to be the person to balance the diverse aspects of the dynamic powers within our society, as well as to be a strong defender of peace, stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

As for my response to the third question, yes, indeed, just in the past few days we have taken the first step toward reconciliation between the governing party and opposition, as well as toward initiating cooperation among Taiwan’s different political parties. However, after my meeting with Chairman Soong, some people think that such reconciliation is in violation with their beliefs and goals. Some also expressed strong reaction toward this, including resignations from some of my senior political advisors and my national policy advisors. I think, however, we have taken the right approach and embarked upon the right path to achieve reconciliation and cooperation between the governing party and opposition. This is because, over the last four to five years, Taiwan's political situation has been characterized by bipartisanship between the pan-green and the pan-blue, which I think does not work to the benefit of our people.

Reconciliation is indeed a great art. It is a great art of possibilities, an art of compromises. It does not, however, equate with muddling everything together or stirring everything up. Reconciliation does not mean that we have given up on our ideals. It is a way for us to seek a common ground, to seek consensus, despite our differences. Some people have resigned because I have said that I will not declare Taiwan independence nor will I change the national moniker. I must reiterate that there are only slightly more than three years left in my second term as president, and I must do something positive for our country, our homeland and our people.

Taiwan is already an independent sovereign country with the national moniker of Republic of China. Hence, there is no such issue as "declaring independence." Secondly, regarding changing the national moniker from "Republic of China" to "Republic of Taiwan," well, if we want to change our national moniker, we must garner three-quarters of the votes in our national legislature. Given the current situation in which those supporting our governing party occupy less than half the seats in our legislature, in reality it would be impossible to pass such a proposal. I have to be very honest to myself, as well as to others. I cannot deceive myself; I cannot deceive others. If I cannot do something, then really, I cannot do it. I know very clearly that, during my term as president, it will be impossible for me to change our national moniker to "Republic of Taiwan." I really cannot do it. Even our former President Lee Teng-hui could not achieve it during his twelve years as president; and, I think, that even if he were the sitting president today, he would still not be able to do it.

Regarding our constitutional reengineering project, I would like to say once again, as I have said on many occasions, that our goal is to enhance our national competitiveness and to increase good governance. For example, one of the key issues in our constitutional debate is whether we want to adopt a presidential system, a parliamentary system, or a dual executive system like what France has. At present, we have neither of the above systems. Our current constitutional design provides for a five-branch separation of powers (unlike the three-branch separation of powers in most countries) and, if this is to be changed, it must be done through constitutional reform.

The constitutional reengineering project also involves strengthening the protection mechanism for human rights and similar issues, which has no bearing on the independence or unification issue. Moreover, before we have a majority consensus, the constitutional reengineering project will not involve issues regarding sovereignty, territorial change, or independence versus unification issues. I would like to clarify the due procedure necessary for constitutional reform. For a draft version of a new constitution to be approved, it must first garner three-quarters of the votes in the national legislature, after which it will be put to national referendum. With such a high threshold of approval, even if the independence versus unification issue were to be raised, it would be very unlikely that it could be approved by our national legislature. Therefore, people do not need to worry about Taiwan moving toward independence through constitutional reform.

Dr Willem van der Geest
Mr. President, I would, with your permission, like to draw this dialogue to a conclusion. In view of the time, especially in Taipei, it must be very late already. I would like to say I feel that on all the issues you have spoken with great gravity and great conviction explaining your position very, very well: your goal of reaching a stable environment for consultation, your call on Europeans to understand the perception of threats that your country faces, and also your call on Europeans to think very carefully on the issue of lifting the arms embargo on China in view of the signal—in your view the wrong signal—that it presents internationally, as well as to China itself.

With your permission, Mr. President, I would like to thank you very much for this dialogue, for your willingness to engage with European civil society in such a direct and unique way, and I feel that this should be only the first of a number of exchanges between yourself and Europeans on different levels. I hope indeed that this will be the first of a series. Over to you for a final comment before we close our dialogue.

President Chen
Dr Willem van der Geest, our dear host of today, and our participants. Thank you very much for your precious time and efforts in participating in this dialogue. I do hope to meet with you next time at the European Parliament. Goodnight.