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Washington Post Interview with President Chen Shui-bian

  • Date:2007-07-08

Washington Post Interview with

President Chen Shui-bian

Office of the President

Republic of China (Taiwan)

July 6, 2007


Q1. I understand that you were just at a tea party with some of your local constituents, and it occurred to me that we were just talking with Mr. Liu that Mao Zedong said that "Revolution is not a tea party." But maybe politics sometimes is a tea party! Which is one of the differences, of course, between where I live and where you live, which is the political system that you operate under. And that's the first question I would like to ask you about since we're on the anniversary of the lifting of martial law that was declared in an interview with my newspaper all those many years ago. And so I just wanted to ask you about that, and particularly your own personal experience in this process that's happened over the past two decades. To you yourself, in your own political life, what does it mean to you?

A: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law in Taiwan, and I feel very honored to be interviewed by the Washington Post. It carries particular historical significance. Twenty-one years ago, on October 7, 1986 in an interview with Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, former President Chiang Ching-kuo announced for the first time that martial law would be lifted. Immediately afterward, he instructed that martial law should end on July 15, 1987--that was 20 years ago--marking the end of 38 years of martial rule in Taiwan.

Some say President Chiang did this because it was in the interest of the people, that it was a magnanimous gesture on his part, but I believe that he simply had no choice but to bring an end to martial law because of the current of events.

Everyone knows that three "pillars" sustained the Kuomintang's [KMT] half-century of one-party rule over Taiwan--a "Greater China" ideology, a party-state authoritarian system, and rule by martial law.

We are still fighting against the Greater China ideology. This is something that we have yet to finish completely. But in terms of the party-state authoritarian system, when I was elected president in 2000, we carried out the first-ever peaceful transfer of power between political parties in Taiwan's history. In the seven years since then, we have been dismantling the party-state authoritarian system.

As for martial law, that was finally lifted 20 years ago. The KMT relied on martial law to ban the establishment of political parties and newspapers, and to restrict the right of association and assembly. And thanks to it, the KMT didn't have to hold elections for all seats in the Legislature and National Assembly, dubbed the "eternal parliament." Nor could people elect their own mayors or the provincial governor, let alone the president.

Two major factors that left President Chiang no choice but to lift martial law: the Kaohsiung Incident of December 10, 1979 and the establishment of the Democratic Progressive Party on September 28, 1986.

We all know that the prevailing current, trends, and mainstream values of a certain time simply cannot be stopped by any individual or political party. By the time the Kaohsiung Incident occurred in 1979, it was impossible for the government to suppress the trend of democratization, though they used brute force to try to uproot it, to extinguish the flame of democracy, and to arrest all democracy warriors. Fighters for democracy stepped forward one after another, and the fire of democracy could not be extinguished.

Some of the democracy advocates in the Kaohsiung Incident were later arrested and tried for violating Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Act for the Control and Punishment of Rebellion, which carries a mandatory death sentence. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons for their trial and subsequent conviction was that they made ten major demands, including the lifting of martial law.

I was fortunate to act as defense lawyer for Huang Hsin-chieh, the leader of the Kaohsiung Incident. I understood fully that there had been no so-called rebellion. Not only did they simply advocate that freedom of speech be guaranteed, but more importantly, they stood on the side of the society's mainstream values. It was regrettable and extremely distressing, therefore, that the KMT government made such arbitrary convictions.

At the time of the Kaohsiung Incident, appeals to lift martial law, to end the ban on new political parties and newspapers, to open up all seats in parliament for election, and to popularly elect the provincial governor, mayors, and the president--this was the type of evidence used to mete out the death sentence under Article 2, Paragraph 1 [of the Act for the Control and Punishment of Rebellion] for the supposed crime of rebellion. Today, all of these demands have been met, but 20 years ago, they were acts of rebellion.

Q2. Can I ask you, how old were you when you were defending these guys after the incident?

A: I was 29 years old, the youngest defense lawyer. Because at that time, nobody dared to come out and defend the leader of this movement, Mr. Huang Hsin-chieh, and I was still wet behind the ears. I just plucked up the courage and volunteered to defend him.

We lost the case in the court-martial. However, we thought that the best defense we could offer these fighters for democracy was not fighting their case in the military court or appealing for a retrial, but rather continuing on the arduous, thorny road toward democracy that our predecessors had begun.

So, after the Kaohsiung Incident, not only did the families of these democracy advocates come out and join the democracy movement, the defending lawyers also stepped forward and participated in this important movement.

