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Taiwan's President Pushes for New Constitution, Despite China's Opposition

The president of Taiwan began 2006 by pledging to pursue his goal of a new constitution for the island, despite opposition from mainland China. Chen Shui-bian's comments come a day after the president of China warned that his government will not tolerate independence for Taiwan.

President Chen Shui-bian vowed in his New Year's Day speech to continue developing what he called the "Taiwan consciousness" - a sense that the residents of the island have a national identity separate from other places.

He went on to say that he would push to achieve his goal of having a new constitution for the island by 2008. Mr. Chen said it is possible there could be a referendum on the constitution by 2007.

President Chen says that no matter how relations with mainland China develop, he will stick with four principles of sovereignty, democracy, peace and parity. He said this is the wish of Taiwan's people.

Mr. Chen's comments are not likely to please the leaders of mainland China, who oppose a new constitution for the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory. They view a new constitution as a step toward declaring formal independence for Taiwan.

On Saturday, China's President Hu Jintao gave a New Year's speech in which he stressed that Beijing would oppose any separatist moves in Taiwan.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when Nationalists fled the victorious communist forces at the end of China's civil war. China has vowed to reunify with Taiwan, by force if necessary. The United States follows what is called the "one China" policy regarding Taiwan and the mainland. It has repeatedly warned both sides of the Taiwan Strait against any unilateral action that would disturb the status quo.

Also in his speech Saturday, President Hu said the government would continue working to close the gap between China's wealthy and its poor. He also said Beijing would use its growing diplomatic and economic role to help build peace. He repeated past statements that China's rapid economic growth is peaceful and cooperative toward the rest of the world.