In an recent interview with a foreign media outlet, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) reiterated that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country and said that he hopes to draft a new constitution to normalize cross-strait relations during his second term in office.
"I am a history maker and I have two historic missions," said Chen in an interview with the Time Asia.
"First, I want to hand over to the 23 million Taiwan people a timely, beneficial and suitable constitution before my tenure ends in 2008," Chen said. "Second, I want to normalize cross-strait relations during my tenure, and reopen cross-strait negotiations. I hope that the two sides can engage in a dialogue for peace."
Prefacing his position by saying that "Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country and a country in which freedom, democracy, human rights and peace are upheld and respected," Chen pointed out that "if Taiwan was not an independent country, it would not hold direct presidential elections."
Chen also stated in the interview that Taiwan "would not exclude the possibility of establishing any kind of political relationship, so long as it has the consent of its 23 million people."
Asked if rewriting of the Constitution is tantamount to a declaration of independence, Chen said constitutional reform does not involve national sovereignty, national territory or the question of independence versus unification. He also said that those who interpret constitutional reform as a declaration of independence are making a grave mistake.
The constitutional-reform project is an issue of consolidating and deepening Taiwan's democracy, Chen said.
"Beijing's authorities distort our process of democratization and call it a move toward formal independence," Chen said.
Chen also added that in the time between his May 20 inauguration speech and his National Day address, Taiwan "extended more than 30 olive branches [to Beijing]."
"We will take whatever actions are needed to improve cross-strait relations and to ensure permanent peace across the strait. Even though the other side has never responded with good will over four-plus years, we are not giving up," he said.
Noting that the US government had told him in private that they welcomed his National Day speech and that Beijing would react to his goodwill, Chen said "the US government also asked [him] to be patient. There is still an opportunity there."
On the national defense front, Chen stressed the necessity for Taiwan to build up sufficient self-defense capabilities.
"Regarding our purchasing of Patriot PAC-III anti-missile system, China accuses Taiwan of being provocative and of attempting to disturb peace across the Taiwan Strait," Chen said.
"Most people in the world have forgotten, however, that China has deployed 610 ballistic missiles along its southeastern coast targeting Taiwan and that these missiles are increasing at a rate of about 50 to 70 per year," Chen said.
While the interview won't appear in Time Asia until its Nov. 15 issue, the magazine posted the transcript of the interview on its Web site.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the Economist, opposition Chinese Nationalist Party Lien Chan (連戰) claimed that Chen is aggressively pushing for Taiwan's independence and has a timetable for it.
On response to Lien's claim, the Presidential Office issued a statement stressing that the president had made clear of his stance on the country's sovereignty in his May 20 inauguration speech as well as the National Day address on Oct. 10.