The following is an edited transcript of the Financial Times’ exclusive interview with Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president, by Kathrin Hille, the FT’s Taipei correspondent.Financial Times: Mr President, you recently mentioned that during the 20 remaining months of your presidency you intend to do the work of 40 months, and you also raised three policies. Could you explain in a bit more specific terms how you intend to implement these three policies: constitutional reform, joining the United Nations under the name of Taiwan, and dealing with party assets acquired under the authoritarian era?
This is in line with the two big policies I have mentioned before: insisting on Taiwan identity and realising social fairness and justice. Therefore we must continue to promote three big movements. These include giving birth to a new constitution that fits Taiwan’s needs, applying for UN membership under the name of Taiwan, and have the whole people go after the assets acquired by the Kuomintang during their authoritarian rule by improper means.
These are absolutely not slogans but very important issues. This is also something which we have to continue to work on to make Taiwan a normal country. Of course some call these a “mission impossible” but I think there’s nothing impossible under the sun. If only you have ideals and goals and insist and don’t give up and try your best, everything is possible in the end.
Therefore I want to use 20 months to do the work of 40 months. This also shows our will and determination. Because in the past many things were viewed as “missions impossible” but we often made them possible within the shortest possible time.
For example, we managed to rectify the name of Chiang Kai Shek International Airport to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport within one week. …
Similarly, with regard to the termination or the abolition of the National Unification Council and guidelines, I raised this on January 29 this year in my hometown of Tainan. On February 28 I officially proclaimed the measure. That was no more than one month. …
I also remember the case of the referendums. … On the Democratic Progressive Party’s anniversary on September 28, 2003, I presented the DPP’s three wishes for 2004. One of them was we wanted to complete the first country-wide referendum. Everyone thought that was an impossible mission. … [But] from the proposal to the day when we held the referendum it was no more than six months.
Another case I can explain is on May 20, 2004 at my inaugural ceremony [when] I mentioned that I hope we could complete constitutional reform by the end of my second term in 2008, abolish the National Assembly and include referenda in the constitution.
Abolishing the National Assembly and including referenda in the constitution – that was another mission impossible! Originally I thought I would need four years and would only be able to finish this before I step down in 2008. Who would have thought that we completed these constitutional reforms on June 7 2005? The National Assembly finally went into history, and we handed the right of final approval of constitutional changes over to the people.
Now any constitutional reform proposal passed by the Legislative Yuan will only take effect after approved by the people in a referendum. For this, we also didn’t use more than a year.
No matter if one year, half a year, a month or seven days, we have made the impossible possible. So the three movements I mentioned in order to pursue Taiwan identity and social fairness and justice are absolutely possible.FT: We observe that you have started to discuss some of the possible contents of a new constitution, including the definition of the “existing national boundaries” and the concept of a “Second Republic” constitution. Will you get even deeper involved in the discussion of the constitutional contents? So far you have only raised the question of whether these two things should be discussed. Will you start giving some answers and reveal your views on these issues?
The DPP’s party platform that was passed on October 7, 1990 mentions: Our country’s de-facto sovereignty does not extend to mainland China and outer Mongolia. The future constitutional system and domestic as well as foreign policies should be based on this factual territorial scope. So no matter if factual sovereignty or factual territory, we have already said in very clear terms that these do not include mainland China and outer Mongolia.
But according to the existing constitution, the country’s territory is defined with reference to “the existing national boundaries”. But what are the existing national boundaries?
We first thought that we could solve this through a constitutional interpretation, that means to solve it by having the constitutional court deliver a constitutional interpretation rather by amending the constitution. But what we didn’t know is that on March 28, 1993, the Constitutional Court had already ruled saying the definition of the scope of the “existing national boundaries” is a major political question and should not be explained by the highest judicial body in its capacity of interpreting the constitution.
Therefore our thought of going through the judiciary in order to avoid constitutional amendments cannot be realised.
