Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian discusses his country's campaign for acceptance into the United Nations, Beijing's bitter resistance and the lessons of German reunification.
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian: "Beijing oppresses us."
Chen: Taiwan wants to be treated like a normal country. There are at least 190 members of the UN. Why isn't Taiwan one of them? Our wish is just as legitimate as Germany's desire to be admitted to the UN Security Council. Taiwan is a sovereign and autonomous state. Our 23 million residents have the right to decide over their future. We have been trying for some time to use our correct name.
SPIEGEL: The Republic of China or Taiwan?
Chen: Taiwan. We believe the People's Republic of China and Taiwan are two separate states. UN Resolution 2758
SPIEGEL: which excluded Taiwan from the UN in 1971 and admitted the People's Republic of China
Chen: makes no mention at all that Taiwan is a part of the People's Republic, nor does it state that we should be excluded forever. The Germans have experience with a divided country. In 1972, East and West Germany signed the Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag). Both countries were admitted to the UN a year later. Experience, therefore, shows that reunification is possible, even when both countries belong to the UN.
SPIEGEL: Is the referendum in which you use the name Taiwan not a step in the direction of independence?
Chen: No, it is distorted as a supposed attempt to declare Taiwan's independence. In the early years of your country, there was a referendum in which the Saarland region decided, in 1955, to be part of Germany and not France. This is why we cannot understand why the world criticizes us now. A referendum is part of the democratic maturation process. We certainly cannot understand why China wants to prevent us from holding this referendum.
SPIEGEL: There is a big difference between the admission of the two German nations and your initiative, namely the Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag). A similar agreement between Taipei and Beijing is out of the question, because China insists that there is only one China and not two, and the UN has accepted this interpretation. Why are you embarking on this solo effort nevertheless?
Chen: The Chinese government is trying to push us up against a wall. We are not part of the UN because Beijing does not recognize us as a sovereign state. Besides, Beijing insists on its One China policy, and Beijing oppresses us by claiming that we are merely a local government. This demeans us and weakens our position. But 23 million Taiwanese know that Taiwan is a sovereign state and that under no circumstances do we belong to China. More than 70 percent of the population favors our joining the UN under the name Taiwan. I am a democratically-elected president. I must pay attention to the majority and act accordingly.
SPIEGEL: But if your citizens feel the way you say they do, why do you need a referendum in the first place?
Chen: A referendum creates an obligation for a government. It is an important tool in a democracy. Why shouldn't we be allowed to use it?
SPIEGEL: Taiwan is a democracy, which cannot be said for many countries in the UN. But the fact remains that your wish has encountered resistance from the beginning -- with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but also with the United States, Taiwan's protector. Doesn't this irritate you?
Chen: I wrote a letter to Ban Ki-moon, which he rejected -- a disappointment. The United States, Japan and Australia, among other countries, have refuted his view that Taiwan is a part of the People's Republic. We can understand that Washington, in response to Chinese pressure, does not support our effort. We respect this position, even if we regret it.
SPIEGEL: One cannot help but think that you are using the referendum to stage a spectacle in the run-up to parliamentary elections in 2007, as well as a presidential election, even though the constitution bars your from running for a third term. The UN doesn't want to admit Taiwan, and you are alienating the Bush administration and risking tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
Chen: China will only be satisfied with us if we capitulate and declare that we are part of the mainland. China objected to our decision to become a democracy and, in 1996, during our first free presidential election, fired missiles in our direction. China threatened us with military force when I was elected in 2000, and the same thing happened in 2004 when we held our first referendum. Whatever we do upsets Beijing.
SPIEGEL: What can Taiwan, a small island, do to oppose China, a huge country?
Chen: We appeal to the democratic world to support us. Think of the historic example of the 1938 Munich Agreement, under which Hitler was granted the Sudetenland region. England and France wanted to appease him, but only one year later the Second World War broke out. If we make compromises with a dictatorship today we will only encourage other dictators. Small countries will suffer as a result.
'We See Germany as a Model'SPIEGEL: If we understand you correctly, Taiwan has strong trade relations with China, but you don't trust the communist leadership in the least. And the world shouldn't trust it either?
Chen: Western countries should not overlook the fact that the Chinese threaten Taiwan militarily. They had about 200 missiles pointed at us in 2000. Today it's 988. Beijing has increased its military budget by a double-digit percentage each year since 1989. An anti-secession law was adopted in 2005, creating a legal basis for an attack on Taiwan. The Chinese military is expected to be capable of attacking Taiwan by 2010, and conquering the entire island in a single strike by 2015. The world should not ignore these facts.
SPIEGEL: At least the EU is adhering to its arms embargo against China.
Chen: Unfortunately your former chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, was in favor of lifting the embargo. We are very grateful to Ms. Merkel that she takes a different view. We understand that many countries want to do business with China, but the human rights of 23 million Taiwanese shouldn't be forgotten in the process.
SPIEGEL: The leadership in Beijing has reacted very nervously to your referendum. This was to be expected. Are you playing with fire?
Chen: No, we are strengthening our democracy. The Chinese are using military power in an attempt to change the situation in the Taiwan Strait. Those who threaten us with missiles are playing with fire.
SPIEGEL: Your desire to be admitted into the UN would be more likely to succeed if you could come to terms with Beijing -- just as the two German nations did 35 years ago.
Chen: We want to negotiate with China, and we see Germany as a model. But for the Chinese there is nothing but the One China policy. Beijing apparently has no interest in dialogue.
SPIEGEL: But you consider reunification with China both possible and desirable?
Chen: We have no way of knowing what will happen in the future. Currently, at any rate, reunification is out of the question.
SPIEGEL: A problem that you were unable to resolve with Beijing was the route of the Olympic flame. Taiwan decided not to be part of the torch relay route. Why?
Chen: China wanted to humiliate us. It insisted that the flame be transported from Taiwan to Hong Kong and Macau, to create the impression that Taiwan is part of China. They also wanted to forbid our people from displaying our flag on the street and singing our national anthem when the runners passed by. We could not accept these conditions, which would have humiliated and degraded us, under any circumstances. That's why we decided not to have the flame in Taiwan.
SPIEGEL: Taiwan will take part in the games next summer under the name "Chinese Taipei" and will be flying a neutral flag.
Chen: We have used this name in international sporting events since the 1980s. We are not pleased about it. We are Taiwanese on the inside.
SPIEGEL: Chancellor Merkel planned to meet with the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, a Chinese region, last Sunday. Do you envy him?
Chen: It isn't a question of envy, although you have to ask yourself the question: Why is the exiled Tibetan regent being received, while we are not?
Interview conducted by Andreas Lorenz, Gerhard Spörl
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