Chen Shui-bian, President of the Republic of China
Chen Shui-bian (ch.: 陳水扁, pinyin: Chén Shuǐbiǎn, Wade-Giles: Ch'en Shui-pien; Taiwanese Church Romanization: Tân Chúi-píⁿ) (born 9th Month, 1950), Taiwanese politician, has been the President of the Republic of China since May 20, 2000. He is colloquially and affectionately referred to as A-Bian (阿扁; Ābiǎn;, Taiwanese: A-píⁿ--a).
Chen, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has traditionally been supportive of Taiwan independence, took office in 2000 ending more than fifty years of Kuomintang rule in Taiwan. Though he moderated his stance and took conciliatory gestures in order to get elected, Chen remains a divisive figure for his position of Taiwan independence.
Unlike most of his political opponents, Chen came from a very poor background. Chen was born to an impoverished tenant farming family in Kuantien Township of Tainan County in late 1950 but was not formally issued a birth certificate until February 18, 1951 because of doubts that he would survive.
Chen excelled in academics, ranking at the top of his class from elementary school through college. In June 1969, he earned the second highest score in the nationwide College Entrance Examination and was admitted to the National Taiwan University. Initially a business administration major, he switched to law in his first year and became editor of the law review. He passed the bar exams before the completion of his junior year with the highest score, earning him the distinction of being Taiwan's youngest lawyer. He graduated in 1974 with a LL.B. in commercial law.
In 1975, he married Wu Shu-chen, the daughter of a physician. The couple have a daughter and son.
From 1976 to 1989, Chen was a partner in Formosa International Marine and Commercial Law, where he specialized in maritime insurance and held the firm's portfolio for Evergreen Marine.
Entrance into politics
Chen became involved in politics in 1980 when he defended the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident against a military court. While his client Huang Hsin-chieh, the leading opposition dissident, and seven co-defendants, including his future Vice President Annette Lu, were all found guilty, Chen came to be known for his forceful and colorful arguments. He has stated that it was during this period that he realized the unfairness of the political system in Taiwan and became politically active as a member of the Tangwai movement.
Chen won a seat in the Taipei City Council as a Tangwai candidate in 1981 and served until 1985. In 1984, he founded the pro-opposition Civil Servant Public Policy Research Association, which published a magazine called Neo-Formosa.
On January 12, 1985, Chen was sentenced to a year in prison for libel, when, as editor of a Neo-Formosa magazine, he printed an article critical of Elmer Feng, then a college philosophy professor who was later elected a Kuomintang (KMT) legislator. As he was appealing the sentence, he returned to Tainan to run for county magistrate in November 1985. Three days after losing the election, his wife, Wu Shu-chen was hit by a truck as they were thanking their supporters, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. Some in Taiwan believed this was part of a government campaign to intimidate him.
Chen lost his appeal in May 1986 and began serving his eight months in the Tucheng Penitentiary along with Huang Tien-fu and Lee Yi-yang, two other defendants in the same case. While he was in prison, his wife campaigned and was elected to the Legislative Yuan. Upon his release, Chen served as her legislative assistant and practiced law.
In 1989, Chen was elected to the Legislative Yuan and served as the executive director of the Democratic Progressive Party Congress. With the support of some KMT colleagues, Chen was also elected convener of the National Defense Committee. He was instrumental in laying out and moderating many of the DPP's positions on Taiwanese independence, including the four ifs. He was reelected to another three year term in 1992, but resigned in two years to become mayor.
Mayor of Taipei
Chen was elected as the mayor of Taipei in 1994, largely as the result of a vote split between the highly unpopular KMT incumbent and the KMT_spin_off New Party (NP) candidate Chao Shaokong. Unable to find experienced bureaucrats from his own party, Chen and his inner circle of young law school graduates retained many of the KMT administrators and delegated considerable authority.