But the problem is what [are] the existing national boundaries? Does it really include mainland China and outer Mongolia? Mainland China is currently the territory of the People’s Republic of China, and outer Mongolia is another country named Republic of Mongolia. Both are UN members. If we say our existing national boundaries extend to the territory of these two countries, wouldn’t that mean to encroach on UN members’ territory and sovereignty? This is very absurd and unrealistic. The international community would of course not accept such a thing.
Further, do the “existing national boundaries” include Taiwan? This is also very controversial. Very clearly, the Republic of China constitution says the country’s name is Republic of China, it was founded in 1912. But Taiwan became a Japanese colony as early as 1895. So when the ROC was established, it did not include Taiwan.
The “existing national boundaries” at the time the predecessor of the ROC constitution, a 1936 draft, was put together, did not include Taiwan either because Taiwan was still ruled by Japan. After the war, the San Francisco Treaty did not give Taiwan to China. So that the ROC’s “existing national boundaries” do not include Taiwan is very clear. So do we want to solve this problem? It is not in line with reality and is so controversial.
So this is a very serious issue. From the DPP’s 1990 platform until recently, many people are discussing the scope of our territory and our sovereignty. This is extremely serious, complicated, sensitive, but also extremely important.
So then somebody has proposed the concept of the “Second Republic”. Actually, the Second Republic means the current constitution would be frozen and a new Taiwan constitution would be written. Freezing the ROC constitution also means keeping some kind of a link to the ROC constitution and not cutting it off completely.
This is a very interesting idea. It deserves observation, and everyone can discuss it. That is why some people say that the Second Republic constitution’s preamble should define the territorial scope this constitution applies to, whether it includes mainland China or Mongolia, or whether is it limited to the existing territorial and sovereignty scope of Taiwan, [and its outlying islands].
Also the General Provisions of the existing constitution, including article 4 with its “existing national boundaries” are not to be touched, but address the issue in the Second Republic Taiwan constitution where it talks about its application scope. Would that work and be acceptable to everyone? I think that’s a very interesting thought.
FT: You have mentioned that you have little more than a year left in office but still have so much work left, including some “missions impossible”. So what will your role be in implementing these policies? You have said there will be “movements”. But a movement that needs to be started needs a leader. You have said the Second Republic concept is worth discussing. How will you help push this discussion and these movements?
I already mentioned a few examples - the name rectification of Chiang Kai Shek International Airport, the termination of the National Unification Guidelines and Council, the referendum issue.
This depends on everyone’s common efforts. I can lead. I can direct. I can take part in promoting. But I’m still just one person. Many things require common effort, even across party lines.
There is nothing impossible under the sun. When this becomes a trend, when the people’s power rises, when society is ripe, then many missions impossible can be accomplished, and even earlier than thought.
So I think during my remaining time in office of course I must pursue these three movements’ ideal goals. It will be very difficult but we must do the right thing and take the right path.FT: I would like to take a look at what impact these plans will have on cross-Strait relations. When you first took office, you made the pledge of the “Five Nos”. Later, the fifth no seems to have gone missing. Most recently, you tend to prefer the pledge of not changing the status quo. So does the fact that you are no longer explicitly repeat your Five Nos pledge reflect some change in your commitments?
As far as the Five Nos are concerned – the fifth No is already gone after the termination of the National Unification Council and Guidelines. Because originally there was special staff at the Presidential Office for the NUC, this staff is now gone. The NUC’s operations ceased a long time ago, and there’s not even a budget anymore. So the fifth No is gone. Now there’s only Four Nos left.
With regard to China, I think we need to preserve the status quo and need to prevent the status quo from being changed. We think actually they are already changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. They refuse to abdicate the threat of taking Taiwan by force. They have passed the so-called Anti-Secession Law. This is how they are changing the status quo. …
China wants to poach all of our diplomatic allies, take away our international space. This is changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Originally we still had more than 60 diplomatic allies, now the number is down to little more than 20. This has been changed, destroyed, by China.
China’s united front tactics towards Taiwan, which attempt to marginalise us, localise us, take away our sovereignty, bypass our government … these are all changing the status quo, destroying the status quo.
