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Hello I'm Anjali Rao in Taipei. My guest this week is Taiwan's President Chen Shu-bian. This is Talk Asia!
Chen Shui-bian is a man in a tough spot. While determined to secure Taiwan's independence from mainland China, he knows what it could mean for the island he's led for seven years.
SOT: "Back in the year 2000 when I first became President, there were about 200 missiles along the southeastern coast of China. Now there are almost a 1,000!"
Internally, the last year has been almost as explosive. Mass demands for Chen to quit, recall motions and a corruption scandal enveloping him and his family.
SOT: "Our judicial system will prove I am innocent and history will also clear my name!"
The president sat down with us for an exclusive interview.
Q. President Chen welcome to Talk Asia. Lets start then with the recent scandals surrounding you and your relatives, how have you dealt with it as a family?
A: Of course, it is regrettable, and I feel very sad about it. Many things shouldn't have happened, but they happened anyway. Of course, we must respect the judicial process. We must believe in our judiciary. Some of the cases have been filed, and some of them are undergoing the first trials. Some have reached a verdict after the first trial. We want everything to follow due process and we will work very hard to defend our rights and interests.
The case regarding the Special State Affairs Fund is undergoing the first trial. Everybody knows that in Taiwan, only the President is endowed with a Special State Affairs Fund. I want to point out very clearly that not a penny has gone into private pockets. We have used all of the state funds on secret diplomatic work and also on work related to national security.
Soon after I became president in the year 2000, I made the decision to cut my salary in half. So, accumulated over the past almost seven years, I have saved the nation at least 40 million New Taiwan dollars. It is impossible to imagine that I would spend five years to collect more than 700 receipts just to obtain illegally about 14 million NT dollars and put that into my pocket.
I'd like to say that these cases are not as simple as they seem the judicial cases. They are actually political cases. This is a phenomenon during the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Maybe we could call it a growing pain on our road to democracy. But I believe that our judiciary branch will prove that we are innocent, and history will clear my name.
Q. We're going to get to all of that more in depth. But I just want to rewind for a minute and talk about what happened within your family. You now say that your wife has been proven innocent on those embezzlement, misuse of fund charges. But your son-in-law is now serving six years in prison for insider trading. Did you know of any impropriety going on within your family?
A: Regarding the case of my son-in-law, who has been charged with insider trading, for which the first trial has been completed -- the result of which he's going to appeal -- we believe that eventually the evidence will speak for the truth.
Regarding the Sogo Department Store gift certificates case, I think it was first brought up in the year 2004 during the very vicious presidential election campaign. The legislators from my opponents' camp have chosen to use such news to tarnish my reputation and bring down my campaign. But two years later, finally, the judiciary has restored my wife's reputation.
Q. But you yourself are accused of graft. In any case you currently enjoy presidential immunity from prosecution but when you step down that may no longer be the case still some in your party want that immunity to be extended for life is that something that you want or do you prefer to step up and face the music?
Because the president is head of state, his position must be protected and respected. I think this is the spirit of this Article 52 of our Constitution. The president also enjoys immunity when he exercises his duty according to the regulations in our Constitution, because sometimes the president has to conduct top-secret state affairs. I think this constitutional system exists for every president, not just for myself.
Q. But would you like to have your day in court after the presidency, do you want the chance to confront your accusers?
A. It's really a matter of the system. I must respect the existing system, respect the Constitution, respect the existing regulations -- I cannot evade any of these. I really must go by the system.
Q. Many people here do think that you have a case to answer we saw only a few months ago tens of thousands of people take to their streets and demand your resignation. If that's what so many people want why have you been so determined to stay?
A. In the year 2000, I think my opposition had already launched its first recall motion, which was the first political storm that I faced as president. We had a dispute over this public issue of whether or not to continue construction of the fourth nuclear power plant. Over this issue, they launched a recall motion. Also, in March 2004, the people had some disputes over the results of the presidential election after some very fierce competition. At that time, almost half a million people staged a protest in front of the Presidential Office demanding that I step down. The people have the right to demand that I step down or to call for a recall motion. But I still insist that everything has to follow the constitutional system and the regulations -- we should not violate that principle.
