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Taiwan - 2004 Developments

On 16 January 2004 President Chen Shui-bian announced the two questions to be put to the 20 March 2004 referendum. The first will be: "The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should mainland China (the PRC) refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?" The second question will be: "Would you agree that our government should engage in negotiation with mainland China on the establishment of a 'peace and stability' framework for cross-strait interaction in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?"

By early February 2004 China put more pressure on the Bush administration to intervene to prevent Taiwan from holding the referendum, calling the planned vote a "dangerous provocation" that could lead to a confrontation. Chinese military officials described even the revised referendum as a major challenge to Chinese sovereignty. During his visit to the United States, China's director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, Chen Yunlin, indicated that Beijing would take unspecified preemptive steps if President Chen was re-elected.

On 10 February 2004 Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Planning Douglas Feith said "I don't think anybody should talk lightly about military action," referring to statements from Chinese officers suggesting a military response may be necessary to Chen's move. "Nobody benefits from talk of war that will get everybody tense and increase danger."

Starting in early February 2004, China reportedly began routine though limited military exercises over coastal areas opposite Taiwan, including parachute landings, beach invasions and air-combat maneuvers. The schedules of many mainland commercial flights were delayed because the airspace had to be cleared for the military exercises.

The United States, in a move designed to send signals to North Korea concerning the nuclear crisis and possibly to warn Beijing, began deploying bombers to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. The first three of six B-52H aircraft arrived at Andersen on February 22, 2004. The deployment is for an undetermined duration and was made at the request of US Pacific Command.

On 20 March 2004, Taiwan held its third direct democratically contested presidential election. This was another milestone in Taiwan's remarkable democratic development. Previous presidential elections in Taiwan have proven that Chinese interference may help pro-independence candidates win the election.

In April 2004, in a hearing on Taiwan, James Kelly, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said, "The US does not support independence for Taiwan or unilateral moves that would change the status quo as we define it." This statement indicated that only the US has the power to define the status quo and neither Taiwan nor China can do so alone.

The validity of Chen's "five noes" pledge, which was made on 20 May 2000, in Chen's inauguration speech, will stay in effect only until 19 May 2004. Any new rules defining cross-strait relations after May 19 depend on how the new president gauges the situation in his 20 May 2004 inauguration speech.

With Taipei veering away from reunification, Beijing views the possibility of military confrontation as real. The missile plebiscite aside, China's even bigger worry is over plans by Chen, if re-elected, to submit a new constitution to a referendum in 2006 and enact it in 2008. President Chen Shui-bian indicated that -- if he is elected in March 2004 -- he will put his government to work on a new Constitution, which should be put before the public in a referendum on 10 December 2006 , International Human Rights Day. He said that if the new Constitution is approved in December 2006, it would be enacted on 20 May 2008 , the inauguration day for the winner of that year's presidential election.

Though China is obviously concerned about the referendum and the possibility that Taiwan might move for independence, statements from some officials indicate that Chinese will not interfere in Taiwan's political process, possibly indicating that China will not conduct military exercises during the election period, as this might result in a backlash by the Taiwanese voters. reported on February 11, 2004 that Zhang Mingqing, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office stated that China does not care who wins the election but is instead concerned about the winners attitude towards cross straits relations.

On March 19, 2004, the day before the elections, President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu were shot while campaigning along Wenhsien Road. The shooting took place at 1:45 p.m. when Chen and Lu were riding in an open jeep parading the streets of Taiwan's Tainan City, in a last-ditch effort to get more votes before Saturday's presidential election. Their supporters lined the streets to greet him, with many of them setting off firecrackers. As the motorcade cruised along Wenhsien Road, the president felt pain in his stomach and Lu, who was standing by his side, felt a pain in her knee.

A doctor from the president's medical team found that the president was wounded and bleeding, whereupon the president's car rushed to nearby Chi Mei Medical Center. Doctors at the hospital found an 11 cm long, 2 cm wide wound on Chen's stomach below the navel and a metal object that they described as looking like a bullet. Fortunately the object did not penetrate his abdominal cavity. Doctors said the wound was sewn up after being cleaned and sterilized. Chen was admitted to the intensive care ward for observation, although his condition was described as stable and his ability to govern was not impaired. Lu suffered an injury to her knee but was otherwise unscathed.

In Taipei, government officials gathered in an emergency meeting and Chen's chief of staff, saying at a news conference that the national security mechanism was activated after the incident, urged the public to calm down. The Ministry of National Defense convened an emergency meeting after the incident. The outlying island of Kinmen was put on "around-the-clock combat readiness" status to increase national security before the presidential election on Saturday. Even before the shooting incident, the defense ministry had announced that the nation would heighten its alertness before, during and after the election. All military commanding officers remained at their posts to keep abreast of any situation starting from 5 p.m. Friday, and they maintained the high-alert status until 8 a.m. Sunday.

