May 28, 2004

Shui-bian takes oath of office in Taiwan

President Chen Shui-bian, 53, and Vice-President Lu Hsui-Lien (Annette Lu), 59, of the Republic of China on Taiwan were sworn in for their second term as President and Vice-President respectively in an impressive ceremony on Thursday, May 20, in Taipei.{{more}}
The President and Vice-President, both lawyers by profession, took the oath of office witnessed by an estimated crowd of 200,000, including 15 Heads of State from allies who recognize the Republic of China on Taiwan.
Despite heavy rain, all 10,000 chairs on the grounds of the Presidential Office were filled with raincoat-clad Taiwanese, who frequently applauded and cheered President Chen during a powerful inauguration address.
According to President Chen, “The ultimate challenge of this past election lay not as much in garnering a mandate as in the post-election hurdle of how to scale the wall of antagonism, and, in finding ways to reconcile the deep divide caused by distrust. We must not allow the narrow margin of victory to become a source of greater conflict in society. Thus, I hereby pledge to listen, to understand, to abide by laws and reasoning, and to strive to unify the people of Taiwan – so as to dissipate the animosity engendered by the campaign and rebuild a ‘bridge of trust’ between the governing and opposition parties.”
During his highly anticipated address, President Chen said that the preeminent mission of his new administration was to “unite Taiwan, stabilize cross-strait relations, seek social harmony, and reinvigorate the economy.” He added, “None of these objectives can be accomplished through an individual effort, nor can one political party do it alone. I shall go to the people with my plea for support, just as I stand here today, calling on the opposition parties and the voices of public opinion to join me in this historic endeavour.”
A significant proportion of the address dealt the issue of Constitutional Reform. The President made the commitment that: “By the time I complete my presidency in 2008, I hope to hand to the people of Taiwan and to our country a new version of our Constitution – one that is timely, relevant and viable.”
In making the case for the Constitutional Re-Engineering process, Chen made the point that, “Historic and political circumstances confine us to an existing constitutional framework that now poses the most direct impediment to effective governance.” He continued, “Our current Constitution was promulgated under circumstances that were very different from the society we know today, and the majority of the articles in the Constitution no longer address the present – much less the future – needs of Taiwan.” He vowed to avoid the mistakes of past administrations, which oversaw six rounds of constitutional amendments in 10 years. He added that, “The proposed Constitutional Reform Project must not be monopolized by one person or by a single political party, nor should it be undertaken merely for the short-term… Our aim will be to generate the highest level of social consensus on the scope and procedure of the constitutional reform, all of which will be open to public scrutiny.”
With regard to China-Taiwan relations, President Chen stated: “We can understand why the government on the other side of the Strait, in light of historical complexities and ethnic sentiments, cannot relinquish the insistence on the ‘One China Principle’. By the same token, the Beijing authorities must understand the deep conviction held by the people of Taiwan to strive for democracy, to love peace, to pursue their dreams free from threat, and to embrace progress. But if the other side is unable to comprehend that this honest and simple wish represents the aspiration of Taiwan’s 23 million people, if it continues to threaten Taiwan with military force, if it persists in isolating Taiwan diplomatically, if it keeps up irrational efforts to
blockade Taiwan’s rightful participation in the international arena, this will only serve to drive the hearts of the Taiwanese people further away and widen the divide in the Strait.”
In a more conciliatory tone, the President added, “If we make a concerted effort to find some positive aspect of our differences and commonalities, perhaps we shall discover a wonderful opportunity, a catalyst for building a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship… If both sides are willing, on the basis of goodwill, to create an environment engendered upon ‘peaceful development and freedom of choice’, then in the future, Taiwan and China can seek to establish relations in any form whatsoever. We would not exclude any possibility, so long as there is the consent of 23 million people of Taiwan.”
Despite the tone of Chen’s speech, reaction from China was not positive, according to Taiwan News of May 22.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the speech “contained nothing new and urged the United States, which had praised its comments, not to be fooled by it”.
Taiwan News also quoted the headline story of Beijing News as saying, “Chen Shui-bian’s speech cannot cover up true intent of Taiwan independence.” The same source quoted the editorial of the China daily: “Chen Shui-bian’s latest offer of goodwill turns out to be another sham.”
The precisely choreographed inauguration ceremony also included a military parade and cultural performances.