President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) elicited laughter from US officials yesterday when he said the US government should be relieved that he did not make a controversial statement on Lunar New Year's day.
During a meeting with US Representative Steven Chabot at the Presidential Office yesterday morning, Chen said he had promised American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young that he would not make any "important announcement" on Lunar New Year's Day as he did last year.
"I did not say anything. You should feel relieved and have a happy New Year holiday," Chen told Young, who accompanied Chabot at the meeting.
"I did," Young responded in Mandarin, laughing.
Chen raised political eyebrows with his speech last year when he called for the abolition of the National Unification Council and Guidelines for National Unification.
The US government then barred Chen from making high-profile transit stops and offered Alaska or Hawaii for stopovers on his way to Latin America last May.
Chen, however, rebuffed the offer, choosing instead to stop over in Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, the Dominican Republic and Libya, triggering criticism from the opposition that he had jeopardized US ties.
Young was very concerned over whether he would make any "important announcement" on New Year's Day this year, Chen said.
"I promised him that I would only go home and enjoy fried rice noodles and fish ball soup with my hometown neighbors," Chen said.
Calling Chabot "Taiwan's best friend" and "my dearest brother," Chen thanked the congressman -- who is co-chairman of the Taiwan Caucus -- for his staunch support for "the great nation of Taiwan."
The president said he appreciated Chabot's supporting his effort to eliminate the functions of the council and guidelines so that he did not have to fight the US alone on this issue.
As the US government agrees that cross-strait disputes must be settled via peaceful means and Taiwan's future must be decided by its people, Chen said it is equally important to give Taiwanese people more than one choice for their own future rather than limiting it to ultimate unification with China.
"That is the true meaning of ceasing the functions of the National Unification Council and guidelines," he said.
The president said he was fully open to the issue and does not have any agenda because only the people of Taiwan have the final say on the country's future and cross-strait relations.
Chen also thanked Chabot for pressuring the US government to sign a free trade agreement with Taiwan and to review its "one China" policy.
Chabot is one of the seven members of Congress who recently introduced legislation calling on the US to establish normal relations with Taiwan as an independent country and seek Taiwan's "full participation" in the UN and other international bodies.
The "sense of congress" resolution proclaims that Washington's "one China policy" is effectively obsolete and does not reflect the obvious reality that Taiwan has functioned as an independent and sovereign country for over a half a century.
Yu plays coy
Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Yu Shyi-kun yesterday confirmed his intention to run for the 2008 presidential election and said he will make a formal announcement at a proper time.
Yu made the remarks yesterday afternoon while accompanying Chen on a visit to Ilan County.
When asked by reporters to comment on his presidential bid, Yu said he has made up his mind and already told Chen.
"The president knows and understands my intention ? I am determined," Yu said, adding that he is waiting for the right time to make an announcement.
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