Moreover, this democratization took place not only in the political sphere but also spread to the farmers' movement, the labor movement, the women's rights movement, and the indigenous peoples' rights movement. It spread like wildfire.

Q3. That's what I was going to ask you. How important was that factor, in other words, indigenous versus mainland Chinese? Was everybody an indigenous Taiwanese in this early movement? Or were there also mainland Chinese involved?

A: This democracy movement was not limited to those people who had long-established roots in Taiwan. A lot of mainlanders [i.e. those who came to Taiwan with the KMT government in and around 1949] also participated. For example, some of the early founders of the DPP were members of the mainland elite, such as Legislator Fei Hsi-ping and Professor Fu Cheng. Another good example is the first chairman of the DPP, Chiang Peng-chien, who was also a mainlander.

The new tide of the democracy movement was positively surging in the years following the Kaohsiung Incident. At that time, I was also involved in publishing an underground magazine, criticizing the government and demanding one hundred percent freedom of speech in our pursuit of the universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and peace. We were hoping that these values could take root in society.

In 1984, after giving a speech at the annual meeting of NAPA, the North American Taiwanese Professors' Association, and returning to Taiwan, I wanted to realize the promise I had made to my fellow countrymen of forming a new party. We campaigned, through an association formed to push for the establishment of a new party, and called for the lifting of the ban on the formation of political parties. We ran a column advocating a new party in about ten issues of the magazine Freedom Era Weekly.

Martial law was the biggest hindrance on the road to democratic reform. To remove it, we had to get the ban on the formation of political parties lifted. We had to speedily form a new political party, which was why we developed this column to discuss this question.

But after about ten issues had been published, the Formosa Magazine [Peng-lai Magazine] case erupted. The KMT authorities simply used this case as an excuse to arrest and try those of us who had been involved in advocating the formation of new political parties. There was no real case; it was just a pretext for the authorities, in their fear of a new political party's establishment, to arrest us.

Q4. This was in what year? Nineteen eighty- ...?

A: It was in 1984 that the Formosa Magazine case occurred. A year later, in 1985, a verdict was reached. Before I started to serve my prison term, we knew that it would be impossible to hold a rally as it was the period of martial law. So we introduced the "One-person One-NT-dollar March of Wheelchairs" activity [in which Chen and his wheelchair-bound wife traveled around Taiwan soliciting funds, at one dollar per person, to be used by the Formosa Foundation]. We held seven such activities all around the country, and in each of them the riot police was there to suppress us.

On June 10, 1986, my colleagues and I started to serve our prison terms. A few months after this, there was the Lin Cheng-chieh Incident [in which Lin led democracy supporters in staging a demonstration, which acted as an impetus for the founding of the DPP], in which a large number of people took to the streets to express their discontent. And on September 28, 1986, about three and a half months after I entered prison, the DPP was established.

This was really a miracle at a time when the establishment of new political parties was forbidden. I think the DPP's creation tested the will and determination of the KMT government, to see whether it wanted to engage in another large-scale arrest, and whether it wanted to see another Kaohsiung Incident happen. But the tide of democracy was so strong that they did not dare do so. And I think at that time the establishment of the DPP was a big breakthrough with regard to the ban on the formation of political parties.

And I think that was what forced the end of martial law. Just 10 days after the establishment of the DPP, on October 7, President Chiang Ching-kuo announced his intent to lift 38 years of martial law during an interview with Katharine Graham.

So, the end of martial law was not simply a magnanimous gesture on the part of Chiang Ching-kuo to the people of Taiwan. It came about because even he could not fight against the tide of democracy.

This came about because of the decades of struggle by the people of Taiwan including leading figures in the democracy movement, political leaders, and grassroots supporters of democracy. Many paid a great price--some their lives, some their freedom, and some the wellbeing of their family members.

Q5. You have, since then, in the succeeding 20 years, established what everybody in the world recognizes as a flourishing, even pugnacious democracy. What effect does the fact that Taiwan has a real, authentic democracy have on relations with mainland China? In other words, how are cross-strait relations affected by that? And I guess the real question is: can China and Taiwan ever get along or come to any agreement at all when the systems that prevail in the countries are so different?

A: As I have mentioned, the three pillars that sustained the KMT's half-century rule in Taiwan--the Greater China ideology, the party-state authoritarian system, and rule by martial law--also apply to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although martial law is not an issue in China, totalitarian rule is, with which the CCP has been able to hold power for decades. As a result, China lacks democratic elections, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, not to mention true party politics. There is no truly representative national legislature to oversee the government, and there is no check and balance by public opinion.

