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BBC Interview with President Chen Shui-bian

  • Date:2007-08-22


Q1: What is the importance of the military exercises that are taking place in Taiwan this week?

A: They are annual, routine exercises and are very important in helping us review and reassess the training and education we offer our military. This year is the 23rd annual Hanguang Exercise (Hanguang No.23 Exercise). What distinguishes this year's exercise from past ones is that instead of holding it in a single location, we have spread the exercise across various locations.

The Hanguang No. 23 Exercise held this week is a live exercise. However, prior to the exercise we also carried out scenario simulations in two parts. One part comprised military drill scenarios, while the other involved political and economic scenarios, which we added to the military scenarios in 2005, and over which I have personally presided since last year. This year we came up with six major political and economic scenarios, and we spent 20 hours non-stop in an air-raid shelter, going through each of these scenarios.

In most countries, it would be unusual for a president, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, to be so deeply involved in such scenarios. But bearing in mind that China still refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and could initiate a military attack at any time, it is vital that we ensure we are all absolutely prepared for such a situation. We cannot count on our enemy not attacking us. Hence, the live exercises plus the scenarios serve to maximize our readiness.

Q2: In that context, how concerned are you about the increased military spending in China?

A: I don't believe Taiwan is the only country that is deeply concerned about China's military expansion. I think that many other countries, including the US and Japan, are also very concerned. First of all, it is clear to all that China has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan. And secondly, two years ago, China passed the "anti-separation law" (so-called anti-secession law), laying the legal foundation for its future military invasion of Taiwan. Furthermore, China has formulated a three-stage military preparation for a war against Taiwan. These three stages are: establishing combat capabilities, by the end of this year, for a comprehensive contingency response; building up combat capabilities for large-scale military engagement by 2010; and ensuring victory in a decisive battle by 2015.

This year in March, the National People's Congress of China passed its new defense budget, with a 17.8 percent increase on last year's budget. The net growth for China's military expenditure last year increased by 20 percent compared with the previous year. There has been a continuous double-digit growth in military expenditure on an annual basis ever since the Tiananmen Square Incident 18 years ago. This far exceeds the needs of China's military self-defense, and demonstrates that their intentions extend beyond self-defense to include a military invasion of Taiwan.

In 2000, when I first assumed presidency, the missiles China had deployed along its southeast coast targeting Taiwan numbered about 200, but now the number has increased to 988. So within a short space of time, the number of missiles has grown fivefold. And it continues to increase at a rate of 120 to 150 and above per year.

The film Thirteen Days chronicles the Cuban Missile Crisis four decades ago, when Cuba deployed about 40 missiles targeting the US. As the title indicates, the crisis lasted for 13 days. The American people followed the crisis with anxiety and fear. If you look at Taiwan, our 23 million people have been overshadowed by the daily threat of missiles for years. So, in the case of Taiwan, we could speak of "Endless Days."

Both US and Japanese government reports assessing China's military power indicate that the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait is tilting in favor of China. And this is a warning sign for Taiwan. That is why we must build up our defense and self-defense capabilities. We support the move by the US and Japan to include Taiwan as a common strategic objective in their "Two-plus-Two" security meeting. Moreover, both the US and Japan have urged the European Union not to lift its arms embargo against China. Many countries, including the US and Japan, are deeply concerned about the peace in the Taiwan Strait and China's military threat.

Q3: If, as you say, the military balance has shifted towards China, in China's favor, this makes it all the more important for Taiwan to know what America might do. Are you confident that the United States will defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China?

A: According to the Taiwan Relations Act, which is part of the US' domestic legislation, the US is obligated to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of war with China. Furthermore, the US and Japan have signed a security treaty. Japan also has related legislation regarding situations in its surrounding area. And such situations include security in the Taiwan Strait. So we think that as long as Taiwan is not the one inciting a military conflict, both the US and Japan will make their concern known--especially the US because of its obligation, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act, to come to Taiwan's aid in the event of a conflict.

Of course, we cannot rely on others to fight for us. We ourselves need to be prepared for a surprise attack from China. Therefore, it is vital that Taiwan can sustain itself militarily before the US comes to our aid. So, whether and how long we can last out are crucial considerations. We will not place the responsibility for defending our own country on the US.

That is why we deem it imperative that we strengthen our defense capabilities. By engaging in military reform and modernization, we aim to achieve this goal.

In so saying, however, I must point out that we do not intend to engage in an arms race with China. What we want to achieve is our strategic goal of "effective deterrence and resolute defense" for Taiwan. That is why we think it is important that we make enough effort in beefing up our defense capabilities and ensuring that our exercises, routine trainings, and drills are carried out properly and thoroughly. The enemy's fighter jets could attack us at any time, and our readiness is of the essence.

