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PRESIDENT VOWS TO LEAD TAIWAN DOWN 'MIDDLE ROAD'

2004-05-20 20:42:26

    Taipei, May 20 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian said Thursday after being sworn in for a second four-year term that stabilizing relations with mainland China will be a key goal of his new administration. "Unite Taiwan, stabilize cross-strait relations, seek social harmony and reinvigorate the economy. These are the earnest hopes of the people and the pre-eminent mission of my new administration, " Chen said in his inaugural speech delivered during a celebration rally in the square in front of the Presidential Office.

    Braving a steady drizzle, Chen avoided much of his China-bashing rhetoric and promised that he will lead the nation down a "middle road" and seek peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. "The people of Taiwan embrace peace, " Chen said. "Needless to say, Taiwan's national security is of greater concern to us than to anyone else in the world."

    Noting that Taiwan is a completely free and democratic society, Chen said that neither single individuals nor political parties can make the ultimate choice for the people of Taiwan. "If both sides (of the Taiwan Strait) are willing, on the basis of goodwill, to create an environment engendered upon 'peaceful development and freedom of choice, ' then in the future, the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China -- or Taiwan and China -- can seek to establish relations in any form whatsoever, " Chen said, adding that his administration "would not exclude any possibility, so long as there is the consent of the 23 million people of Taiwan."

    Upon this foundation, Chen went on, his next step will be to invite both the governing and opposition parties, in conjunction with representatives from various walks of the society, to participate in the establishment of a "Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development, " combining the collective insight and wisdom of all parties and citizenry, to draft the "Guidelines for Cross-Strait Peace and Development." "The goal will be to pave the way for formulating a new relationship of cross-strait peace, stability and sustainable development," Chen stressed.

    The president also said he will honor commitments made in his inaugural speech four years ago when he pledged not to seek formal independence if China does not attack Taiwan.

    Chen further said he understands that Beijing cannot scrap its one-China policy because of unique "historical complexities and ethnic sentiments." But he urged the mainland leaders to understand how the Taiwanese want to "strive for democracy, to love peace, to pursue their dreams free from threat and to embrace progress."

    He added that if China continues to threaten and isolate the island from the international community, "this will only serve to drive the hearts of the Taiwanese people further away and widen the divide in the strait."

    Meanwhile, Chen said, Taiwan still needs to bolster its defenses. "Faced with an ever-increasing military threat from across the strait, it is imperative for all the people... to forge a strong will to defend ourselves."

    Chen's 5,000-word inaugural speech, titled "Paving the Way for a Sustainable Taiwan, " also addressed the constitutional reform issue. In the face of increasingly fierce competition on the international front, Chen said, constitutional re-engineering is also a key task of his new administration. "By the time I complete my presidency in 2008, I hope to hand to the people of Taiwan and to our country a new version of our Constitution -- one that is timely, relevant and viable -- this is my historic responsibility and my commitment to the people," Chen said.

    Stressing that he is fully aware that Taiwan society has yet to reach a dominant consensus on issues related to national sovereignty, territory and the subject of reunification or independence, Chen said explicitly that these particular issues be excluded from the present constitutional re-engineering project.

    During the last four years, Chen went on, the world has undergone dramatic political and economic changes. In the face of a new international order, he said, Taiwan must stand firm yet persevere in its ongoing quest to become a better and stronger nation. "We must also endeavor to re-position ourselves in equilibrium between global competition and international cooperation," Chen said, adding that Taiwan's long-term friendships with the United States, Japan and other allies in the world are founded on the safeguarding of their common interests. "More importantly, it is an alliance of core values that we share: freedom, democracy, human rights and peace," Chen said.

    Taiwan's democratic development, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, remains a focal point of international attention, Chen said. "It is our sincere hope that our friends in the international arena will continue to render their valuable attention and assistance to the cause of peace in the Taiwan Strait and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region."

    Touching on the disputed March 20 presidential election, Chen said he has expressed his highest respect for the independence and fairness of the nation's judicial system. "I have also vowed to accept the result of its investigation regardless of the final outcome. It is my firm belief that abiding by and accepting the rule of law is the only conduit through which we can resolve conflicts -- for if we were to rebuke the trust placed by the people in Taiwan's democracy and independent judiciaries, then the end result would be that 'everyone loses,'" Chen said.

    In his opinion, Chen went on, the ultimate challenge of this past election lay not as much in garnering a mandate as in the post-election hurdle of how to scale the wall of antagonism and in finding ways to reconcile the deep divide caused by distrust. "We must not allow the narrow margin of victory to become a source of greater conflict in society. Thus, I hereby pledge to listen, to understand, to abide by laws and reasoning, and to strive to unify the people of Taiwan so as to dissipate the animosity engendered by the campaign and rebuild a 'bridge of trust' between the governing and opposition parties," Chen said.

    Chen's re-election victory by a razor-thin margin of 0.228 percent came one day after a shooting grazed his stomach and hit his running mate, Vice President Annette Lu, in the knee on the campaign trail. The shooting remains unsolved.

    The defeated candidate, opposition Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan, has filed two lawsuits to demand a full-scale vote recount and nullification of the entire election. Court rulings will take months to complete. Hundreds of Lien's supporters gathered at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall complex in an eastern Taipei district Thursday for a protest.

    In today's society, Chen went on, issues of identity and ethnicity are a serious matter that cannot be denied or deliberately overlooked. Various ethnic groups, because of their disparate history and distinctive subcultures, understandably hold divergent views and values. "Recognizing such inherent differences, we should embrace one another with more tolerance and understanding, " Chen said, adding that he and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party will lead the way in addressing such issues.

    Since the fabric of Taiwan society today is comprised mainly of diverse immigrant groups, Chen said no single ethnic group alone should undeservingly bear the burden of history. "Presently, regardless of one's birthplace -- be it Guangdong or Taitung, regardless of the origin of one's mother -- be it Vietnam or Tainan, and regardless of whether an individual identifies with Taiwan or with the Republic of China per se, a common destiny has bequeathed upon all of us the same parity and dignity. Therefore, let us relinquish our differentiation between native and foreign, and between minority and majority, for the most complimentary and accurate depiction of present-day Taiwan is of a people 'ethnically diverse, but one as a nation.' A shared sense of belonging has become the common denominator among all the 23 million people of Taiwan," he added.

(By Sofia Wu)

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