- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

Taiwan is moving steadily to improve the functioning of its democracy without renouncing a pledge to the United States not to declare independence from China or call a referendum on the subject, the island’s representative in Washington said.

“The president of the Republic of China wants to reform a political system that is antiquated because it was created before we became a flourishing democracy,” said Chen Chien-jen, referring to Taiwan by its formal name.

He added in an interview late last week that a referendum could be held on such reforms.

“But Taiwan is realistic enough to know that the United States is a global superpower with its own interests in our part of the world.”

Nevertheless, leading Taiwanese legislators have voiced fears that the United States, in its push toward globalization and the struggle against terrorism, may embrace China more closely at Taiwan’s expense.

The U.S.-China-Taiwan relationship is anchored in a series of communiques, beginning with President Nixon’s 1972 journey to Beijing, stating that both Beijing and Taipei accept that there is only one China and that the United States shall do nothing to obstruct this principle provided the two sides’ differences are settled by peaceful means.

Last week, however, Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president since 2000, said in an interview with The Washington Post that he intends to scrap the one-China principle as “abnormal” and one that “should not exist.” The report also said the president was “dismissive” of U.S. concerns.

Mr. Chen, the executive director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the United States, gave one example of the kind of modernizing reforms the president wants to make.

“As you know, Taiwan has five branches of government instead of the three in the United States. These could be reduced for the system to function better,” he said.

Besides the three branches familiar in the United States, Chinese governments since the 14th century have also had an inspectorate, which conducted espionage, and an examination branch to administer tests required for entry into government service.

Mr. Chen promised not to seek independence for Taiwan.

“I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called state-to-state description in the constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regard to the question of independence or unification,” he said on May 20, 2000.

China says Taiwan must acknowledge that there is only one China before there can be negotiations leading to unification. Taiwan says it is willing to discuss matters only without preconditions. Otherwise, it fears, unification will simply mean the subordination of its democratic system to communism.

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