Chen ups the ante, poking a finger in China’s eye

I really wish he’d show a little more tact.

In a televised speech that squelched months of speculation he might soon seek to improve relations with Beijing, President Chen Shui-bian said Sunday that Taiwan needed to increase its weapons purchases and warned against greater economic ties to the mainland.

Chen had said fairly little in the weeks since his Democratic Progressive Party, which seeks greater political independence from the mainland, fared badly in municipal elections on Dec. 3. The Nationalist Party, which favors closer relations with Beijing, did much better in those elections and has been riding a surge in popularity since its then-chairman, Lien Chan, visited the mainland in late spring shortly before his retirement last summer.

But Chen made clear Sunday that those setbacks would not fundamentally alter his policies. In his New Year’s speech, he used a series of politically charged phrases that appeal to independence advocates in Taiwan, but will probably offend Beijing, while calling for legislative approval of his plan to buy more weapons from the United States.

Chen was especially emphatic in warning of the risks posed by the rapid modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, especially its heavy investments in missiles that can reach Taiwan. “In the face of such imminent and obvious threat, Taiwan must not rest its faith on chance or harbor any illusions,” he said in the president’s annual New Year’s Day address.

Beijing offered no immediate reaction. Wang Daohan, its chief negotiator on Taiwan issues for years, died on Dec. 24 at 90 and political analysts have suggested that his death may make the mainland less likely to soon change policies toward what it considers a “renegade province.”

He kind of reminds me of Bush, acting as though his razor-thin victory in November gave him the mandate from hell (not to mention “presidential infallbility,” soon to be the new buzzword of the Bush haters, and deservedly so).

According to the article, Chen’s cronies see the Green’s recent election defeat as the result of internal politics and not Chen’s (anti-)China policy. I’m too new to the swamp that is Taiwanese politics to make any judgement.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

Personally, I think it was more disillusionment with corruption within the DPP than anything having to do with China that caused the defeat. My reason for this is that throughout the campaign, references to China and cross-strait issues in general seemed pretty subdued. All you heard about was the Kaohsiung transit scandal and how the DPP were so fubai. I think that the loss of the DPP gives the pan-blues a chance to say “i-told-you-so” on cross-strait affairs without having really had cross-the-board support on those issues in the first place.

However, that being said, Chen won’t get what he wants this way, since the pan-blues still have a majority….although a weakened one…in the legislature. So his speech sets a tone of confrontation that doesn’t bode well for the next two years.

January 2, 2006 @ 6:41 am | Comment

The DPP actually did better than ever before in these local elections. Sure, it wasn’t a victory, but it also was not the defeat that the results are being touted as. Look a little deeper than the headlines.

January 2, 2006 @ 9:43 am | Comment

Thomas is right – the election was about corruption.

I guess than Chen doesn’t care so much that he’s had his two terms, so he’ll push his agenda as much as he can. It won’t “scare off” voters even if it doesn’t win them over. He doesn’t have to build China into a threat, Beijing does that for him by pointing missiles at Taiwan.

My top predicition if the KMT get back in power – they push the arms bill through the Yuan (if it hasn’t been agreed upon already).

January 2, 2006 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

Raj– if the election was about corruption, why did voters turn to the even more corrupt KMT?

Richard — Chen was responding in part to Hu’s NY Eve speech that said the usual nonsense on China and Taiwan. You can’t expect him to be conciliatory as that will simply play into the hands of the pan-Blues, who are working with Beijing on Taiwan affairs. The basic problem is that Chen as President has no role. His executive powers are limited, he can’t veto or drive legislation, AND the public will not take responsibility for its own political behavior — calling for clean government but voting for mobsters, not writing, donating, volunteering, or otherwise pushing for change, and so on. What else can Chen do but talk about foreign affairs and rally the troops? The KMT has been adept at putting the blame for Taiwan’s non-governance on Chen, and has been aided and abetted by DPP members who also see Chen as a convenient whipping boy for the Party’s many and burgeoning problems.

Ironically, the DPP is suffering from the same problem the KMT did in 2000. Not only is the party split, but the DPP had to overcome the problem of “the China Threat.” If the DPP governs Taiwan, the CW went, it is so crazy it will provoke a war. Well, we’re five years into the Chen Administration and still no war. So the public found out that the DPP was pretty much like any other party and electing it did not have serious consequences.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. The public is told by the DPP that voting for the KMT/BLues is selling the island out to China. Well, the public concludes, we voted for the KMT in other elections, and the Blues control the legislature, and Taiwan is not on the butcher’s block for sale to Beijing.So the public found out that the KMT was pretty much like any other party and electing it did not have serious consequences.


January 2, 2006 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

Thanks, shavenpope. I think there are going to be lots of shocked pundits when the DPP wins the 2006 legislative elections.


