- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Taiwan is "fit to be an independent country," Chen Shui-bian said in remarks made public yesterday, adding that he wanted to make a formal visit to the United States.
The comments by the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) came in a wide-ranging interview with Newsweek magazine, in which he addressed relations with mainland China and the United States, as well as Taiwan's status in the world.
"Taiwan is fit to be an independent country, that's the truth," Mr. Chen said. "And no matter if you agree or not, whether you accept it or not, Taiwan is an independent country."
He said President Bush had referred to the island as the Republic of Taiwan and that, in his view, the issue of formal recognition had become secondary.
"As to how Taiwan is acknowledged, that's not important anymore," he said.
Mr. Chen also expressed a desire to come to the United States as a visitor and communicate with Americans.
So far, Taiwanese leaders have been issued mostly transit U.S. visas to enable them to travel to Latin America, where several countries still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
"I hope that I can enter the United States, and not just in transit," said Mr. Chen. "I want to be able to be interviewed by the media and to make a public speech."
Last year, Mr. Bush said the United States would do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan, a statement seen by many as a departure from the long-term U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity toward the island.
Washington has also announced the most comprehensive arms package to Taiwan in almost a decade, which included four Kidd-class destroyers, eight diesel submarines and 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft.
That deal, after a two-year U.S. review of Taiwan's air force and navy, has infuriated China.
Beijing considers the island a renegade province to be reunified eventually with the mainland.
Mr. Chen said the military balance between Taiwan and mainland China must be maintained in order to preserve U.S. strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region and safeguard the island's democracy.
"The support of the U.S. government and the American people will make the people of Taiwan more confident in exchanges with mainland China when we enter into dialogue and negotiations," he said.
"But we will not abuse the support of the U.S. We will not miscalculate the situation."
Mr. Chen said he would not be able to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin before the end of Mr. Jiang's term later this year.
Hu Jintao, the 59-year-old vice president, is almost certain to become chief of China's all-powerful Communist Party this fall.
Mr. Chen said if Mr. Hu assumes the leadership post, he "will not give up on seeking a chance to talk to him face to face."
But he said he did not place great hopes on the change of guard in Beijing because of ideological differences with Mr. Hu and the Chinese leader's past record.
"I don't have overly high expectations of him," Mr. Chen said.
"For example, when Mr. Hu was party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, he asked the People's Liberation Army publicly to suppress Tibetan protesters Mr. Hu is a loyal supporter of communist authority and despotism."


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