Taiwan is already a sovereign independent country and does absolutely not belong to the People’s Republic of China, is not a part of them, and is not a province of the PRC either. We have a government. We have jurisdiction. We have sovereignty. But they intend to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
With regard to Taiwan, under the Four Nos we pledged not to declare Taiwan independence. But Taiwan is already a sovereign country, an independent country, there’s no need to declare that.
We don’t change the national moniker. But we hope to participate in the international community under the name of Taiwan, join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan.
We don’t include the view in the constitution that Taiwan and China are separate countries. But we have already put referenda in the constitution.
We don’t hold referenda on independence or unification. But in 2004 we already held a peace referendum.
We are not breaking these commitments. But Taiwan, the 23m Taiwanese, we still want to continue to walk down our own path of democracy, of freedom, of human rights and of peace.FT: You have explained one by one how Taiwan has not broken the Four Nos commitments. But this is all referring to the past. But what about the future? If you pledge not to change the national moniker and not to put the view that Taiwan and China are two different countries into the constitution, but at the same time start discussing a Second Republic constitution, if that is realized, won’t that violate the Four Nos?
I have already mentioned freezing the ROC constitution and establishing a Taiwan constitution would provide a certain link with the ROC constitution. Actually, under the so-called temporary provisions in the past, or now the additional articles, aren’t these are also freezing large parts of the ROC constitution? Freezing part of it or all of it, it’s all freezing. Where’s the difference? It’s all the same.
So some people say that the Second Republic started long ago and we don’t know how many republics we have had since. Under that theory, the temporary provisions in the era of Chiang Kai-shek marked the Second Republic. The era of Lee Teng-hui with its additional articles would then be the Third Republic.FT: I would like to ask another question regarding cross-Strait relations. Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou has recently proposed to pledge not to declare independence in exchange for China not using military force against Taiwan. Although this is not new, everybody seems to be paying more attention because Mr Ma is likely to run for president in 2008. What are your comments on this proposal?
In March when he came back from the US, we had a dialogue with him. Some of his positions are very problematic. On first sight, they look attractive, but if you give it thorough thought, explain it clearly, listen attentively, then it’s all different.
Now he talks about a no-independence-no-war so-called peace agreement. In fact that’s a surrender agreement, a declaration of surrender. Because everyone knows a no-independence-no-war so-called peace agreement would not keep the status quo, it would change the status quo.
Kenneth Lieberthal, then a senior National Security Council official under US president Bill Clinton, proposed in 1998 that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could sign a 50-year interim agreement on the basis of no-independence-no-war. He promoted this to me many times. I asked him whether this had a condition and a conclusion. He said the conclusion was that we had to accept One China, and the conclusion was ultimate unification. So I said Taiwan cannot possibly accept this. …
Later he came again and again to market the concept again. I asked him: is there change? Is there still a condition? Is there still a conclusion? He said he amended it to have neither conditions nor conclusions. Then I asked him whether China accepted it, but he said no. That is the problem.
Last year in February former President Clinton visited Taipei. I asked him about Mr Lieberthal’s proposal, whether he accepted it and whether such an interim agreement would be good for Taiwan. He told me that Taiwan can absolutely not accept this. Because time is on Taiwan’s side. Once Taiwan accepts this it’s over.
So if even Lieberthal’s boss doesn’t accept it, how can we accept it?
So now chairman Ma Ying-jeou comes up with this again with slight changes under the name of “peace agreement”.
If there’s no precondition, China cannot possibly accept this. Why will there definitely be a precondition? For example the former government, when the Kuomintang was still in power, for the sake of the 1992 Hong Kong talks [with China], came up with this National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines. Only then were the Hong Kong talks and the 1993 Koo-Wang talks in Singapore possible. And everyone knows that these had the precondition of accepting One China and the ultimate goal of unification.