Because democracy is about freedom but also about rule of law, so, while we protect full-fledged freedoms of the press, speech, assembly, and association, and also protect the right of individuals to express their different political opinions, we still believe that everything has to abide by the rule of law. As the president, I must defend simultaneously the spirit and principles of democracy, freedom, and also rule of law.
Q. Welcome back to this edition of Talk Asia. With us today is Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian.
President recent reports from the Pentagon say China has 900 missiles pointed at this island, do you think that China will attack Taiwan?
A: It is more than 900 missiles. The latest figure that we got from our Ministry of National Defense, after checking with the figure that the US got, it is almost a 1,000 missiles.
The correct number should be 988 missiles. For the past year, I have been telling my people that the number of missiles that China has deployed against us is about 820. But now the figure has increased by 168 missiles. That is an astonishing rate. It's quite amazing.
Back in the year 2000 when I first became president, there were about 200 missiles along the southeastern coast of China. Now there are almost a 1,000. They have increased by almost fivefold.
Q. And do you think that that shows that China is willing to use them against Taiwan?
A: China has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan. Also in 2005, it passed the so-called anti-secession law, attempting to lay a legal basis for its future invasion of Taiwan.
According to the intelligence that we gathered, China has completed its preparation work to use force against Taiwan in three stages. That is, to establish contingency-response combat capabilities by 2007; to build up combat capability for large-scale military engagement by 2010; and to ensure victory in a decisive battle by 2015.
Q. If that's the case though and China is planning on building up its arsenal against Taiwan further, why do you keep doing and saying things that Beijing would consider provocative such as re-writing the constitution?
A: It is China that is provoking Taiwan. It passed the "anti-secession law." It never formally renounced the use of force against Taiwan. It has also begun to complete three-stage preparation work to invade Taiwan in the future.
What this government, the people of Taiwan, and this administration have been doing is merely defending the sovereignty, dignity, and security of our country.
It is our solemn duty and obligation to defend the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait. It is China that is attempting to use military force to invade Taiwan and to change the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
Q. But what about your suggestion of redefining the territory of the Republic of China, no doubt that is going to rile Beijing therefore they would look at it as you trying to provoke them and not the other way round.
A: I think it would be provocative for Taiwan if we claim that our national sovereignty and our jurisdiction extend to mainland China, and their territory is part of our territory. That would be provocative. China never admits the factual existence of the Republic of China. Even according to their Constitution, it is written that the Republic of China ceased to exist in 1949. Now we cannot use the national moniker "the Republic of China," nor can we change it. We think that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country with a land size of 36000 sq km and a population of 23 million.
Q. Does that mean that you will move to redefine the borders of the Republic of China?
A: As I have said, these are the facts and that is the status quo. What is left for us of our territory, our sovereignty, only extends to Taiwan, the Pescadores (Penghu), Kinmen, and Matsu, and has a population of 23 million. This is a fact and there is no need to redefine it.
Q. US is treaty bound to come to your aid in the event of a conflict with China; unless of course, you're the one who sparks that conflict. How can you be sure of American assistance if you keep rattling the bars of China's cage, as it says you are, given that the relationship between Taiwan and Washington at the moment is not as friendly as it once was?
A: I believe that Taiwan and the United States are the best alliance in terms of sharing the universal values; we are the best alliance of democracy, and we are best partners in economy and trade as well as in security issues.
Taiwan may be small, but we are actually the eighth-largest trading partner of the United States. Last year, bilateral trade volume amounted to US$60 billion dollars.
Also two years ago, in the "Two Plus Two" security meeting between the United States and Japan, they for the first time listed Taiwan as one of their common security objectives.
Yes, indeed, there may be some differences regarding certain issues between the United States and Taiwan, but I believe that our interactions are very intensive and are very positive.
Q. Why is it so important for you to get Taiwan into the WHO and into United Nations as a country in its own right, I mean it does seem just unfathomable that those two bodies would risk their relationship with China just to do that?