January 2, 2006 @ 6:41 pm | Comment


voters shift to the the alternative because they lost hope to the ruling party.
KMT was more corrupted, but that was 6 years ago, and forgot by the voters.

OTOH, the main appeal of DPP is that they offer a clean government. Voters voted for DPP despite it is less experienced and was unpopular in its business policies (to mainalnd). If it fails to deliver that, it is natural that voter will abandon them.

i agree with Raj that it is about corruption.

January 2, 2006 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

No Sun Bin, wrong again. Any shift in voting was actually toward the DPP since they gained more seats than in previous years. Try to remember this was a local election, not the LY election, and not the presidential election. Pan-Blue candidates always do well in local elections because they are all about who is going to grab the biggest share of the pork barrel, and share it with those lower down the food chain (village chiefs etc). The Taiwanese understand that they can vote for pan-Blue at the local level to get some personal benefits, and then switch to pan-Green when their sovereignty is at stake. No-one imagines that pan-Blue is any less corrupt than six years ago. Those that vote for them are in fact counting on the fact that they are still as bent as a nine dollar bill, and that the government is too hamstrung to throw these crooks in jail where they belong.

January 2, 2006 @ 9:53 pm | Comment

All the above comments about the local elections are completely beside the point. This speech had nothing to do with those elections – it was all about rallying the DPP faithful for the upcoming DPP Chairman’s elections.

Richard, Chen didn’t say anything in this speech that he hasn’t said 100s of times before – he said it before he was elected the first time, he said it during his first term, he said it (a lot more forcefully) during his campaign in 2004, and he’s said it several times in his second term. I see no reason why he should alter this just because he and his party are unpopular. I don’t think his popularity level has much to do with his stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty…

January 3, 2006 @ 2:02 am | Comment

David, I don’t mind him saying these things, and I certainly sympathize with his attitude toward China. I just think he can be overly abrasive in the way he says things, almost delighting in ruffling China’s feathers. He could be a bit more tactful.

January 3, 2006 @ 2:24 am | Comment

The way he says things, or the way he’s reported?

If you look at his speech, he spent two paragraphs talking about Taiwan’s sovereignty, one talking about the right for the Taiwanese to choose their own future, and then two paras talking about the threat of China’s missiles and the need for the arms package.

That’s 5 paragraphs out of about 30 – and i wouldn’t say much of it was needless winding up of China.

January 3, 2006 @ 8:11 am | Comment

…not lacking in tact any more than the mainland’s passing of a law that ‘entitles’ them to invade if they see fit.

January 3, 2006 @ 10:01 am | Comment

I’ll agree with Stuart. If you’re too subtle towards the mainland, they might miss your message.

January 3, 2006 @ 11:45 am | Comment


yes and no.
yes, it is a speech directed to his DPP members. not to anyone outside the DPP clan.

no, because (the disappointing result of) the election splitted the DPP. thence he thought he needed to be more vocal on the radical stance to secure support from the fundamentalist. so the election indirectly led to the tone of this speech.

yes, CSB’s thinking has not changed a bit. and he spoke more truthful of himself this time. but he is less tactful.

CCP got it right this time, by not responding to it at all (at least until now). why should it respond to a party speech inside DPP?

January 3, 2006 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

Looks like Taiwan’s business community responded, at least according to the pro-blue China Post.

January 3, 2006 @ 6:00 pm | Comment

Sun Bin – fair point, but a DPP power struggle was coming whatever. The election results were hardly a surprise to anyone and things had been bubbling under in the DPP for a few months now.

I’m a bit bemused as to what sort of change of direction people (and the business community) were hoping for … were they hoping he’d say he’d push for direct links? He’s said that many times to no effect. Hoping he’d say “Sovereignty? Who cares about sovereignty?” or perhaps that he supported the ‘One China’ principle? Yeah right.

Incidentally, the last time Chen tried a concilliatory approach with China (e.g. his National Day speech in 2004) he got an anti-secession law for his efforts …

January 3, 2006 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

Anybody who think that a strong army is worth more than good diplomats is a fool.

The war that is ended by words before it has begun is worth twice any victory won though force.

Chen could sit tight and let the lie that is one China continue, and he would have peace and security, instead he is looking to provoke China.

When will he learn that China wants stability and will sit tight forever on the Taiwan situation, just so long as Taiwan sits tight too.

If he challanges China, it will respond.

January 4, 2006 @ 9:50 am | Comment


to continue your comment….
if mainland responds, CSB wins.
so the best repsonse for the mainland is to not respons, i.e., to ignore the rhetoric of this speech and acknowledge that this is directed at chen’s own party.

January 4, 2006 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

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