Full interview: Frank Hsieh, 2007

Frank Hsieh, presidential candidate of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, is on a trip to the United States, Taiwan’s most important unofficial ally. Ahead of meetings with US administration officials beginning Monday, Mr. Hsieh spoke to Kathrin Hille, the FT’s Taipei Correspondent. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
July 23, 2007

July 23, 2007

Frank Hsieh, presidential candidate of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, is on a trip to the United States, Taiwan’s most important unofficial ally. Ahead of meetings with US administration officials beginning Monday, Mr Hsieh spoke to Kathrin Hille, the FT’s Taipei Correspondent. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Financial Times: Mr Hsieh, you will be meeting several US administration officials over the coming few days who will be eager to get an idea of what to expect from you. As what kind of politician do you want to present yourself? What can America expect from you?

Frank Hsieh: I think we need to let our partners in the US know that we can be a trustworthy, reliable partner. There may be some doubt in America over the trustworthiness of some politicians in Taiwan. For example, [Kuomintang presidential candidate] Ma Ying-jeou made certain promises to the United States with regard to the long-delayed planned arms procurement package, but later failed to live up to these promises.

We must be sincere, and our actions must match our words. If we promise something, we should stick to our promises. But also, we should not promise things we can’t deliver.

Moreover, we want to let the US know two things: First, that the existence of the Taiwanese democracy is very important in the world. And second, that we consider our partnership with the United States a very important one, a strategic one. And in such a partnership, the interests and concerns of our partner need to be given consideration and be respected. Vice versa, it should also be noted that Taiwan has its interests and concerns, too.

FT: Just as you left Taiwan for New York, president Chen Shui-bian announced that he has sent a letter to the UN secretariat applying for membership for Taiwan under its own name. It seems that now you’ll be forced to discuss these issues in your conversations with US administration officials. How will you explain to the US government this move and the plan to launch a referendum on such membership?

Hsieh: Well, there are several levels on which this issue needs to be considered. First, we need to answer the question whether in a good partnership, should Taiwan have told the US about its plans first? Is the problem perhaps partly that the US does not like to be surprised like this?

Next, we need to find out what exactly the United States’ concerns are directed at. Are they opposed to Taiwan joining the UN? Or do they object to Taiwan joining the UN under the name Taiwan? Or is it the referendum they don’t like? Or is it maybe that they think the referendum will run counter to the Four Nos? Perhaps they think that in a good partnership, it’s not enough that we state that our plan is not in violation of the Four Nos, but they want their views to be considered.

But frankly, I don’t think asking me questions about Chen Shui-bian’s policies will be what the people I’m meeting will be focused on. I think they know …

Also, frankly, this whole UN business is not such a big issue because it should not stir up real tension with China. They should not be nervous, because they control the UN. They are in the Security Council.

FT: You have mentioned the “Four Nos”. Are you ready to reaffirm them, or to make a new kind of promise?

Hsieh: The basic principle is that you should not promise what you cannot deliver. So you should not make commitments rashly. But what you have promised you need to stick to. But really, I don’t think that America will pressure me into making any new promises.

FT: What will be your priority issues in government if you are elected president?

Hsieh: Number one, getting majority support in parliament. Number two, how to re-start dialogue with China. And number three, mend relations with the United States and repair mutual trust.

Without a majority in parliament, we cannot accomplish anything. Some of the problems in our ties with the US, the arms procurement in particular, have actually also had to do with the fact that we don’t have a legislative majority now.

Restarting dialogue with China should not be that difficult. Actually, we are having some dialogue now, but that’s all too technical and too low-level. I mean, if you really think that it is one of the most important things to restart dialogue, you will make every effort to make that happen.

FT: There is been a lot of pressure from part of your party’s support base to pursue the goal to make Taiwan a “normal country”. Will issues like a new constitution or changing monikers to ‘Taiwan’ be high up on your agenda?

Hsieh: That is why I have said getting a legislative majority is a priority. It is useless to say that the normalisation of the country is a priority issue if I lack the means to pursue it. You need a three-fourths majority in the legislature for constitutional reform.

My belief is that party politics will normalise in Taiwan, and through that process we will become a normal country. Currently, we have two parties, one of which identifies with Taiwan, and the other, the Kuomintang, to some extent with China.

The KMT’s name [Chinese Nationalist Party] and its platform, which includes the long-term goal of eventual unification, show that it does not, or not primarily, identify with Taiwan. If I win the election, that will change. They will have an internal debate and remake themselves to identify with Taiwan, including changing their name.

Then, in the future, a change of ruling party will no longer bear the risk of a change in sovereignty, because then we will have two parties that have differences within one country, and not one that identifies partly with another country. Then we can discuss the economy, discuss left and right.

And then we will also be in better shape to talk to China – united internally, with one voice.

FT: But aren’t there also problems within the Democratic Progressive Party? It includes a very broad spectrum of views ranging from moderate positions to pretty radical pro-independence demands. Chen Shui-bian has dealt with this by responding to different demands in turn, but he has increasingly followed the demands of the more radical pro-independence lobby. How will you deal with this problem, and will your style differ from his?

Hsieh: The DPP does have different [factions], but we all agree on the final goal. We just have disagreements about the steps that should be taken to get there.

I believe that the DPP’s Resolution on Taiwan’s Future sufficiently addresses the issue of the final goal for the time being. Other steps are redundant right now.

One should clearly distinguish between an election platform with campaign issues, a government agenda for a four-year presidential term, and a final goal. These things have been mixed up with each other. I would not do that. I would not take the final goal and make it an election issue all the time.

I am a pragmatist. Or you could say I am an idealist who starts out from a pragmatic point of view.

FT: You have not mentioned the economy in your priority government agenda. What would be your most important economic policies if elected president?

Hsieh: Taiwan’s economy needs very clear industrial policies and very clear energy policies. I think we should try very hard to keep small and medium-sized enterprises as the motor of our economy. If we expose Taiwan to the free market without any restrictions, our high-tech sector would continue to grow, and our GDP would continue to grow. But unemployment would rise, the elderly would become even more challenged in finding jobs and adjusting, and our domestic confidence might be shaken even more severely.

FT: You might be sending an alarming message to the international business community if you qualify Taiwan’s commitment to the principles of a free market economy …

Hsieh: No, free trade can continue without doubt. What I meant was that economic growth is not everything we should be worried about. We need to simultaneously consider social justice, the environment, sustainability.

FT: But what are Taiwan’s structural challenges? Taiwan’s economy has been growing at a slower pace than neighbouring countries with a similar level of economic development, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, or South Korea.

Hsieh: Well, Korea is growing faster than Taiwan, but they also have their problems. Our problem is politics. We have issues with political stability.

FT: What role should China play in Taiwan’s economic development? Are you in favour of lifting some of the restrictions on closer economic links with China, such as the ceiling that limits mainland investments of Taiwanese companies to 40 per cent of their net worth?

Hsieh: I believe that the principle of control is right. But the question is who should set the standards and review the details of the regulations. I believe that in many cases this decision should be left to experts from the industry. For example, the question whether chip companies should be allowed to invest in China in process technologies newer than 0.18 micron is clearly something only experts understand.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Original source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1b05e49e-38d2-11dc-bca9-0000779fd2ac.html