A: We believe that the health rights of Taiwan's people should not be barred from the world, should not be neglected by the world. Therefore, it is only right that Taiwan becomes first an observer in the WHA and then becomes a member of the WHO.
According to the UN Charter regarding universality of membership, I think Taiwan should not be the only exception in the world to be restricted in its participation. This also violates the collective human rights of Taiwan's people since this international organization refuses to abide by the spirit listed in its charter of universal membership.
You're watching Talk Asia with us is Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian.
President you're now in the last term of your presidency what are your priorities now?
A: As the leader of this nation, I want to make Taiwan into a normal country. Even though Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country, it is not yet a normal and complete country. Why do I say that Taiwan is not yet a normal country? Because if it were, it would be a member of the UN family and also be the member of the World Health Organization. Why do I say that Taiwan is not yet a complete country? Because our current Constitution has never been approved by our people. The 23 million people of Taiwan really need a new Taiwan constitution that is timely, relevant, and viable.
I want to put the emphasis on striking a good balance between prosperity and social justice and equity. Therefore, our main policy goals include increasing investment in Taiwan, continuing to create more job opportunities, bridging the gap between urban and rural areas, as well as decreasing the gap between the rich and poor. These are our major policy goals.
Q. Going back to the election of 2004 where you won your second term, the evening before the vote, you and your deputy Annette Lu were shot. It was something that many people thought was very very suspicious because they said that your win was a direct result the next day of that shooting that you got a sympathy vote because of it and also the fact that no one was brought to justice ever for it. What do you say to those who have their doubts about what really happened that day?
A: First of all, I believe that if it were not for that shooting incident, our camp would have won, and won even more votes.
When I was shot but still didn't realize that I was shot, I thought that there were some injuries and scratches from the firecrackers. The Vice President was standing right next to me, she said to me: "Mr. President, you have been injured and your are bleeding right now. We should rush you to the hospital." But I remember that I told her we still had a lot of activities waiting for us, so I wanted to continue and not think of going to the hospital. We already believed that we were going to win the election, so why would we risk our lives like that?
Q. But you know that your critics say that you set the whole thing up right?
A: If I had truly attempted to stage this, I would not have had the president and the vice president be shot at the same time. I think the opponents could not admit their own defeat, so they tried to find themselves a scapegoat to blame their defeat on the two bullets.
Q. By the time you step down from your presidency you would have been the leader of Taiwan for 8 years, what does life after that hold for you, do you think you'll stay in politics?
A: After I finish my term as president, I want to be a happy volunteer. As I have said before, our democratic reform is still ongoing and it must continue to be consolidated and deepened. But there is still a lot we could do regarding strengthening Taiwan-centric consciousness as well as realizing social equity and justice. I think I could be of assistance in this regard. Apart from being a happy volunteer, I also wish to make some contribution as a pusher and a cultivator and a gardener on Taiwan's road to democracy.
Q. Many people have said that because of the scandals that have surrounded you and your family of late, that that's actually how your presidency is going to be remembered. How do you respond to that, how would you like your leadership to be thought of in 10 or 20 years from now?
A: I think the temporary noise will soon subside and our judicial system will prove I am innocent and history will also clear my name. At the end of the day, people will remember that it was in my hands in the year 2000, we have completed the first-ever peaceful transfer of political power and the first alternation of political parties in power.
I think 10 or 20 years from now, people will remember that during my eight years as president, I have persisted and persevered in fighting against this so-called "one China" principle proposed by China, and also have refused to accept the so-called 1992 Consensus, and I have insisted on Taiwan being an independent, sovereign country and that the People's Republic of China does not have jurisdiction over Taiwan, nor does Taiwan have jurisdiction over the People's Republic of China. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are different countries. I think history will bear witness to my devotion and my commitment to defending Taiwan.
Q. President Chen Shui-bian thank you so much for your time today its been a great pleasure to meet you.
And that's it for this edition of Talk Asia. We've been with Taiwan's President Chen Shu-bian. Thank you very much for being with us. I'm Anjali Rao, we'll see you again soon.