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President Chen Interviewed by Le Figaro

The following is a transcript of the interview with President Chen by Jean-Jacques Mevel, Beijing Correspondent, Le Figaro.

Q1. Mr. President, thank you again for accepting this interview with Le Figaro. Taiwan will, again, be one of the subjects at the center of the next China-US summit on Thursday. Do you expect Mr. Bush to yield to Mr. Hu's advice and warning about any provocation in the next two years?

A. Before I respond to this question, I would like to first speak of your experiences and how your experiences have allowed you to witness some major transitions and changes in the world. You have 20 years of journalistic experience; you've covered the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 2000 US presidential election, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and now you are working in China. I believe that this 20 years of experience bears witness that the universal values of democracy, human rights, and peace are the driving forces behind human progress. This force is definitely not something that any nation using nuclear bombs, weapons, or authoritarianism can stop.

During the Cold War, the competition between the blocs headed by the United States and the USSR can be described as one between democracy and freedom on the one side, and authoritarianism on the other. Democracy and freedom eventually defeated authoritarianism. In truth, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait find themselves not in an ideological struggle, nor a fight concerning nationalistic sentiment, but rather a situation in which lifestyles and political systems are different.

France is one of the oldest constitutional democracies in the world, and it is a leader among democracies. I believe one of the main contributions the French Revolution gave to the world was the idea that human worth and human dignity should be respected. The three colors of the French flag--red, blue, and white--which symbolize liberty, equality, and fraternity, have inspired many countries, especially democratic countries. The French Revolution showed the world that the people, and not the king, are the masters of a nation. So that is why the government of France stood with the people of the United States during their War of Independence, and that is why the government of France gave a noteworthy present to the people of the United States on the latter's 100th birthday--the Statue of Liberty.

Taiwan, as a young democracy, has been influenced by the French Revolution as well as the democratization experience of France. Since the Fifth Republic of France was established in 1958, at least ten national referendums have been held in France. Only in 2003 did Taiwan pass its Referendum Law, and on March 20, 2004, we held our first-ever national referendum. The experience of France influenced these events. The issue of referendum in the past was taboo, something that was perceived as a war or a catastrophe for the 23 million people of Taiwan. However, on June 7 last year, we incorporated referendum into our Constitution such that, in future, any amendments to the Constitution will have to be passed by the people in the form of a referendum. This is like in France, where the people enjoy the final say over important national policies. For example, changing or extending the term of the president, the issue of Algerian independence, and joining the European Union or accepting the EU Constitution--all these were decided by the people through referendum.

Now, the people of Taiwan enjoy the right to referendum. However, if they are deprived of their right to free choice, then referendum exists just in form, not in substance. That is why in February of this year, I decided that the National Unification Council should cease to function and the Guidelines for National Unification cease to apply. Our objective is to restore the right to free choice to our 23 million people. In 1996, when we were about to hold the first direct presidential election and uphold constitutional democracy, China held missile drills off Taiwan. Just before the March 23 presidential election, on March 8 and March 13, China test-fired two sets of missiles targeted at Taiwan in an attempt to influence the election results. In 2004, again before our presidential election, China launched rhetorical attacks against us and made intimidating military moves. Also in 2004, when we held our first national referendum, China resorted to intimidation. In December 2003 when President Bush met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Bush severely criticized Taiwan. Whether in 1996, 2000, or 2004, those presidential candidates that China least wanted to see win were elected to office. In 2005, when Taiwan was undertaking its constitutional reengineering project, China, fearing that Taiwan would abolish its national assembly and incorporate the right to referendum into its Constitution and which would become part of the lives of the people, passed its so-called anti-secession law.

Whether Taiwan is holding a direct presidential election, drafting the referendum law, incorporating the right to referendum into its Constitution, or deciding that the National Unification Council should cease to function, China sees all of these as moves toward de jure independence.

