Taiwan’s new head of state speaks of ‘future one China’

AFP, DAWN, Sunday 21 May 2000; 16 Safar 1421

TAIPEI, May 20: Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was inaugurated on Saturday and immediately held out an olive branch to China, prompting a swift counter offer of talks.

In an apparent breakthrough in Beijing-Taipei relations, the former dissident used the occasion of the first ever peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Chinese history to withdraw his pre-election pledge to move the island towards formal independence.

Instead, in a dramatic overture to China’s communist leadership, he held out the possibility of a future One China incorporating Taiwan and the mainland. He also acknowledged a common cultural and spiritual history.

In the run-up to his election on March 18, Beijing threatened war if the island chose to formally break away from China in a campaign aimed at Chen and his separatist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Before his election Chen campaigned for formal independence; since, he has rejected any definition of One China that allowed even distant communist rule, such as the one country, two systems formula used to govern Hong Kong and Macau.

As Taiwan’s military maintained a state of heightened alert, Chen said: The people across the Taiwan Strait share the same ancestral, cultural, and historical background.

The former dissident, who like several in his cabinet served time in jail under the totalitarian Kuomintang (KMT) regime, added: While upholding the principles of democracy and parity ... we believe the leaders on both sides possess enough wisdom and creativity to jointly deal with the question of a future ‘One China’.

As long as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office I will not declare independence. Chen also said he would keep the Kuomintang’s guidelines on reunification.

Commentators in Taipei said Chen was in effect raising the possibility of the mainland and a democratic Taiwan existing side by side as part of a greater China. Chen had left open how this might happen and whether China could stay communist, they said.

China’s reaction was mixed, with two statements taking markedly different tones. In the first it accused Chen of being evasive and demanded he accept One China without qualification. He should not have applied any conditions, he should not have failed to recognize One China and the reality that Taiwan is a part of China, and by referring to One China in the future tense, it said. But the second said Beijing was prepared to hold talks if Taiwan accepted it could not negotiate as a sovereign state and embraced a 1992 compromise.

In the 1992 deal, both sides agreed to accept One China but not define it, instead to express in their own way orally that both sides across the straits stick to the ’One China’ principle.

The two statements were from the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee and the Taiwan affairs office of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, of the Hong Kong-based Center of French Studies of Contemporary China, said the statement was Beijing’s most conciliatory since Chen’s election on March 18. The good thing about this statement is it confirms the Chinese are ready to accept a vaguer definition of the One China principle and go back to the negotiating table, Cabestan said. However, Taipei’s stock market plunged 4.6 per cent immediately after the speech, recovering slightly to close on a 3.3 per cent fall. The truth is he did not say anything that would effectively improve cross-strait relations, said Michael Lee, analyst at MasterMind Financial Advisory Co.

Earlier Chen, Vice President Annette Lu and the cabinet were sworn in at ceremonies at the presidential office in Taipei. Chen took over from Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s KMT president for 12 years whose democratic reforms allowed the dissidents’ rise to power.

The president was accompanied by his wheelchair-bound wife Wu Shu-chen, paralysed from the waist down in 1985 by a suspected KMT assassination attempt.-AFP