China is still a one-party state, in which both the government and the armed forces answer to the party. Taiwan has thrown off the shackles of party-state rule, and the armed forces have been nationalized [to ensure that they are loyal to the elected government rather than to an individual or party] and are no longer subservient to the KMT. The People's Liberation Army, however, must still toe the line of the CCP. In China, it's the Communist Party that heads both the government and the military. So, the status of the CCP as a political party is higher than that of the state or the government.

And in China, they still hold strongly to a Greater China mentality very identical to the Greater China ideology held by the KMT when it ruled Taiwan. For the KMT, this means that the territory of the Republic of China includes Taiwan, mainland China, as well as Mongolia. In the KMT's version of Greater China, Taiwan is simply a region or a province of the Republic of China. Also in this version, the "one China" principle is held to, as is the idea of "ultimate unification" between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In China's version of the Greater China ideology, Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China (PRC), a local government, a province under it, and not a country. As an extension of this ideology, China has reclaimed Hong Kong and Macau. It now looks to annex or unify with Taiwan.

According to the "one China" principle held to by the Beijing authorities, there is only one China, and Taiwan is not a country but part of China, part of the PRC; and Taiwan must ultimately unify with China. So one thing common to the KMT and the CCP is that both of them hold to the "one China" principle and insist upon the ultimate unification of Taiwan and China.

Touching on the question of divisions between people of different origins as you did a moment ago, here in Taiwan, the issue of origins--the issue of ethnicity--is not the problem. The problem we are confronting is national identity.

Many people who came from mainland China with the KMT participated in the establishment of the DPP. Later, in the democracy movement, and even today in the leadership of the DPP, mainlanders hold many important positions. And many of those in the KMT and those who support ultimate unification with China, are among those whose ancestors came to Taiwan very long ago. But now we have Taiwan-centric consciousness to counter this Greater China ideology.

Having Taiwan-centric consciousness means identifying with Taiwan and recognizing that this sovereign state of Taiwan and the PRC are independent of each other, with neither exercising effective jurisdiction over the other. The biggest issue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is their different political systems and lifestyles. There is also the issue of national identity. That is why we have repeatedly emphasized that, for disputes to be settled between the two sides of the Strait, negotiations must be based on four principles: sovereignty, democracy, peace, and parity.

The principle of sovereignty entails a respect for and acceptance of the reality and status quo of Taiwan's being an independent, sovereign country. Taiwan must not be belittled, marginalized, or treated as a local entity, nor may attempts be made to de-legitimize our government or refuse to recognize that this government wields public authority.

The principle of democracy signifies that the future of Taiwan and relations between the two sides of the Strait must be done in line with the desire and free choice of the 23 million people of Taiwan.

The principle of peace means that any differences or disputes between the two sides of the Strait must be resolved through peaceful dialogue. We will not accept the use of force or other nonpeaceful means.

The principle of parity means that the two sides of the Strait are on an equal footing, and that any dialogue to resolve differences must be done on a government-to-government basis. No political party, individual, or private organization can stand for the government or exercise public authority.

This means the Beijing authorities must engage in dialogue with the duly elected government of Taiwan. CCP-KMT forums can in no way resolve differences between the two sides of the Strait. Whatever conclusions or consensuses these two parties reach are just between political parties or organizations and have no binding power on the government.

Q6. You spoke earlier about national identity being such a main issue here in Taiwan. Do you think that the consciousness of Taiwanese national identity has already developed to a point where reunion with China or joining China is impossible ever?

A: I see no market for the Hong Kong model of "one country, two systems" here in Taiwan, and the call for unification is welcomed by only a few.

That is why, last year, we mothballed the National Unification Council [NUC] and the Guidelines for National Unification [GNU]. They came into existence as a result of an internal KMT resolution, which was never approved by the national legislature--the highest body of public opinion in Taiwan. The NUC and GNU lack any kind of legal basis or popular support, having been established simply by an internal KMT order.

The NUC and GNU are premised on the one-China principle and advocate the ultimate unification of Taiwan and China. Doing so not only runs counter to public opinion, but denies Taiwan's 23 million people the freedom of choice, thereby violating the principle of popular sovereignty.

Q7. I understand that the people have the right to decide. But do you think that this feeling of Taiwanese national identity is all finished already? That people have decided in their minds what they want or not?

