President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said in an interview on CNN aired yesterday that only candidates who insist on Taiwan identity have a chance of winning the 2008 presidential election because by that time, a majority of the people will identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese.
In an interview on CNN's "Talk Asia," Chen argued that more than 60 percent of Taiwan's people will identify themselves as "Taiwanese" by the next presidential election, meaning that only the candidate upholding Taiwan identity will be able to garner a majority of the votes.
Chen based his argument on his performance in the 2004 election, when he received 1.5 million more votes than four years earlier as more people thought of themselves as Taiwanese.
As head of state, Chen said it is his main responsibility to continue the pursuit of Taiwan-centric consciousness and noted much remained to be done in this area. He noted that in 2000, 36 percent of people branded themselves Taiwanese and the figure jumped to 60 percent at the end of last year.
"I hope by the time I finish my term of office, this number will increase to 70 percent or even 75 percent," Chen said.
He regretted, however, that some people in Taiwan refused to recognize the trend or label themselves as Taiwanese.
"Some people continue to regard themselves as Chinese and believe Taiwan is part of China," Chen said. "The phenomenon shows the government should try harder to promote Taiwan identity."
The president, whose Democratic Progressive Party has made building a Taiwan republic its founding goal, asserted the island is an independent, sovereign country that had yet to achieve full statehood.
"If Taiwan were a normal country, it would be a member of the United Nations and a member of the World Health Organization," Chen said, adding the lack of normal statehood is strengthened by the fact that the Constitution has yet to be approved by the people through a popular vote.
Pleading his innocence
Chen also said he regretted the spate of corruption scandals involving the first family and key government officials but believed that the trials will show he and his wife are innocent.
Chen's wife Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) is accused of pocketing NT$14 million from the state affairs fund allocated for Chen's discretionary use.
"It is regretful," Chen told "TalkAsia." "Many things shouldn't have happened but they happened anyway. But I believe that our judiciary branch will prove that we are innocent and history will clear my name."
Chen acknowledged that only he is entitled to spend the special state affairs fund but emphasized that not a single penny went into private pockets.
Rather, he reiterated he used the fund for secret diplomatic and military operations as empowered by the Constitution.
Seeking to defend his integrity, Chen pointed out that he volunteered to cut his salary in half soon after he took office in May 2000. The practice, he noted, had saved state coffers at least NT$40 million since then.
"It makes no sense that I would take the trouble of collecting more than 700 receipts in the last five years just to claim NT$14 million from the fund and put it into my pocket," Chen said.
He attributed the legal mess to what he called the flawed budget system he inherited from the former Kuomintang administration.
"The problem actually lies within the system," Chen said. "This is a phenomenon during the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Maybe we could call it a growing pain on our road to democracy."