- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party, which ruled the island for more than half a century before it was voted out of power in 2000, has reformed, improved its image and is ready for a comeback, its leader said yesterday.
Lien Chan, party chairman and Taiwan's former vice president, said his party will be a "watchdog for the people" while it is in the opposition.
But he predicted that "very soon it will be back in the driver's seat" because "it represents the mainstream political thinking" in the country.
"There has been a lot of criticism" of the Nationalist Party, Mr. Lien said, "including accusations that our decision-making process is not democratic enough, that our bureaucracy is stale and that we have lost our vitality. There have been even allegations of corruption. Some of those charges are fabrications, but others are worthwhile considering."
The party, also known by its Chinese name Kuomintang, or KMT, has recovered from its "extremely painful" defeat at the 2000 presidential and 2002 parliamentary elections, he said, and has done well in local elections.
It has also recruited "young blood," and its membership is close to reaching 1 million. Taiwan's population is about 23 million.
Mr. Lien, who was in Washington as part of an unofficial visit to the United States, attacked the policies of Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of Chian (Taiwan), and his Democratic Progressive Party.
He pointed to the island's economic difficulties and its tense relationship with mainland China.
He said there has been a "departure" from the policy of engagement with Beijing and the economic and cultural exchanges his government pursued before losing power.
He accused Mr. Chen's party of maintaining a "certain degree of tension" because "they think that will help them in the next election."
"Animosity and hostility is the last thing we need," he said. "Relations with the mainland cannot be stopped. Any artificial attempts to block interaction will not prevail."
Mr. Lien said his party's interpretation of Beijing's "one-China" policy is "yes but not yet." The time for a pure "yes" will come when "China becomes free and democratic," he said.
On foreign policy, he noted that Taiwan could play an important role as a "bridge between the Chinese mainland and the world."
He said the island's relationship with the United States should be "parallel" to that with Beijing.
"Taiwan should not try to score points in the U.S. relations with China," Mr. Lien said. "But the improvement of the U.S.-China relationship should not be at Taiwan's expense."
China has increased its military budget by 17 percent for the second year in a row, he noted, but at the same time "U.S. support for Taiwan has grown considerably."
Mr. Lien said Taiwan will continue to "stand by" the United States in its war on terrorism, including any action it might take against what President Bush calls the "axis of evil."
Unlike Mr. Bush, however, he declined to "name names" of countries.
The "axis" described in Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech consists of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

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