Holding peaceful referendum, incorporating the right to referendum into the Constitution, and deciding that the National Unification Council should cease to function and the Guidelines for National Unification should cease to apply are to return the right to decide Taiwan's future and cross-strait relations to the hands of the 23 million people of Taiwan, and to ensure that no political party or government may set preconditions or predetermined conclusions with regard to Taiwan's future. We must not be deprived of the freedom to choose our own destiny, and all of our efforts are aimed at consolidating and deepening Taiwan's democracy, rather than at moving toward de jure independence.

Under my leadership, the government and the people of Taiwan have been working very hard to defend Taiwan's democracy, freedom, and respect of human rights, as well as the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait. We spare no effort to maintain peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

In the process of deciding that the National Unification Council should cease to function, we had very thorough and complete communication with the US government. I am sure that the US government and President Bush understand my assurances, and that the assurances from Taiwan's government have never changed.

Q2. Mr. President, just to follow this, in 2000 and 2004, you promised not to declare independence, not to change the name of the Republic of China, not to define Taiwan and China's separateness, and not to launch referendums on these issues. Would you still describe them as your mandate?

A. I have emphasized and reiterated, both in 2000 and 2004, that as long as China does not use force against Taiwan, I will stick to my "four noes plus one" pledge.

Regrettably, from 2000 up to the present, China has increased the number of ballistic missiles it has deployed on its southeastern coast targeted at Taiwan fourfold.

In 2000, there were just 200 missiles, but now there are 784 missiles, and this number increases at a rate of 100 to 120 yearly. As well, China's military budget has seen double-digit annual growth since the Tiananmen Square Incident of 17 years ago. China has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan, and it is striving to achieve combat-readiness against Taiwan. Aside from passing a so-called anti-secession law last year in an attempt to establish a legal basis for using force against Taiwan, China is now undergoing a three-stage preparation for military action against Taiwan. By 2007, China will establish contingency response combat capabilities; by 2010, China will be able to engage in large-scale military combat against Taiwan; and by 2015, it will be able to ensure victory in a decisive battle. So China's intent to wage war against Taiwan is very clear, because it is preparing itself both on the legal and military fronts. Actually, the aim of the "four noes plus one" is to ensure the peaceful and stable status quo in the Taiwan Strait, as well as the status quo of democracy, freedom, respect for human rights, and peace in Taiwan. But now, the status quo has been unilaterally undermined by China. Even though China's gestures and actions have unilaterally undermined and changed the status quo, the people of Taiwan and my government will do whatever it takes to defend the status quo. So on February 27, the same day that I announced that the National Unification Council would cease to function, I made seven points, which are aimed at ensuring that the status quo will be maintained.

Q3. Oh Mr. President, did you see the--it's a related question--danger of war in the Strait increasing with the military capabilities of China? Is it a valid process in your view?

A. Judging from the rapid expansion of China's military capabilities, the increases to its military budget, the growing number of missiles deployed, the passage of the anti-secession law, and its three-stage preparations for invading Taiwan, I think we have cause to be concerned.

As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Taiwan, my duty, my mission, and my responsibility is to avoid the outbreak of war in the Taiwan Strait.

We cannot presume that the enemy will never come, and so we must prepare for war. Only in preparing for war can we hope to prevent the outbreak of a war.

That is why on March 20, 2004, the government of Taiwan held the first-ever referendum. One of the items put to a vote was the strengthening of our national defense capabilities.

As well, after I was sworn in for my second term as president on May 20, 2004, we submitted the military procurement proposal to the legislature. This was to show that we are determined and have the will to defend Taiwan and to strengthen our national defense capabilities.

Q4. May I follow up on this? I mean ¡K if Taiwan is under such a threat from the mainland, how come that the 2001 military package has not yet passed ...

A. Well, actually the request we made to the United States came much earlier than 2001. We are very grateful that in 2001 President Bush agreed to sell the equipment we had requested all as one package. In 1998, Taiwan submitted its purchase request for PAC-III missiles to the US government, and the Clinton administration approved of this sale in 1999. Taiwan submitted its request for submarines back in 1994. Taiwan's government submitted its request for P3Cs back in 1997. Approval finally came from the Bush administration in 2001.

So, it is clear that these military procurement projects were begun when the pan-blue camp was still in power. After I assumed the presidency, I was simply carrying out the policy that had been laid out by the former government.

