He urges US to act decisively in a crisis to avoid repeat of Korean War; assesses post-Hong Kong trade; presses spiritual renewal
ONE year after becoming the first democratically elected president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Lee Teng-hui answered questions from Monitor editors.
Hong Kong has long served as a vital link between Taiwan and the mainland in trade and investment. What changes, if any, will follow the return of Hong Kong to Peking's control?
Economic and trade relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong have always been very close. Hong Kong serves as an important relay for economic contacts between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. It is the set policy of the Republic of China (ROC) government that after Hong Kong's status changes on July 1, relations and exchanges between Taiwan and Hong Kong will be maintained. Toward this end, the ROC has already formulated the Statute Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau, which stipulates that the ROC will treat Hong Kong as a "special administrative region" rather than as an area of the Chinese mainland. It is our hope that Hong Kong will be able to maintain both a high degree of autonomy and its current free economic system, and so long as it does, economic, social, and cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Hong Kong will continue to grow.
But it is indisputable that several elements of post-1997 Taiwan-Hong Kong relations remain uncertain. The lengthy separation of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has led to a wide gulf between ideologies, lifestyles, values, and even legal standards in the two areas. This will affect Hong Kong's stability and continued prosperity in the future.
The ROC government looks forward to the establishment of a stable foundation and new framework that will be conducive to the maintenance of relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Such a development will allow for the further expansion of mutually beneficial and reciprocal relations between Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese mainland. However, the attainment of this goal also will require cooperative and concerted efforts from all sides.
An increasing number of scholars in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the mainland, and elsewhere are talking about the emergence of an economic, cultural, and possibly political "Greater China." How do you envision such a possibility?
Looking at the international situation that has evolved since the end of the cold war, we can see that at present there is no single country or region that can afford to alienate itself from the global family of nations. Chinese people in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, and other areas generally all identify with the same cultural heritage.
However, the political systems, social structures, and the extent of economic development in the various areas differ considerably, and disputes between different groups arise over even basic viewpoints. In light of this situation, it seems too early to speak of a "Greater China."
Does the ROC expect the United States to defend it against any possible military attack by the mainland regime?
In March of last year, the mainland authorities conducted military exercises and missile tests in the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to disrupt the first direct presidential election in Chinese history. Why? Because governing according to the will of the people is the "Western" practice that Peking fears the most. As the very existence of a democratic Taiwan poses a tremendous threat to Peking's dictatorship, the mainland authorities are unwilling to make a concrete commitment to end the state of hostility across the Strait.
As we face a constant military threat posed by the Chinese mainland, the ROC is already well prepared to counter any action. We are nevertheless encouraged by the concern the US has shown for our national security, and we are particularly grateful for the US decision to dispatch two aircraft carrier groups last March to cruise in the vicinity of Taiwan.
The US acted in accordance with the provisions of Section 2 of the Taiwan Relations Act, which states: "It is the policy of the United States ... to declare that peace and stability in the area are in the political, security, and economic interests of the United States, and are matters of international concern ... [and] to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts, or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."
The US also acted to uphold the credibility of its commitment to maintaining the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region. If the US had stood idly by while the mainland authorities conducted military exercises and missile tests in a brazen attempt at intimidation, its allies and friends would have lost faith in the US commitment. At the same time, it is vitally important that the US stand firm and send a clear and unmistakable message to Peking in order to avoid a repeat of a mistake like the Korean War. In our opinion, to appear hesitant, indecisive, weak, and timid is to invite military conflict that otherwise could be avoided.
On the anniversary (May 20) of your inauguration, how would you sum up the process of democratization in the ROC?
The process of democratic change that the ROC has undergone over the past 10 years might best be described as a "quiet revolution." Beginning with the lifting of the Emergency Decree in 1987 by the late president Chiang Ching-kuo, restrictions on the establishment of new political parties and newspapers were abolished. Our first-ever direct presidential election, held in 1996, marked a new milestone in democratic constitutional government and signaled the emergence of the ROC as a genuine democracy. Now as a stable and fully participatory democracy, the ROC stands as a worthy example for other developing nations.
As democracy and wealth bring new challenges to Taiwan, how important are spiritual values?
For almost 50 years, the ROC government has successfully promoted economic and national development, building a thriving and liberal economy, a solid and vigorous democracy, and a diverse and multifaceted society. This has come to be known throughout the world as the "Taiwan experience."
However, we also must acknowledge that, as in other advanced nations, spiritual and cultural development in the ROC has not kept pace with democratic reforms and the growing affluence of our society.
This disparity has resulted in deviant behavior and numerous social aberrations, even to the point of impeding our progress toward modernization. In light of this, I have called on the nation to undertake comprehensive "spiritual revitalization." It is my hope that through continuous government and private-sector action, we can effect positive changes in the behavior, values, concepts, outlook, and spirits of people at all levels of society. We want to form new common ideals, improve the social ethos, and build a harmonious society where consumerism is balanced by spiritual development.
What strategy do you have to improve the international status of the ROC in the next decade?
With the imminent arrival of the 21st century, we already have laid out concrete strategies and are now sparing no effort to realize our goals.
On the domestic front, we will complete the second phase of constitutional reform and establish a solid regulatory foundation for constitutional democracy. We also will pursue social reengineering through judicial, administrative, and educational reform, as well as cultural development. Such efforts will enable us to build an efficient, modernized society where the rule of law is respected - a society equal to any in the world. We will actively pursue plans to build Taiwan into an Asia-Pacific operations center, developing Taiwan into a financial, manufacturing, sea and air transportation, telecommunications, and media center for the Asia-Pacific region and thus guaranteeing Taiwan's significance as a bridge between advanced industrial and Asia-Pacific nations.
Internationally, we will further consolidate ties with our diplomatic partners by pursuing high-level talks and strengthening investment, trade, technological cooperation, and cultural exchanges. We also will strive to elevate our substantive ties with the countries with which we do not share diplomatic ties. In the meantime, we will participate as much as possible in international organizations and activities.
In addition to having applied to join the World Trade Organization, the ROC is seeking to promote substantive bilateral and multilateral relations with nations in the region through our participation in regional organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and various related activities and cooperative programs. We also will continue with our efforts to participate in the United Nations and UN peripheral organizations that are primarily functional in nature, so as to expand our international presence and secure an international status commensurate with the ROC's true position.
Furthermore, the ROC government will continue to provide developing countries with humanitarian assistance and monetary aid for goodwill projects, and we will draw upon our successful experience in the areas of technology, management, economic development, and democratic reform to help these countries modernize. In so doing, we hope to contribute to global peace, cooperation, and prosperity.