Fri, May 21, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Chen's speech was constructive: Leach

US PERSPECTIVE The head of the US delegation said he was impressed with the tone and substance of Chen's speech, particularly his flexibility toward the Constitution

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inaugural speech was "constructive and helpful" for trilateral relations between Taiwan, the US and China, US Congressman James Leach, leader of the American delegation to Chen's swearing-in ceremony, said yesterday.

After the ceremony, the US delegation met Chen in the Presidential Office and Leach delivered a letter to Chen from US President George W. Bush. Details of the letter were not available.

Commenting on Chen's explanation of his plans for constitutional reform, an issue that has sparked concern in Washington and Beijing, Leach praised the president for "very wisely taking a tack of seeking to amend the Constitution rather than seeking a new constitutional convention."

In his speech, the president called for a "project of constitutional re-engineering" rather than an entirely new version of the document.

"This is a methodology that is possibly more important than the end results. Sometimes process can be as important as substance," the congressman said.

"I think the president made it clear he wanted the process of seeking consensus in Taiwanese society for how the government should be structured. He also made it clear he wants to start some kind of discussion about how to make relations with the mainland more credible," Leach said.

Leach made the remarks ahead of a closed-door meeting with Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) in Taipei's Grand Formosa Regent Hotel yesterday afternoon. Leach and Hsieh have been friends for years.

Chen handled the constitutional reform issue "in a very decent way," said Leach, adding: "He is seeking to make it clear he is not imposing. He is attempting to bring the whole of the society together."

Declining to say whether the US was satisfied with Chen's speech, Leach restated that the US was very cautious at this time.

"We have certainly advocated great caution. I think the president has taken our views into account as he has taken the views of the people in Taiwan into account," Leach said.

Warning that Taiwanese stability and democracy could be upset through accidents and belligerency, the congressman said that now was the time everyone should work together.

"We were cautioning the mainland as we are cautioning people here in Taiwan," he said.

The promotion of constitutional re-engineering and the re-establishment of the constitutional order are tasks that correspond with the expectations of the people and are in accordance with the consensus shared by all political parties, Chen said.

Describing constitutional reform as his "historic responsibility and commitment to the people," Chen promised that issues related to "national sovereignty, territory and the subject of unification/independence" would be excluded from the constitutional re-engineering project.

"Clearly he is seeking consensus of the Taiwanese people and just as clearly he is seeking not to be too confrontational with the mainland," Leach said.

Asked whether the president's speech would help cross-strait relations, Leach said: "I think the president has said what he needed to say. It is not for me to be critical."

Sharing his thoughts about the overall speech, the congressman said that Chen had made "an extraordinary personal statement of moderation" and that the president's "call for a middle way was very impressive."

"I thought he artfully made a very profound statement. In fact, my sense was that it was one of the most quality statements a head of government has made in recent times," Leach said.

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