A: Taiwan is a democratic and pluralistic society, and it would therefore be impossible for everyone to hold exactly the same view on everything. It would be impossible for there always to be just one voice, one view, or one standpoint. Therefore, we tolerate open discussions and divergent political views. We respect freedom of speech and guarantee freedom of the press. Nonetheless, thanks to our hard work over the past seven years, we have seen Taiwan-centric consciousness present itself as a mainstream value in our society.

The rise of Taiwan-centric consciousness is reflected in the growth and decline in the number of people who see themselves, respectively, as Taiwanese and not Chinese, and as Chinese and not Taiwanese. In 2000, when I first became president of this country, opinion polls showed that 36 percent of people in Taiwan considered themselves to be Taiwanese. By last November, this figure had risen to 60 percent, and, in the first half of this year, it had increased further to 68 percent.

This May, we formally applied to join the World Health Organization (WHO) under the name "Taiwan." We not only had the backing of 95 percent of the people, but our Legislative Yuan--a bastion of divergent opinions--also unanimously passed a resolution on May 11 of this year in support of the bid.

A recent opinion poll also indicates that, despite opposition by the US government, 71 percent of people still support our decision to apply for membership in the United Nations (UN) under the name "Taiwan."

Of course, it would be impossible for Taiwan-centric consciousness to gain the support of every single person in Taiwan. But one thing that is very clear is that this consciousness is becoming a mainstream value in our society, with support from more and more people. This point certainly cannot be disputed.

Q8. Would you--looking back now in the final year of your presidency, with only nine months or so left in your second term--would you say this is your legacy? Is this what you want people to think of as what you brought about as president of Taiwan?

A: Of course, enabling Taiwan-centric consciousness to rise, grow strong, and become a mainstream value in society is one of the achievements during my eight years as president of which I am proud.

As a new democracy, Taiwan is faced with vicious competition among its political parties, with the challenges posed by transitional justice, as well as with having to choose a more appropriate constitutional system. The weightiest, most serious problem we face, however, is national identity. I think that with the upsurge of Taiwan-centric consciousness and its becoming a mainstream value held by the majority of people in society, we can gradually build up the power of a united society. Only thereby can we become a normal country, because Taiwan-centric consciousness has the power to resolve divergent senses of national identity.

Of course, it is very important for me, as the first president to take office after the transfer of power between political parties, to be able to gradually deconstruct the remnants of the old party-state authoritarian system, and thereby strengthen and deepen our democracy. Over the past few years we have worked hard to truly nationalize the armed forces, end one-party control over the government apparatus, remove parties' influence from school and university campuses and the judiciary, and ban political parties from operating private enterprises. It is very gratifying that these efforts have borne real fruit.

Democracy is the most important asset for Taiwan, and referendum is the best weapon--the most effective "theater missile defense"--against the totalitarianism of the CCP.

Another achievement in the course of strengthening and deepening democracy over the past seven years that we are very proud of is this: we have transformed the concept of referendum from a political taboo--a monstrosity equated with disaster and war, as it was considered prior to the transfer of power, into today's view that it is a key component of Taiwan's democracy.

Obsessed with old ways of thinking, in 2004, when we held our first-ever national referendum, the KMT did all it could to boycott and obstruct it. But over the past few years, especially this year, we have seen that the KMT has ceased resisting and obstructing the holding of referendums and, moreover, that it is following in the steps of the DPP. We are proposing some referendums, and so are they.

We very much welcome this; we are very happy to see it. At least the KMT no longer likens referendum to a frightful monster, no longer regards it as a political taboo, no longer boycotts or obstructs it. It's very good to see them also proposing referendums. The fact that referendum has gradually taken root in our system and become a part of our way of life represents great progress.

While the DPP's proposal to conduct a referendum on using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership has been met with opposition from the US government, just this past Wednesday we saw the KMT Standing Committee also pass a resolution to push for a referendum on participation in the UN. I wonder how the US government feels about that, for it shows that the quest for UN membership has become common to the ruling and opposition parties alike, meaning that it has become a mainstream value and the majority's opinion in Taiwan's society.

So if we look at what we have achieved in the past seven years, we are clearly justified in concluding that our efforts in cultivating Taiwan-centric consciousness and in strengthening and deepening democracy have produced outstanding results.