During his term, Chen received accolades for his campaigns to run illegal gambling and prostitution rackets out of Taipei. He levied large fines on polluters and reformed public works contracts. Chen renamed many of the roads in Taipei, most notably the road which runs between KMT Headquarters to the Presidential Palace from "Chieh-shou Road" (介壽路 jiè shòu lù) (Long Live Chiang Kai-shek) to "Ketagalan Avenue" (凱達格蘭大道) in an effort to acknowledge the aboriginal people of the Taipei basin. Chen also made highly publicized evictions of longtime KMT squatters on municipal land, and ordered Chiang Wei_kuo's estate demolished.
Despite receiving more votes both in absolute and in percentage terms than his 1994 campaign, Chen lost this position in 1998 to the KMT's rising star Ma Ying-jeou in large part because the KMT was able to get the support of New Party supporters.
First term presidency
In an election eerily similar to Taipei's in 1994, Chen won the 2000 presidential election with only 39% of the vote as a result of a split of factions within the Kuomintang, when James Soong ran for the presidency as an independent against the party nominee Lien Chan.
Lacking a clear mandate and inheriting a bureaucracy largely loyal to the KMT, Chen tried to reach out to his opposition. He appointed the KMT conservative mainlander Tang Fei, a former general and the incumbent defense minister, as his first Premier. Only half of Chen's original cabinet were DPP members, as few DPP politicians had risen above the local level. Although a supporter of Taiwan independence, Chen moderated his stance during his campaign and pledged the Four Noes and One Without in his inaugural address—that as long as the People's Republic of China does not attack Taiwan, he would not declare independence nor change the national symbols of the Republic of China. He also promised to be "president of all the people" and resigned his chairmanship from the DPP. His approval rating reached 70%.
Chen's administration ran into many problems, and its policies were constantly being blocked by the Pan-Blue Coalition-controlled legislature. The stock market lost over half its value within a year and unemployment reached 4.5%. While Chen's detractors blamed Chen's poor leadership for the economic crisis, the administration blamed the legislature for blocking its relief efforts.
More troublesome for Chen was the political showdown over the construction of the Number Four Nuclear Power Facility. This multibillion dollar project in Kungliao was already one-third completed and favored by the pro-business KMT as a means of avoiding an energy shortage. However, the environmentalist DPP strongly objected to the expansion of nuclear power. Premier Tang had threatened to resign if the project were cancelled, and Chen accepted his resignation on October 3, 2000, only four and a half months after both had taken office. Chen appointed his political ally Chang Chun-hsiung as Tang's replacement. On October 27, Chang announced that the government would halt construction. But less than an hour before, President Chen had met with Lien Chan to reconcile differences. Lien had asked Chen to leave the matter for the Legislative Yuan to decide and Chen seemed receptive to the suggestion. When Chang's announcement came out, Lien was furious and the KMT began an effort to recall the President. The Council of Grand Justices intervened and declared that it was the legislature and not the cabinet that had the power to decide on the issue. This was widely seen as the end of Chen's attempts to face the pan-blue groups head on. By the end of his first year in office, Chen's approval ratings had dropped to 25%.
After his first year in office, Chen seemed to move away from sending conciliatory gestures. In the summer of 2002, Chen became the chairman of the DPP. During his tenure, images of Chiang Kai-shek, and Chiang Ching-kuo (and to a lesser degree Sun Yat-sen) have disappeared from public buildings. The word "TAIWAN" is now printed on new ROC passports. Also continuing a trend from the previous administration, the Education Ministry has revised the school curriculum to be more Taiwan-centered. Government websites have also tended to promote the notion that China is synonymous with the PRC. The "Free China Press" has been renamed the Taiwan Press and Who's Who in the ROC has been renamed Who's Who in Taiwan. In January 2003, the Cabinet-level Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission was abolished and replaced by a newly-formed Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation. Though Chen has proposed talks with the PRC, relations remain deadlocked as Chen has refused to pledge to the One-China Policy, as required by the PRC for talks to begin. Such a pledge seemed unlikely for Chen since there remains strong opposition within his own party. Despite these symbolic gestures, Chen moved away from "no haste, be patient" policy and opened the three mini links.