We do not seek to engage in war. But we must be prepared for war if we wish to prevent it and work towards achieving lasting peace.

Q4. Do you know exactly, though, what the United States would do if you came under attack?

A: It is entirely up to the US government to decide on their course of action. But let me give you an example from the 1996 Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis. Between the second half of 1995 and March 1996, the month of our first-ever direct presidential election, China test-fired two waves of missiles, with one missile landing just 55 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan. In response to China's maneuvers, the US government sent two aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Strait.

Q5: The reason, though, that this part of the world is so dangerous is that you don't really know what China is going to do; you can't be sure, exactly, how the United States will respond. And so there's lots of room for each side to miscalculate or misperceive what the other's intentions are.

A: Indeed, you are right. The danger is very real. On the Korean Peninsula you have the Six-Party Talks that serve as a platform and mechanism for dealing with the dangers relating to such issues as nuclear weapons. But the question of peace in the Taiwan Strait does not enjoy such a mechanism, and this is something that we are particularly concerned about.

Another of our concerns is that China is far from being democratic and free. It does not have a parliament to oversee the government, there is no freedom of speech to provide check and balance, and public opinion cannot influence the operation and decisions of the Beijing authorities. For these reasons, China's actions are even more unpredictable.

Against this background, it becomes clear why, every year, we have to hold the Hanguang Exercise and come up with different scenarios in response to sudden military attacks China could launch--we need to make sure that we are absolutely ready all the time. But apart from military modernization and the beefing up of our self-defense capabilities, we also think it is important for us to continue consolidating our democracy, because in democracy lies our most effective "theater missile defense" against China, the best counter-defense weapon in our arsenal.

Q6: In the context of this standoff, can, then, Taiwan ever become independent? Such a move would be suicidal, and it might even provoke a war between China and the United States.

A: Taiwan is already a sovereign independent country. Our sovereignty does not fall under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China (PRC). There is one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait. This is the status quo and this is the reality.

Taiwan, being a sovereign independent country, has a population of 23 million and covers an area of 36,000 square kilometers. Its sovereignty belongs to, and is vested in, the 23 million people of Taiwan. Taiwan's sovereignty does not belong to the PRC, nor does it belong to the 1.3 billion people of China.

If Taiwan were not a country, how come we will be electing our next president, the leader of this nation, in the year 2008? Furthermore, at the end of this year, we will hold an election for members of the Legislative Yuan. Taiwan has its own president and parliamentary representatives who are directly elected by the people; we form our own government; we have our own sovereignty and our own military; we have our own currency and our own independent judiciary. How can anyone say that Taiwan is not a country?

Currently, Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with 25 countries. Even though most countries in the world do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, that does not negate the fact and status quo of Taiwan's being a sovereign independent country. Even though Taiwan may not be a full member of the United Nations (UN) or the World Health Organization (WHO), this does not constitute a negation of the existence of Taiwan as a sovereign independent country.

Q7: You said that you wanted Taiwan to be a normal, complete state by 2008, and people took that to mean you were preparing the ground, the path, for a final break--to actually declare independence.

A: This year is the first time we have applied under the name "Taiwan" for full membership in the WHO. Last Friday, our legislature unanimously passed a resolution supporting this move. Taiwan is a newly emerged democracy with a pluralistic society. We may have very divergent ideas on our national identity, but regarding the use of the name "Taiwan" to participate in the WHO as a full member, we have support that transcends partisanship, ideologies, and the issue of unification versus independence. We have the full and firm support of our legislature. We are confident that as a sovereign independent country, Taiwan has the full right to participate in world organizations and international society.

The results [of an opinion poll carried out in March this year] show that 95 percent of our people support Taiwan's application for WHO membership...and 77 percent support Taiwan's application for membership in the UN under the name "Taiwan." Clearly, this is an expression of our right, as a sovereign country, to participate in international organizations. So we will continue to make efforts toward establishing Taiwan, not only as a country but also as a normal country enjoying the same rights as other countries.

Q8: What would being a normal country mean?

A: Taiwan is a sovereign independent country. It is part of the global village and a member of international society. Our 23 million people are, therefore, citizens of the world. Universal values should apply to us and we should enjoy basic human rights. Being a normal country means that our 23 million people should enjoy health rights, and that our health rights should be taken seriously by the international community. We should not be deprived of these rights. Therefore, Taiwan must become a full member of the WHO, in order to safeguard the right to health--a basic human right--of the 23 million people of Taiwan.