We believe that the issue of national security should not be treated differently by the governing party or the opposition, because it is a common desire of all the people. What we don't understand is that when the former government became the opposition, it changed its stance on this issue so dramatically.

Not only did the opposition pan-blue camp boycott the national referendum, which was held in tandem with the presidential election in 2004, but it also repeatedly opposed the military procurement proposal in the Legislative Yuan. When it was sent to the procedure committee, the opposition blocked its moving forward 51 times.

Of course, the United States is seriously concerned about the military procurement budget. Both the United States and Japan have recently issued national defense reports, in which they have clearly stated that the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is gradually tilting in favor of China.

We think that the governing party and the opposition should build consensus in order that we may have a strong national defense behind us, such that we may have the confidence to resume cross-strait talks. It is only with such a consensus can we have enough confidence in protecting the fruits of our hard-won democracy and of our economic development.

In 2004, after the pan-blue camp lost their presidential bid, they started to oppose my administration for opposition's sake, and they even attempted to form an alliance or cooperate with the Communist Party of China to sabotage Taiwan or sabotage me. We are deeply regretful that both opposition leaders, former Chairman Lien Chan of the KMT and James Soong of the PFP, have rushed to China to pay special tribute. As the Chinese government opposes US arms sales to Taiwan, these members of the opposition have followed suit and opposed the military procurement budget.

>From Lien Chan and James Soong's meetings with Hu Jintao a year ago, to the meeting between Lien Chan and Hu Jintao of just a few days ago, and the economic forum between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party has created a false image of peace. Some people have been led to believe that peace now seems to prevail, and thus that there is no need to strengthen our military capabilities.

However, the latest development is that more than 50 percent of people in Taiwan support the passage of the military procurement budget. And on April 3 when KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou met with me, he publicly stated that he supported a reasonable military procurement budget. So, we believe that there may soon be a breakthrough regarding the three major military procurement items because there is a degree of consensus among those concerned. This is a good start for the passage of the military procurement package.

Q5. Among your projects for the last two years in office you also aim at the constitution. Could you state your special feelings?

A. In the next two years, I will continue to consolidate and deepen Taiwan's democracy and continue to walk on the right path of "Taiwan comes first, Taiwan is the priority" in the hope of creating a Constitution that is timely, relevant and viable for Taiwan.

Many current articles in the Constitution have prevented Taiwan from becoming a normal, complete, and modern country. Everybody knows that currently Taiwan has neither a presidential system nor a parliamentary system. It's something similar to the "cohabitation" system of France. Taiwan has a president who is directly elected by the people, but we also have an Executive Yuan, headed by a premier, who serves as the highest ranking official of administrative affairs. So, some people regard Taiwan as being a "cohabitation" system. But Taiwan is not exactly like France, which has a real "cohabitation" system. In France, the president is empowered to dissolve the parliament. However In Taiwan, the president can only dissolve the legislature if that body passes a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet.

In the past, according to our Constitution, the nomination of the premier by the president had to be approved by the legislature, but this process was changed. In our current Constitution, there is no stipulation that the president must nominate the leader of the party holding the majority in the legislature to be the premier.

Some people think that Taiwan should adopt a presidential system. Some hold that Taiwan should take the parliamentary system. But whatever system we decide to adopt, it will have to go through the constitution. To better manage the government of Taiwan and effectively enhance Taiwan's competitiveness, we think we cannot delay further constitutional reform.

Taiwan is a pluralistic democratic society. As such, there are different views, versions, and positions with regard to constitutional reform. However, no matter what version or position we choose, it must be approved according to the constitutional procedure currently in place. That is, three-quarters of a quorum of three-fourths of legislators must approve of an amendment, a high threshold, and then the proposed amendment must face a national referendum, in which it must garner a vote amounting to more than half of the number of valid ballots cast by more than half of the eligible voters in order to become part of the Constitution.

Q6. What are the chances that it can go through in the next two years in your view?