So only because these were in place, Taiwan accepted the One China Principle, accepted ultimate unification, could there be the Hong Kong talks. So if you have to accept China’s precondition and ultimate goals even just for talks, so you say for signing a peace agreement China will [do that] unconditionally? This is a very simple principle.
So if you, for the sake of a peace agreement accept their condition of one China or their ultimate goal of unification, how can that be called a peace agreement? That’s a surrender agreement. Once it’s signed, it’s over for Taiwan. Then it’s waiting to die.
No independence in exchange for no war, what is that supposed to mean? No war is a matter of course. The x-strait conflict and cross-Strait disagreements should not be solved by non-peaceful means in the first place. How could the international community accept that China uses military force against Taiwan?
Japan and the US have included the Taiwan issue into their common strategic objectives and have said the Taiwan Strait issue should be solved peacefully through dialogue. …
How can the international community accept that China wants to use military force against Taiwan? That’s why the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for China to remove the missiles it has deployed along the coast against Taiwan. It also demands the disagreements must be solved peacefully through dialogue.
So no war is a matter of course. That’s also why the European Union cannot remove the arms embargo against China yet. How can you support a non-peaceful, non-democratic China to act with military force against a democratic, peaceful Taiwan?
And no independence? Taiwan is already independent. Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent country. No matter if you use ROC or Taiwan. Already independent. We are a country, a sovereign, independent country.
We are already independent, and you still want to make us non-independent. Isn’t that very strange? … Originally we still have sovereignty and independence, and now you don’t even want that anymore. … So you have to understand clearly and know that it is not possible. This is sporting the cloak of peace while working out a declaration of surrender.
FT: If you were to remain in power for a longer time, what would be the right kind of cross-Strait policy then? I know that you have presented many proposals on improving cross-Strait relations, but there have not been many results, partly because the other side did not respond. Over the past year, there have been some non-official exchanges, and on some practical issues there seems to be some progress, but everyone still thinks this is too little, too late, also it is completely separate from political contacts. So do you see any option for how Taiwan could communicate with China on a larger, more official scale?
We still need to be firm on our principles, but move forward pragmatically. We cannot be too anxious [to move forward] but must insist on Taiwan identity. Taiwan is absolutely not China’s tributary or border region. This point is very important, this is absolutely basic. We must not for the sake of commercial profit or the convenience of contact give up Taiwan’s separate identity. We must insist on Taiwan’s own identity, Taiwan first.
The Chinese market is very big, but you cannot define it as Taiwan’s only way out, and make it Taiwan’s only market. It is only part of Taiwan’s globalisation, and not all of it. … Many people don’t want Taiwan, don’t want Taiwan this country, they are ready to give up Taiwan’s sovereignty as a country. I think this is an extremely dangerous thing.
We must not transform ourselves into Hong Kong or Fujian. Taiwan still does not belong to the PRC. We are absolutely not their special administrative region or province. We must have a correct understanding of this point when we improve and normalize cross-Strait economic and trade relations.FT: I would like to ask a question about domestic politics. There has been a lot of noise in recent months, and we hear a lot of news about scandals and corruption. How much damage has been done to Taiwan’s democracy and to your authority as a political leader? Can this damage be undone? Many people have started harbouring deep distrust and doubts towards the system and towards you personally. What can be done about that?
Of course much of this is due to political problems. In its transformation from authoritarianism to democracy, Taiwan can be seen as a pioneering country. I have already mentioned many times the four major challenges Taiwan faces.
The first is the split in national identity. The second is the fights between political parties, the third is the dilemma of transitional justice, the fourth is the constitutional system.
Today, apart from our own domestic problems, we have also an external threat, [China]. They don’t recognise that we have a government, so they deny our government, and deny our sovereignty. And in addition to that, actually they also completely fail to recognise the president, who is a symbol of Taiwan’s sovereignty and a representative of the government. So they also deny Taiwan’s president.
And domestically, due to the competition in the presidential election, especially in 2004 there were some political parties who did not recognise that I am their president. So this is also a denial of the president. So they use every possible means to distort and smear for the purpose of dishonouring the national leader.