Position on Taiwan's status
Chen's and the Democratic Progressive Party position on Taiwan's political status is that Taiwan is already an independent, sovereign nation named the Republic of China. This has the implication that a declaration of independence is unnecessary as Taiwan is already independent. At the same time, it also has the implication that the pledge by Chen to preserve the status quo or not change Taiwan's sovereign status would not preclude a declaration of independence but would preclude acceptance of the one China policy.
It is generally accepted that Chen's position on this issue is intended and to a large degree has succeeded in placating his pro_independence supporters without crossing any red lines that would trigger war. His supporters see these positions as creative and indicative of a willingness to compromise. However, it is also common among his opponents in Taiwan, as well as among policy makers in mainland China and the pro-PRC United States politicians to see his statements in their own much darker terms. Many among his critics believe that his positions and actions reveal Chen to be an old style Taiwanese politician and promote that his seemingly conciliatory statements are merely a smokescreen to advance a hidden agenda of advancing de-facto Taiwan independence. These suspicions are made to sound much more credible by pointing the finger at the actions of his KMT predecessor Lee Teng-hui who now readily admits to secretly, due to the threatening stance of Communist China, trying to advance de-facto Taiwan independence during his KMT administration.
Re-election campaign and referendum
In late 2003, he signed a controversial referendum bill, which he had supported but was heavily watered down by the Pan-Blue majority legislature. One concession that the legislature made was to include a provision for an emergency defensive referendum and during the legislative debates it was widely believed that this clause would only be invoked if Taiwan was under imminent threat of attack from the Mainland as has been so often threatened. Within a day of the passage of the referendum bill, Chen stated his intention to invoke this provision, citing PRC's over 450 missiles aimed directly at the Taiwanese. The Pan-Blue opposition viewed this action as an opportunity to politically attack Chen for an illegal betrayal of Pan Blue trust which they held violated the spirit if not the letter of the needed referendum bill which they had begrudgingly consented to.
His use of the referendum in combination with his talk of a new constitution lead many among his reunification critics to believe that he would attempt to achieve Taiwan independence in his second term by invoking a referendum to create a new constitution that would formally separate Taiwan from any interpretation of China. This caused the Bush led government of the United States to follow the lead of Chen's political critics and issue a rare rebuke of Chen's actions.
Chen was shot in the stomach while campaigning in the city of Tainan on March 19, 2004, the day before polls opened. The bullet left a flesh wound that was 8 cm long and 2 cm deep and was found in his clothes. He left the hospital on the same day with 14 stitches. His Vice President Annette Lu was shot in the leg in the same incident. The shooting incident continues to be the center of much controversy. Since the incident, a large quantity of rumors, conspiracy theories, claims and counter_claims have been generated and propagated both on the Internet and in the Taiwanese media.
The following day, Chen narrowly won the election with less than 30,000 votes out of 12.9 million votes counted. Both of his referendum proposals were rejected due to insufficient turnout. The Pan_Blue candidate Lien Chan refused to concede and sued both for a recount and for a nullification of the outcome while supporters held a week_long violent protest in front of the presidential office in Taipei alienating a lot of the Taiwanese, and continued to make claims that the shooting was planned by the DDP to ensure Chen would win the election. Many Pan_Blues continue to assert that Chen arranged to have himself shot at in a moving car, wounded but not killed so that he could be assured of even more votes in the election.
Throughout the election, Chen planned to hold a referendum in 2006 on a new constitution to be enacted upon the accession of the 12th-term president in May 2008. After the election, he sought to reassure critics and moderate supporters that the new constitution would not address the issue of sovereignty, and that the current constitution was in need of comprehensive reform after more than a decade of patchwork revision.
There have been two interpretations of Chen's actions during the election in terms of independence politics. The first is that he is ideologically committed to advancing Taiwan independence and that his actions are intended to systematically remove the constraints which prevent this from occurring. Seen in this light, his actions are intended to provoke a crisis in which the PRC must either start a war or accept independence, with the expectation that the PRC would back down. Ironically, this interpretation of his actions is shared both among his most fervent supporters (who think it is a good thing) and his most bitter opponents (who think that it is a bad thing). It is largely to counter this possibility that the PRC has issued statements that it will definitely go to war if certain red lines are crossed. However, they in reality carry little meaning, as Beijing has made such statements warning against electing former President Lee and Chen in the 1996 and 2000 elections, which both failed to materialize.