A. Well, it is almost a "mission impossible." We know it's going to be very difficult. But as long as our society is mature enough, as long as our people support such an endeavor, and as long as we garner enough support in the legislature, it is possible.

Q7. This move to change the constitution is always regarded as provocation by China? So, why in hurry to change the constitution? At a very delicate moment in the Strait.

A. The PRC has revised its constitution several times over the course of its history. If China can, why may Taiwan not?

During the twelve years former President Lee Teng-hui was in office, the Constitution was revised six times. In 2005, this administration presided over the first stage of the constitutional reengineering project. Why can't we continue our constitutional reform, go to review, and revise those items in the Constitution that are no longer timely, relevant, and viable.

China expressed opposition to Taiwan's constitutional reform of June 7, 2005, which called for halving the number of legislators, adopting the "single district, two-vote" system, abolishing the National Assembly, and incorporating the right to referendum into the Constitution. China denounced these moves by saying that Taiwan was seeking de jure independence. But with the solid support of the 23 million people of Taiwan, we were able to complete this first stage of constitutional reform.

China, an undemocratic country, strongly opposes Taiwan's moves to build its democracy. There has never been a time when China has supported Taiwan's efforts to deepen and consolidate its democracy. Rather, China paints all such acts as moves towards de jure independence.

I can give you another such example. During the KMT administration of President Lee, representatives of mainland provinces were retired from office. This, I believe, was a very important constitutional reform. The president used to be indirectly elected by National Assemblymen that included these mainland delegates. At the time, there were still a number of representatives from Chinese provinces holding seats in our parliamentary bodies. They had been elected in China and were able to keep their seats perpetually here in Taiwan. But such a situation has been relegated to the dustbin of history. Now, the makeup of our legislature truly represents the 23 million people of Taiwan. We no longer have legislators representing territory in China.

So we must say that our current Constitution has gone through certain changes, is no longer a constitution for "one China," and has been localized to meet the needs of the 23 million people of Taiwan.

Q8. Mr. President, can you today give the assurance that these constitutional reforms will be strictly in accord with your "Four Noes" promises? Thank you.

A. I don't think there will be a problem with this provided we follow the constitutional procedure currently in place, that is, that a high threshold of three-quarters of a quorum of three-fourths of the legislators must vote for the amendment, and then more than one-half of all eligible voters must vote for the amendment in a referendum. We will in no way change the status quo.

Q9. You said recently that unification with mainland China is an option. It's not the only one but it's an option, and under which conditions? Beyond the Taiwanese expressing their views, what are other conditions, obviously talking about political regime in China.

A. As I have said again and again, the reason why we introduced referendum to the Constitution and had the National Unification Council cease to function was to return the right to free choice to our 23 million people.
We do not exclude the possibility that our people may one day choose to unify with China, but we do not accept the precondition that unification is the only possible outcome. By stopping unification from being the only choice, we are allowing independence for Taiwan to be an option. In other words, whatever form the political relationship between the two sides of the Strait takes in the future, it will be acceptable provided that it comes with the consent of Taiwan's people. Given the current atmosphere in Taiwan, it is not possible that more than 50 percent of our people would support unification with China.

But someday, if the Chinese Communist Party ceases to lead a dictatorship; if China starts to put in place a system based on democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights, and if the people of China can enjoy freedom of speech, of press, and of religion; if China stops trying to suppress Taiwan and obstruct Taiwan militarily, politically, and economically; if China openly renounces the use of force against Taiwan, withdraws all the ballistic missiles it has targeted at Taiwan, and repeals the so-called anti-secession law; and if China can truly and fully respect the free choice of the 23 million people of Taiwan, instead of using military might or non-peaceful means to coerce the people of Taiwan, then I think the people of Taiwan might make a different choice other than their current stance of refusing to accept unification as the sole ultimate outcome. But it is clear that for the foreseeable future this may remain a fantasy. China cannot possibly meet these conditions, and the leadership of China cannot lead China in a way such that these conditions could be met; it is therefore impossible for the people of Taiwan to accept or agree to unification.

Should there be any discrepancy between the English and the Chinese texts, the Chinese shall prevail.

【Source: Office of the President】