Of course damage has been done. But we still think Taiwan’s transformation from authoritarianism to democracy and further on to the rule of law has been very difficult, but we also start seeing results.
If you talk about democracy, we all know that Taiwan is already democratic enough. … With don’t only have 100 per cent but 200 per cent press freedom. It is not easy to find a place with such overly free media as Taiwan. …
But the quality of Taiwan’s news media is not so good. …
But we cannot restrain press freedom because the media is not reliable enough. We still want to protect and guarantee press freedom. …
Randomly publishing incorrect information about others, judging by public debate, that’s very rare in other countries. A really advanced democratic country – for example in the US some anchors had to step down because of factual errors in reports. … In Japan a Democratic lawmaker alleged that the child of an LDP politician had accepted bribes but later these allegations were found to be untrue. Not only did that lawmaker step down but even his party’s chairman stepped down. This is responsible behaviour.
So in Taiwan, there’s no problem with press freedom and freedom of speech. But with regard to citizens’ responsibility, political responsibility, responsibility of speech and media responsibility, perhaps we still have a long way to go.FT: My last question is directed at how you define your role in history. What are your contributions and achievements for Taiwan? Do you have any plans for a political career after 2008?
Having been able to let a … party which ruled in Taiwan more than 50 years become the opposition party, complete the change of ruling party.
I don’t dare say that’s the biggest contribution towards Taiwan, but at least we have left our trace on Taiwan’s road from authoritarianism to democracy. In the process of Taiwan’s democratisation, we have never wronged the people. So completing the first change of political party in history, make Taiwan a really democratic country at least this is absolutely something we can proudly present to the Taiwan people.
But being a democratic country is not enough. Taiwan still needs to become a country with the rule of law. Although there has been a lot of pain and even unfair treatment against me and my family, but we think that being able to bring Taiwan forward from a democracy to a rule-of-law country, where everyone is equal before the law, [that is an achievement]. Even if my family members have made some mistakes, we all have to accept the scrutiny of the country’s laws.
Sometimes I feel very ashamed and feel this is a loss of face. But isn’t this also to be cherished as signs of Taiwan’s democracy and rule of law? Thus personal liabilities become everyone’s assets. This is what we want to work on and what we want to pursue.
Separately, having been able to complete the first referendum in history, first with a referendum law and then the inclusion of referenda in the constitution. (…)
[Then there’s the ] nationalisation of the military. It’s not done with having it written in the constitution. In the past more than 6 years, we have thoroughly implemented the nationalization of the military. … If there’s chaos in parliament, that’s not scary. If there’s chaos in the media, we don’t have to worry either. What we need to worry about most and consider as most frightening is failing in the nationalization of the military. …
So in some protests in front of the Presidential office after the election in March 2004, and the recent so-called red shirt army’s sit-ins and protests, we have seen the nationalisation of our military. This is the most important force of stability for our country.
[This is where we are] different from many Southeast Asian countries, from many Latin American and African countries. This is Taiwan’s big success story. This is the pride of Taiwan’s democracy. Our military is no longer the so-called party forces, no longer the so-called personal army. The military really belongs to the people, really belongs to the country, and is loyal to the constitution, loyal to the country, loyal to this piece of land. This is how it should be.
Last but not least [ I have to mention] cross-Strait peace. Ten years ago, we directly elected our president for the first time, and the Chinese Communists launched missiles. … We elected our president again in 2000 and in 2004, but over the past six years, there has been peace across the Strait. This is a fact.
When we ran for president, our opponents said don’t elect the DPP, don’t cast your vote for A-bian. Otherwise the Chinese Communists will strike. Six years have passed, the PLA has not attacked. This is the result of everyone’s common effort. We were able to retain cross-Strait peace, cross-Strait exchanges are also the closest in history. Therefore this is also an improvement in cross-Strait relations we can absolutely present to the people. Of course many people are still not satisfied, still criticise. But I think that we can keep the cross-Strait peace, especially under DPP rule ... this is our achievement.