The second interpretation is that Chen's actions are primarily intended to placate his core supporters rather than provoke a crisis. People who subscribe to this interpretation point out that Chen's early efforts to moderate his pro-independence position did not create a positive reaction either from Mainland China or from his anti-independence opponents on Taiwan. He also alienated some pro-independence supporters. Therefore Chen was forced to take a more assertive approach both as a negotiation tactic with the PRC and to keep support from his core supporters. This strategy is consistent with the position, oft-repeated, that Taiwan would only seek independence as a preemptive measure in the face of evidence of PRC military aggression. However, even this interpretation provokes unease among many people, especially among policy makers in Mainland China and the United States. The first problem is that this interpretation makes Chen seem like an old style Taiwan politician that seems to be saying whatever pleases people. The second, more serious problem is the fear that through misunderstanding and misinterpretation, Chen may provoke a war without intending to do so,with Communist China who are eager to find any reason to discredit Chen and threaten a bloody war on the Taiwanese in order to "free them".
Second term presidency
On May 20, 2004, Chen was sworn in for his second term as President amid continued mass protests by the pan-blue alliance over the validity of his re-election. Having heard protests from pro-independence figures in Taiwan, he did not explicitly re-state the Four Noes and One Without but did state that he reaffirmed the commitments made in his first inaugural. He defended his proposals to change the constitution, but asked for constitutional reform to be undertaken through existing procedures instead of calling for a referendum for an entirely new constitution which was proposed by former president Lee Teng-hui. This would require approval by a three-fourths majority of the National Assembly which could authorize a referendum. This has two major implications. First, by going through existing constitutional amendment procedures, this has the symbolic effect of maintaining continuity with the existing constitution which was originally written in Mainland China. Second, this has the practical effect of requiring the Chen administration to get the consent of the opposition pan-Blue coalition to pass any amendments, and while the opposition is willing to consider constitutional reforms that would increase governmental efficiency, they are unlikely to support anything that would imply a de jure declaration of independence.
However, even these seemingly conciliatory gestures did not quell unease by his critics at his election. Some have pointed out that he qualified his statements on the constitution with the statement that this is a personal suggestion. Furthermore, it is widely believed in Taiwan that some of these gestures were essentially forced on him again by pressure from the United States and Mainland China. The People's Republic of China has stated many times that it cares little about what Chen says, but will watch closely in the next few months to see what he does, a standard sentence that Communist China continues to quote.
Three days before Chen's inauguration, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the People's Republic of China issued what has become known as the May 17 Declaration. In that declaration, Communist China accused Chen of not having abided by his commitments in his first term of office, threatened certain war on the Taiwanese people if Chen continued effort to advance Taiwan independence, but at the same time offered major concessions if Chen would accept the one China policy that Taiwan is a part of Communist China.
In late 2004, Chen began pushing for an US$18 billion arms deal with the United States, but the Pan-Blue Coalition has blocked the deal from passing the legislature, arguing the money should be spent on other measures. Chen announced on December 5 that state-owned enteprises and foreign offices bearing the name "China", such as China Airlines, the China Steel Corporation, and Chinese Petroleum Corporation, would be renamed to bear the name "Taiwan". On December 14, 2004, following the failure of the pan-green coalition to gain a majority of seats in the ROC legislative election, 2004 (as many had expected to occur), Chen resigned as chairman of the DPP. This dashed hopes that the stalemate that plagued Chen's first term would end.
- Official homepage (http://www.president.gov.tw/1_president/e_layer2.html)
- Unofficial advocacy website (http://www.presidentchen.com/)
- Full text of Chen's 2004 Inaugural Speech (http://www.president.gov.tw/php-bin/docset/showenews.php4?_section=5&_rid=1684)