At the World Health Assembly (WHA) on May 14 this year, a representative from Gabon said that, in order to resolve the serious issue of Taiwan's participation in the WHO, it is essential to make Taiwan a truly normal country.

Surely, the rest of the world will agree that the people of Taiwan should not be deprived of their health rights. Under China's pressure, however, most countries bow to its "one China" policy and fail to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, resulting in a refusal to grant Taiwan full membership in the WHO. But with or without the formal diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, these countries cannot negate the reality and status quo of Taiwan's existence as a sovereign independent country, even if they subscribe to the "one China" policy. It is not right that they negate the right of the Taiwanese people to participate in this major international health organization.

We have been making strenuous efforts in the past 11 years towards fuller participation in the WHO, and have made many compromises along the way. For example, we made a bid to become a WHA observer under the concept of a "health entity," but still to no avail. That is why, this year, we have changed our strategy. We have directly applied for full WHO membership under the name "Taiwan." Although we have been unsuccessful this time, we have not been discouraged and will keep persevering until our voice is heard by the international community. This is a major policy goal endorsed unanimously by our legislature, as well as by the vast majority of our people. Not only do we wish to participate in the WHO under the name "Taiwan," this year we will also be applying for full membership in the UN under the name "Taiwan." We want to ensure that our collective voice is heard worldwide.

Q9: When the Americans hear you insisting that Taiwan is an independent sovereign country, separate from China, and that you want to be recognized as a normal state; they worry that that is going to provoke Beijing and draw them into a war here in the Strait.

A: I think that these are unnecessary speculations because Taiwan's being a sovereign independent country has been the reality for more than half a century and is still the status quo today. It was already a country more than 50 years ago and it is still a sovereign independent country today. Not one country in the world should bow to China's power and its attempts to bully the world into suppressing Taiwan.

Q10: Do you think the United States is bowing to that pressure, when it says it is against independence for Taiwan?

A: China has opposed Taiwan on just about everything, including the many steps we have taken on our path from authoritarianism to democracy. Over the past decades, these steps have included lifting martial law; removing the ban on the formation of new political parties; lifting restrictions on new newspapers; holding a full-scale reelection of our parliamentary bodies; and introducing direct presidential elections. All these developments are referred to by China as moves toward "de jure independence." Whatever we do in furthering our democracy is considered by China as a step toward formal independence. In actual fact, the democratization of Taiwan is unpalatable to China as it poses a sizeable threat to its regime. Nonetheless, we have to continue on our course, whether China likes it or not. We must push forward on our road to democracy.

Over the decades, China has disregarded Taiwan's very existence and refused to acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign independent country. Today, it continues to see Taiwan as part of the PRC, as one of its provinces or special administrative regions (SAR) like Hong Kong or Macau. China's ultimate goal is to incorporate Taiwan and turn it into another Hong Kong or Macau by imposing the "one country, two systems" model on Taiwan. But this is unacceptable to our people and there is no way we could sit and wait for our enemies to take us over. That is why we want to ensure that our voices continue to be heard by the international community, so that the world can understand how firmly we refuse to accept a "one country, two systems" formula. We do not want to become a second Hong Kong. We refuse to entertain any notion of Taiwan becoming a province of the People's Republic of China.

Q11: Commentators in Beijing have told me that there are three dangerous dates next year, the date of the presidential election, the date when the new president is inaugurated, and the day that the Olympics begins in Beijing, because they are worried that Taiwan may declare formal independence.

A: There is no need for Taiwan to declare independence because Taiwan is already a sovereign independent country. Therefore, the event they predict will not happen on any of those three dates.

Q12: Is the reunification of Taiwan and China even more important to China, now that China is emerging as a great power, than it was maybe 10 or 15 years ago?

A: Even though China has emerged as a great power, and feels it can act belligerently and bully its neighboring countries, this does not validate its actions or attempts to invade another country or incorporate another country into its territory. The spirit of the Olympic Games is one of peace, and if China still attempts to use, or considers using, military might to invade or incorporate Taiwan, then I don't think that China is entitled to hold the Olympic Games.

I think China should ask the people of Taiwan, whether, out of their free will, they can truly accept unification with China; whether they can truly accept the fact that one day we might be incorporated into part of the PRC as one of its provinces. Does this really represent the will of our people?

I believe that the democratic principle of popular sovereignty or "sovereignty belongs to the people" is universal, and that self-determination is a basic human right.

Q13. Some people believe that in the long run, a war between the United States and China is inevitable because China's rise threatens the United States. What's your view?

