PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO MAKING PEACE WITH BEIJING
Taipei, Feb. 21 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian said Saturday that if he is re-elected in the upcoming presidential election, he hopes to shake hands and make peace with mainland Chinese President Hu Jintao. "Ah Bian's biggest hope is that one day in the next four years, I can shake hands with President Hu Jintao and reconcile," Chen said in a televised debate with opposition Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan, who is the sole challenger to Chen's re-election bid.
Chen also said in his concluding speech of a two-hour debate with Lien that he wants to post a permanent representative to Beijing before May 20, when the next presidential term begins.
Although his plan to hold a referendum alongside the March 20 presidential election has drawn broadsides from Beijing, Chen claimed that his referendum will lend the authority of public opinion to negotiations with the mainland. "That is why we are confident we can begin positive talks and sign agreements with the mainland if I'm re-elected," Chen said.
In Taiwan's first-ever referendum, voters will be asked whether Taiwan should acquire more anti-missile defense capabilities to defend itself against military threats from mainland China and whether the island should enter into talks with Beijing for the establishment of a framework for peaceful interaction.
In the two-hour debate, Chen portrayed himself as the defender of Taiwan's sovereignty against the mainland, which sees the island as a breakaway province that must be brought to heel, by force if necessary. He attacked Lien's stance on the mainland, saying that Taiwan is an independent country and not a mere "appendage" to the mainland. "The problem is that during the KMT's long rule, they insisted on 'one China'. This is why Taiwan is an international outcast today, " Chen said.
He also accused Lien of having a wishy-washy policy with regard to the mainland. "Lien doesn't believe in himself. He doesn't believe in Taiwan," he said.
Chen also criticized a position backed by Lien's running mate, People First Party Chairman James Soong, who has said Taiwan and the mainland can exist under the same "one-China roof." "If we're all under a one-China roof, is Taiwan the carpet or the tile?" Chen asked.
The wide-ranging debate also touched on women's issues, the economy, defense, ethnic harmony and equality. But Taiwan's relationship with the mainland was a major point.
In the debate, Chen argued that Lien's economic development initiatives would allow the mainland to swallow Taiwan, which is just 160 kilometers off the mainland coast, while claiming that his own policies would protect the island from becoming marginalized. "Taiwan isn't a springboard to China. It's the center of Asia, " Chen claimed.
He also repeated his now famous "four noes plus one" pledge that he will not make any changes to the status quo of cross-Taiwan Strait relations as long as the mainland does not attack. "Our push for democratic reforms isn't a push for an independence timetable," he said.
In his eight-minute conclusion at the end of the debate, Chen said that if he is re-elected, he will make every possible effort to have Taiwan admitted into the World Health Organization within two years.
He also reaffirmed his commitment to safeguarding Taiwan's sovereign status, expanding its diplomatic frontiers and continuing sweeping reforms, including government restructuring, legislative reform, judicial reform, financial reform and social reform.
Most important is to prevent a revival of corrupt "black gold" politics, Chen said, adding that during his second term, he will push for the passage of major "sunshine bills" to facilitate clean politics and push the KMT to return its ill-gotten party assets to the national coffers.
In his opening remarks delivered prior to the question-and-answer session, Chen said his administration has had to deal with many "old ills" left unresolved by the previous KMT administration.
Against this backdrop, he claimed that if the Lien-Soong ticket wins the upcoming poll, it would usher in a return of "black gold" politics. "It would be like buying a new television set that has an old 'black gold' image tube installed. That would be a nightmare for our country," he said.
Chen also took advantage of the debate to urge the electorate to vote on the referendum to demonstrate to the world Taiwan's determination to safeguard its security with peace, rather than war with mainland China. The referendum results will also push Beijing to respect Taiwan people's desire for forging a viable mechanism for peaceful cross-strait interaction.
The debate was the second and final one of its kind before the presidnetial poll. The first live TV debate between the two contenders was held a week ago.
(By Sofia Wu)
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