In 2002, I asserted the fact that there is a different country on each side of the Taiwan Strait. In 2003, we enacted the Referendum Act. In 2004, we held the first-ever national referendum. In 2005, we incorporated the right of referendum into our Constitution. In 2006, we mothballed the NUC and the GNU. In 2007, we applied for membership in the World Health Organization under the name "Taiwan," and will do the same for UN membership. And in the year 2008, of course, we will hold more referendums along with the presidential election, which will also address the issue of joining the UN.

Q9. Do you think, then, that the United States' objection to this is the result of a misunderstanding or their putting other interests that you don't share ahead of those you do share? In other words, why would the United States object, I mean, on the referendum we're talking about?

A: I think it is because of China, and because the introduction of a referendum would not be in China's interests. The referendum represents the consolidation and deepening of Taiwan's democracy, and is in line with the development of Taiwan-centric consciousness. The path we have embarked upon is the right one, and we shall continue to follow it.

It is impossible to halt or reverse this trend. Taiwan's road to democracy will continue to unfold before us. The reason why the DPP is successful is that we stand by Taiwan's people, we stand by Taiwan's democracy, and we support the mainstream values of our society.

The decision to hold a referendum on applying for UN membership involves three major aspects, and we would like to know which one Washington's objection concerns. Is it about the matter of holding referendum itself? Or about joining the UN? Or about using the name "Taiwan"? What is there to oppose in any of these?

Even the KMT does not dare to oppose referendums. In 2004, it sabotaged a referendum, but this year it has proposed many items to be put forward in referendums, including participation in the UN.

So besides supporting the use of the name "Taiwan" to apply for WHO membership, the KMT also cannot afford to oppose applying for UN membership. Clearly, the KMT supports using the name "Taiwan" to apply for membership in the WHO, and in its version of the proposal for a referendum on UN application, it made reference to using the name "Taiwan."

Using the name "Taiwan" to apply for UN membership, is just like using "Chinese Taipei" to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and using "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" to join the World Trade Organization [WTO]. Using the name "Taiwan" in an application does not change the official name of our country. Nor does this action violate my "four noes" pledge. I would like to ask: which of the "four noes" have I violated by proposing to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan"?

At the same time, we value the concern of and views expressed by the US government and wish to continue our discussions with the US. If there are any misunderstandings, they should be cleared up so that our views do not become distorted by others. In this way, we hope to maintain the mutual trust between the US and Taiwan and continue our long-term friendship.

Q10. So I have concluded from that there's going to be a referendum. Is that right?

A: The KMT and DPP are both proposing referendums, so I am sure that next year, referendums on several issues will be held in tandem with the presidential election. It seems that the DPP is not the only one in favor of referendums. The KMT is even more excited about the idea!

We have an old saying that if someone is holding incense in worship, you must follow suit, which means that if you see someone do something right or good, you should copy them. We welcome the KMT to follow the example of the DPP and push for referendums. Who would have guessed that it would not only follow suit but actually be more fervent than we have been! I would therefore like to call for the KMT to apologize to the whole nation for sabotaging, boycotting, and distorting our promotion of the referendum back in 2004.

Q11. If you have patience for one more question, I'd be grateful. It's just a specific. As you know, we have been following very closely this proposed arms package sale that's been going on forever. And the Legislature just passed a tiny little portion of it, the Orion aircraft. So, in your assessment, is that finished now? Is that the end of that discussion, or is it going to continue? What's next for that issue?

A: We have finally taken the first encouraging step in the military procurement issue, though we still have some way to go. This first step involves the agreement to partially support the costs associated with studying the feasibility of purchasing the submarines and to provide support for upgrading PAC II systems. In our next annual budget proposal, we will include the budget for PAC III systems. The reason why the opposition parties opposed PAC III in the past was that the referendum of March 20, 2004, did not pass, meaning that we have had to wait for three years. So, now that three years have passed, we can include PAC-III in the budget again.

The budget that has been passed also includes financial support for the procurement of F-16 C/D fighters, although part of the funds have been frozen. However, we only have to wait until we get the letter of offer and indicate our acceptance in order to release the funds. We will continue to push for the support of the legislature on this. We have full financial support for purchasing P-3C Orion aircraft.

Next year, we intend to increase our annual defense budget to 3 percent of our GDP, so as to show Taiwan's determination to enhance its national self-defense capabilities. We will go on listing the procurement of these three major items in our national defense budget and work to gain the support of the Legislature. The first step has been taken. There will be a second step, and we will continue until we finally succeed. The first step is always the hardest, but once you have taken it and embarked on the journey, it gets much easier. We have great confidence in this.

【Source: Office of the President】