A: Of course, there are numerous different views on whether or not, in the long run, there could be a war between the US and China. But what we are certain of is that such a war would not be over Taiwan.

It is worth noting here that China's military modernization and expansion and its ever-increasing military expenditure are unprecedented. China has state-of-the-art submarines; it has deployed 988 short-range tactical missiles targeted at Taiwan; and it possesses a large number of mid-range, long-range, and even intercontinental missiles, making it clear that China has other intentions than merely targeting Taiwan.

Another good example is China's firing of a missile to destroy one of its satellites. Actions such as these point to China's aim of breaking through the first island chain and gaining control of the second island chain. It is very clear that China has other targets in mind and is not only targeting Taiwan. And this is cause for great concern in the US, Japan, and other countries in the community of democracies.

Q14: You say, if there was a war between the US and China, it wouldn't be over Taiwan. But surely, the fact that the situation here is so unstable, the position of Taiwan is still so unresolved--that is the most likely trigger for a conflict.

A: Seven years ago, when I was running for presidency, my opponents claimed that if I got elected as the president of Taiwan, or the Democratic Progressive Party became the governing party, then it would lead to war in the Taiwan Strait, and our sons would be forced to go to the battlefield. But now, seven years have passed. There has been no sign of an outbreak of war, no situation that can compare with the 1996 Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis. Our efforts cannot go unacknowledged. We shoulder the utmost responsibility and obligation to defend peace, and it is our aim to bring about lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait. We will not take any actions that might bring Taiwan to the brink of war.

Q15: You mentioned earlier the comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis. How do you feel as some of the decisions you make could trigger a confrontation which would have worldwide implications?

A: The decisions are not mine alone. It is the collective voice of the 23 million people of Taiwan that makes decisions for this country. As the president of a democratic country, I must follow the will of my people and act upon their will. As the president of this country, I must ensure constitutional democracy, and further consolidate and deepen our democracy. On the other hand, I must also guide my people to reach out to international society. We cannot remain an orphan in this global village. That is why we call on the whole world to take seriously the health rights of our people [in supporting Taiwan's membership in the WHO] as well as the collective right of our people to participate in the UN.

Q16: Everything you've said about China in this interview, about its bullying, you've referred to its increasing military expenditure, its desire to break out further in the Pacific, suggests your view is that some aggressive action from China is inevitable.

A: Indeed. That explains why the US and Japan have listed the issue of the Taiwan Strait as their common strategic objective, and why these two countries have continued to urge the European Union not to lift its arms embargo against China, because if the European Union did that, it would be encouraging an undemocratic country to use weapons sold by EU countries against a democratic Taiwan. And it also explains why the US, Japan, and the European Parliament have repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution of the differences across the Taiwan Strait--for peaceful dialogue instead of military action or other non-peaceful means. We are very grateful for this support. Likewise, both the government and the people of Taiwan only desire peace. We want to be the maker of peace. We are not, as we have been labeled, troublemakers.

Q17: Could I seek one piece of clarification? You described the process of seeking normalcy for Taiwan, a normal status for Taiwan, and the decision to go for membership, to seek direct membership of the World Health Organization; you've talked about membership of the United Nations; what is the next step for Taiwan in seeking normal nation status? What is your proposal for the next stage in that process of normalization?

[Question reiterated:] You talk about membership of the United Nations, membership of the World Health Organization; what is the next step for Taiwan in achieving that status as a normal state, as you call it?

A: We will continue to make efforts towards ensuring the voice of our people is heard around the world, so that our aspiration and decades of longing will be heeded internationally. In this process, we must further consolidate the consensus of our people and gather together their collective force for all the world to see.

We have continued to knock at the doors of the UN and WHO, hoping that one day they would be opened to us. We know our missions will not be fulfilled easily but we will not be discouraged by current setbacks and will continue to work hard. We want to make sure that one day, the voice of our people will be heard in all corners of the world, if not today, then maybe tomorrow. This time we were unsuccessful, but we hope to succeed next time round. However long it takes, we will continue striving until we become a normal country that is accepted by international society.

Q18: How far can you go towards making, as you say, the voice of Taiwan heard around the world, to becoming a normal country; how far can you go towards that without provoking China to attack?

A: We would not exclude any possibility.

Q19: Even if it meant provoking China to attack, or the danger of provoking China to attack?

A: It is the collective will of our people that speaks. We will not keep silent just because China doesn't like what it hears.

Q20: And when you say you would not exclude any possibility, does that include a formal declaration of independence?

A: I've said numerous times that Taiwan is already a sovereign independent country. There's no need to declare formal independence.

【Source: Office of the President】