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PRESIDENT TO PRIORITIZE TAIWAN UNIFICATION, STABLE CROSS-STRAIT TIES

2004-03-25 19:42:30

    Taipei, March 25 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian said Thursday that unifying Taiwan, stabilizing cross-Taiwan Strait relations, promoting constitutional reform and reinvigorating the economy will top his work agenda for the coming four years.

    Chen made the remarks while meeting with a group of business executives, human rights activists and aboriginal representatives at the Presidential Office to exchange views on his administration's plans.

    First of all, Chen said, he will begin mending relations with mainland China, a task that he said will be easier in a second term unencumbered by re-election pressures.

    As the first step in honoring this campaign promise, Chen said he will meet with Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh Friday to discuss the formation of a special task force to mull feasible measures to improve cross-strait relations.

    This task force will be composed of government officials, academics and business executives, Chen said, adding that the panel will prepare strategies for negotiations with Beijing for the establishment of a viable framework for peaceful cross-strait interaction.

    During the presidential campaign, Chen adopted a confrontational stance with the mainland -- Taiwan's biggest security threat. His critics have speculated that the president will take an even harder line against the mainland during his second term, a notion Chen dismissed. "The March 20 election was my last election battle and now I have a freer hand to do things," Chen said.

    Stressing that Taiwan wants to make peace with the mainland, Chen said his administration will make every possible effort to forge cross-strait rapprochement under the cardinal principle of "peace."

    He acknowledged that it will be no easy task to thaw the long-stalled cross-strait relations. "Because it is very difficult, I'll make all-out efforts to achieve a breakthrough in this regard, " he added.

    Turning to domestic affairs, Chen reaffirmed his commitment to pushing for constitutional reform. "Our existing constitution is outdated and fails to meet Taiwan's present situation. We should face up to this reality. The key point of our reform is not aimed at addressing the thorny independence or unification issue. Our top goal is to upgrade government efficiency and national competitiveness, " Chen explained, adding that the underlying principle of his constitutional reform programs is that Taiwan's present status quo should not be changed.

    Those present at the meeting included Morris Chang, chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.; Barry Lam, chairman of Quanta Co.; Nita Ing, chairwoman of the Taiwan High-Speed Railway Co.; Huang Mao-hsiung, chairman of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce; and aboriginal Legislator Walis Pelin.

    Referring to the post-election dispute with the opposition, Chen said he will not rule out "political means" to resolve the issue.

    Chen's slim re-election victory is being contested by his challenger, Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan, who claims that the voting was marred by irregularities and an unsolved election-eve shooting that slightly wounded the president.

    Although Lien has provided little specific evidence of wrongdoing in Saturday's election, large crowds of his supporters have rallied in front of the Presidential Office daily, at first demanding a recount and more recently calling for an entirely new election.

    Chen assured his guests that his administration will resolve the dispute in line with the principles of listening to the opposition camp's opinions, understanding the feelings of the defeated contender and his supporters, following the guidelines of rule of law and promoting domestic unity and harmony.

    On Monday, Chen suggested two options for resolving the dispute. The first would be that the ruling and opposition parties negotiate mutually acceptable terms and appoint credible judges to recount the ballots. Another would be to revise the law to allow for people other than judges and prosecutors to examine the ballots.

    Chen said he still feels that these two options are the most appropriate ways to settle the dispute. "After I won the 2000 presidential election with slightly more than 39 percent of the vote, some people called me a 'minority president.' This time, I won 50.1 percent of the vote. I believe the circumstances I face today will not be more difficult than before, " Chen said confidently.

    He further said the election-eve shooting has had a strong impact on his view of life. "I'm determined to work selflessly for our country. I'll be the president of 23 million people. Although some people didn't vote for me, they are masters of this island, too. I'll think about how to win their hearts and minds with my sincerity and devoted service. This is my mission."

    Chen said he will recruit more talented, capable people to join his administration. "Professionalism, integrity and world vision will be major concerns in manpower recruitment," he added.

    Meanwhile, Chen said he will continue to carry out the 10 new major construction projects as well as promote legislative reform, economic reform, social reform and educational reform to live up to the general public's expectations.

    For the fifth straight day, a large crowd of Lien's supporters blocked a boulevard in front of the Presidential Office. Hundreds have been gathering in the morning, and by the evening, the crowd has been swelling to thousands as people join after work and school.

    When the demonstration started Sunday morning, the protesters chanted "We want a recount!" But after President Chen agreed to a recount and proposed a law revision that would allow a retally by next week, the protesters changed their chant to "Hold the vote again!"

    Lien hasn't clearly expressed his views on the re-vote issue, but Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party argued that there were no legal grounds for the move now.

    So far, the opposition's position on the election controversy has been confused, and it has been constantly changing. The opposition appears to be struggling to reach a consensus between the two parties in its coalition: the KMT and the smaller People First Party.

(By Sofia Wu)

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