Taiwan's president changes stance on independence

March 8, 2007

After promising during his 2000 inauguration not to push for Taiwanese independence, a commitment reaffirmed after his 2004 re-election, President Chen Shuibian reversed his stance hours before China's annual parliamentary session — the National People's Congress — started on March 5.

Addressing a March 4 dinner of the pro-independence Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Chen put forward the so-called "Four wants and one no" doctrine — that Taiwan wants to be independent, to change its official designation from the "Republic of China" to Taiwan, and to have a new constitution that spells out its independent statehood; and that it wants development. The "one no" assertion states there's no division in Taiwan along the right-left political axis, only along the question of independence from or re-unification with China.

Chen's new statement represents a major reversal from his 2000 pledge that as long as Beijing didn't use force against Taiwan, he wouldn't push for Taiwanese independence during his term and would abolish neither the National Unification Council nor the National Unification Guidelines.

Though Taiwan's presidential election isn't due until March 2008, electioneering is already underway. Having served two terms, Chen isn't eligible for re-election but he seems keen to give a hand to the yet-to-be-selected candidate of his Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP's electoral appeal has flagged since financial scandals associated with Chen's wife and his aides erupted last June.

Taiwan's United Daily News broke the news on March 6 that the country had conducted a secret missile test on February 2, an event allegedly attended by Chen. The missiles have a range of up to 1000 kilometres, allowing them to reach China's premier financial centres, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Both of Taiwan's main opposition parties — the Kuomintang and the People First Party — have condemned Chen's change in stance, as has China's foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, who said: "Whoever wants to split away will become a criminal in history."

US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said on March 5 he expected Chen to uphold his pledge to not move Taiwan towards independence, cautioning that any "rhetoric" that raises doubts regarding this is "unhelpful".

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