- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Leader Chen Shui-bian pledged yesterday to push for a new constitution for Taiwan in his last two years in office, despite warnings from China and growing domestic opposition.

Mr. Chen’s remarks appeared to crush expectations that he might give in to mounting domestic pressure to reconcile with rival China after his party’s setback in Dec. 3 municipal elections.

“If social conditions are ripe, who says we cannot hold a referendum on a new constitution by next year?” he said in a New Year’s message.

Mr. Chen said the new constitution must be approved by the legislature before being voted on by the public in a referendum. It could be formally adopted in 2008, when Taiwan is scheduled to have its next presidential election.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. China repeatedly has warned Taiwan against adopting a new constitution, which the former views as a step toward declaring formal independence. Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island.

Mr. Chen has said that the proposed constitution is aimed at creating a political system that befits the island, not to prepare for formal independence. But Beijing continues to distrust the independence-leaning Taiwanese leader.

After his Democratic Progressive Party’s election defeat, Mr. Chen was widely expected to take a conciliatory stance toward China. But he indicated that he would not be pressured to remove barriers on trade and investment with China.

“No matter how cross-strait relations develop, we will adhere to … sovereignty, democracy, peace and parity,” he said.

“While Taiwan would never close itself to the world, we shall also not lock our economic lifeline … in China,” Mr. Chen said, adding that Taiwan’s “long-term development” takes priority over business interests.

Taiwan’s opposition Nationalist Party, which won the municipal elections, favors eventual reunification with China.

Despite the political tensions, trade has boomed between the two sides. Taiwanese businesses have poured more than $100 billion into China, and they want Taipei to end a ban on direct transportation links with the mainland.

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