Sparks fly over KMT's controversial ad

INDEPENDENCE AN OPTION?:The KMT scrambled to define its cross-strait position after Tuesday's ad, while the DPP congratulated it for moving to reflect mainstream views

By Mo Yan-chih and Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTERS WITH CNA , DUBLIN

Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 1

Whether or not there had been a major shift in the main opposition party's cross-strait policy was the question of the day, as politicians exchanged heated words over a newspaper ad yesterday.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) denied that it had changed its stance or that it had ever considered independence an option for Taiwan's future, saying the party's cross-strait stance was to maintain the "status quo."

Meanwhile, the DPP said yesterday that it welcomed what it saw as a change of heart by the KMT, and urged the party to support the abolishment of the National Unification Guidelines in keeping with its "new" political vision.

The KMT published a print ad titled "Taiwan's Pragmatic Path" on the cover of the Chinese-language Liberty Times, the Taipei Times sister newspaper, on Tuesday.

The ad stressed the importance of maintaining the "status quo" in the cross-strait relationship, listing the other choices for the country's future as unification or independence. The listing of "independence" as an option in the ad was interpreted by many to mean that the KMT now considered "independence" one of the possibilities for Taiwan's future.

"The KMT firmly believes that, in keeping with the spirit of democracy, there are many options for Taiwan's future, be it reunification, independence or the status quo. It is necessary that the choice be made by the people," the ad said.

After it came under fire for this perceived acceptance of independence as a possibility, the party yesterday tried to clarify its position.

The KMT said that Taiwan's future should be decided by the Taiwanese people. While independence might be one of the many choices for the country, that option does not tally with the KMT's policy and stance, party officials said.

"Neither reunification nor independence is likely for Taiwan in the foreseeable future, nor can either of those two options preserve the people's interests. The KMT firmly believes that Taiwan should maintain the status quo," KMT communication and culture committee deputy chairman Huang Yu-chen (黃玉振) said yesterday at a press conference at party headquarters.

Pushing for independence, which the party said would damage the democratic status of Taiwan, was not policy, he said. The party would instead continue to promote Taiwan's democracy as well as peace in the Taiwan Strait, Huang said.

KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who arrived in Dublin early yesterday, defended the print ad, and said it was merely the result of "misreading or misinterpretation" to consider the KMT pro-independence because of an advertisement.

"Unification, independence and maintaining the status quo are all options for Taiwan's future. As citizens of a democratic country, the people of Taiwan are free to choose which option to pursue, so long as the choices are constitutional and do not violate any of the laws of the country," he said yesterday morning in Dublin.

While respecting the choices of the Taiwanese people, the KMT advocates maintaining the status quo at present, Ma added.

Meanwhile, the pan-green camp used the controversy to bolster its cross-strait stance.

"The way to check if Ma truly supports his argument that Taiwan's future should be determined by all the people of Taiwan lies in whether Ma will support the abolition of the National Unification Guidelines," Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Secretary-General Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said in a news conference yesterday morning.

Lin said that if independence is indeed a choice for the people of Taiwan as Ma acknowledged, then the development of cross-strait relations should be open and no prerequisite or conclusion for cross-strait relations should be set.

"If Ma and the KMT still oppose annulling the National Unification Council and unification guidelines that support Taiwan's unification with China, then Ma's remarks and the KMT's newspaper ad were all just part of a public manipulation campaign," Lin added.

Lin said that Ma should also clarify his previous remarks about "eventual unification" and should make clear the meaning of the word "people" in his phrase "Taiwan's future should be determined by all the people of Taiwan," by explaining whether it refers to the 23 million people of Taiwan or it includes the 1.3 billion people in China.

The DPP had planned to run an ad in yesterday's newspapers countering the KMT's ad, but it decided to postpone it.

"Recently Ma has vacillated and come out with a number of conflicting statements when talking about cross-strait relations. Therefore, the DPP has decided to keep an eye on his words and actions and react to Ma's latest version of cross-strait relations," Lin said.

DPP spokesman Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said that the DPP was happy to see the KMT move its cross-strait policies closer to the mainstream of Taiwanese public opinion, but that the party was uncertain whether Ma's words were aimed at cheating the people in the 2008 presidential election.

Even as the KMT endeavored to clarify the message contained in the ad, it was apparent that the issue had already caused conflict between the party and its pan-blue ally, the People First Party (PFP), who yesterday said the listing of independence as an option for Taiwan's future by the KMT could have "more serious consequences than the president's statement of intent to abolish the unification guidelines."

"The PFP has always stayed firm on our stance, which is to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. We are opposed to listing independence for Taiwan as an option," PFP spokesman Hsieh Kung-pin (謝公秉) said yesterday.

The cooperation between the PFP and the KMT, Hsieh said, is based on the same political ideology. In the face of the reunification/independence dispute, the KMT needs to clarify the matter and solve the controversy by itself.

"As the country's biggest opposition party, the listing of independence as an option for Taiwan's future by the KMT is unbelievable and it will only bring trouble for the people," Hsieh said.

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