SCMP Thursday, May 18, 2000

Taiwan's Chen weighs options


Taiwan's president-elect Chen Shui-bian is preparing to make a final decision today on how to respond to Beijing's demand that he make an unqualified pledge to abide by the "one-China" principle.

Taipei sources said yesterday his advisers had narrowed the options, with near-consensus that Mr Chen should at best meet the demands only partially, by an "indirect acknowledgement" of the precept.

One option is that instead of a promise to abide by the principle, Mr Chen will say merely that he will take note of the historical trend towards realising the "one-China" ideal.

Another option, cited by a sizeable number of advisers, is for the Democratic Progressive Party politician to restate his position that the "one-China" principle is an "item on the agenda" of bilateral talks, not a precondition for them.

One other alternative is that instead of honouring "one China", Mr Chen pledges that he considers residents of both sides of the Taiwan Strait "one people". Last night, Mr Chen was still being handed last-minute suggestions.

"Chen hopes Beijing will realise he is constrained by Taiwan politics when making responses to its demands," the sources said.

"However, Chen wants to send the message to Beijing that even an indirect acknowledgement of the 'one-China' principle will demonstrate his sincere wish to improve ties."

The one-sixth of Mr Chen's inauguration speech that will deal with cross-strait relations will seek to pacify Beijing in other ways. He will probably spell out for the first time details of how direct trade, transport and postal links will be realised by both sides.

He will stress that Taipei will not proclaim independence or change its official name, that it will not hold a referendum on the issue of statehood, and that it will not write outgoing President Lee Teng-hui's "two-states theory" into the constitution.

Mr Chen will swear allegiance to the Republic of China, allaying fears that he is seeking to build a "Republic of Taiwan". However, he will stress that the Republic of China has full sovereignty.

He is due to finalise his 4,500-character speech by tonight. An informed source said a group of Chen advisers visited the mainland last week for an exchange of views with mainland cadres and scholars on how the "one-China" principle should be addressed in the inauguration speech.

Mr Chen made yet another gesture yesterday, saying the island and the mainland were constituents of one family. "People in Taiwan and mainland China are like brothers and sisters. We're all members of the same family," he said. "We need to help each other, care for each other so the family can be harmonious. Only a harmonious family can thrive."

Taiwan affairs analysts in Beijing said Politburo members headed by President Jiang Zemin would study Mr Chen's speech closely. They said Mr Jiang had asked Communist Party, government and media units to prepare hard-hitting commentaries for publication in the event of Mr Chen's failing to satisfy mainland authorities on "one China".

Key mainland papers ran a Xinhua commentary yesterday warning that Mr Chen would be courting disaster if he did not recognise "one China".