The campaign headquarters of President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu announced Friday afternoon that all campaign activities on the eve of the presidential election had been halted. Campaign Manager Chang Chun-hsiung said at a press conference that all campaign activities will be suspended in order to maintain stability and he called for the public to pray for the well-being of Chen and Lu, as well as for Taiwan. Opposition presidential candidate Lien Chan also announced the suspension of all campaign activities on the eve of the presidential election.

Taiwan election authorities declared President Chen Shui-bian re-elected by a margin of just 0.2 percent. Lien demanded a recount after losing the election by 30,000 votes out of 13 million cast.

China said it would not be idle if protests over the disputed presidential election got out of control. "We will not sit by watching should the post-election situation in Taiwan get out of control, leading to social turmoil, endangering the lives and property of our flesh-and-blood brothers and affecting stability across the Taiwan strait," Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement. "We are closely following the developments in Taiwan."

James Kelly, US assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, speaking at a 21 April 2004 hearing of the US House International Relations Committee, said "The possibility of the United States becoming involved in a cross-Strait conflict is very real .... We in the United States see these risks clearly and trust they are well understood by (Chen) and others in Taiwan."

In his inaugural speech on May 20, 2004, President Chen said "The Republic of China now exists in Taiwan, Penghu (The Pescadores), Kinmen and Matsu. This is a fact. Taiwan's existence as a member of international society is also a fact. Such realities cannot be negated by anyone for any reason ... I would like to reaffirm the promises and principles set forth in my inaugural speech in 2000. Those commitments have been honored--they have not changed over the past four years, nor will they change in the next four years."

Chinese officials accused Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian of lacking sincerity in efforts to improve relations. They said Chen's speech implies he has not given up the intention of moving toward independence. China will probably continue to make similar statements until after the US presidential elections and Taiwan's legislative polls later this year. They probably would like to wait until the result of the elections have been crystal clear, after 2004, to decide if there are any changes to the dynamics.

Cross-strait tension has heightened during 2004 as Beijing perceived Mr Chen to be pushing stubbornly for Taiwan's independence. China was less eager to separate politics from economics. The Beijing government's attitude towards its 2002 policy of separating politics from economics was tougher. The two sides plan to open their markets to foreign farm produce in 2006, in accordance with their WTO agreements. The Chinese agreed to not export farm produce already produced by Taiwanese farmers, in return from Taiwan opening its market to Chinese goods not produced on Taiwan.

On 30 August 2004 Taiwan's president called off a live-fire military exercise, hoping to ease tensions with China. President Chen Shui-bian's decision came after China reportedly halted its military drills on the Taiwan Strait. News reports in China quoted former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who heads China's Military Commission, as saying improvements in its arsenal are an "urgent task" for peace and stability. Mr. Chen said the cancellation of the annual Han Kuang live-fire exercises next week - part of a series of annual war games - is a goodwill gesture to the mainland.

On 07 November 2004 opposition People First Party Chairman James Soong warned that the electorate's failure to vote for pan-blue candidates in the December 2004 legislative elections could lead to war. If the pan-green forces, composed of the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, were to win a legislative majority, Soong contended that President Chen Shui-bian and his predecessor, former President Lee Teng-hui, would step up their efforts for establish a new constitution and a new country that would abandon the use of "Republic of China" as the national title. "I hope that voters will not force their offspring to go to war because of a wrong decision they make (to not support pan-blue candidates)," Soong said.

On 16 November 2004 Wang Zaixi, vice minister of the mainland's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, said that armed conflict may be unavoidable if Taiwan keeps provoking China and pushing for independence. "I think it is unavoidable tension will rise in the Taiwan Straits and there may even be armed conflict ... if the island keeps bumping Beijing's 'one China' bottom line and pushes for independence," said Wang. "They are attempting to exploit ... the fact that mainland compatriots are focusing energy on developing the economy and exploit our preparations for the 2008 Olympics." Wang

On 28 November 2004 President Chen Shui-bian reiterated a plan to make a new Constitution for the country. He said if his party wins the December 2004 election, he will terminate the "Chinese constitution" and create a "new Taiwan Constitution" tailor-made for the needs of the island. He said would hold a referendum on a new Taiwan Constitution in 2006, and have it implemented on May 20, 2008 when a new president is inaugurated. The pro-independence camp sees a new constitution as a major leap towards their goal, while the opposition fears it will provoke war across the strait. Tensions could come to the boil in 2006 should Taiwan go ahead with plans to revise its Constitution in a push for independence.

The 11 December 2004 election had a significant impact on Taiwan's domestic politics and cross-strait relations. The Pan-Blue camp enjoyed a slim majority with 113 seats in the 225-seat legislature. Taiwan's opposition parties defeated the pro-independence coalition in the island's legislative elections. The result means the island's president may have trouble pursuing his agenda of distancing Taiwan from mainland China. Washington strongly opposed Mr. Chen's agenda and favored maintaining the status quo. It appeared that by leaving control of the legislature in the hands of the president's opposition, Taiwan's voters did just that.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:35:45 Zulu