Constitution reform group to begin work after year-end election

The China Post staff and Agencies

President Chen Shui-bian said yesterday he hopes to establish a constitutional reform committee to begin reform of the nation’s laws after the end-of-year legislative elections.

Chen said after the committee was formed, his next step will be to hold a conference on constitutional reform.

Speaking at a tea party with journalists in the southern city of Tainan, Chen said that his chief-of-staff, Presidential Office Secretary General Su Tzeng-chang, was consulting opinion leaders on constitutional reform.

But this was only a warm-up for the project, the president said.

Die-hard supporters of Taiwan independence have accused Chen of selling out as he has backed away from his presidential campaign pledges of holding a referendum on a brand new constitution.

Chen hit back at these criticisms yesterday, saying it was pointless to argue about whether the nation’s constitution should be partially amended or rewritten altogether.

“What matters is creating a basic system of rules suitable for the country, not the way it is done,” Chen said, adding that focusing on the means of changing the constitution would only distract the public’s attention from its new substance.

“There is simply no way to create a new constitution other than through the procedures provided for in the existing Constitution,” the president added.

Chen said he would take an open-minded approach to constitutional reform, which will need the support of various political parties.

He admitted that Taiwan’s ties with the United States were strained in the period before the presidential election, with analysts saying this was because U.S. officials believed Chen’s campaign promises threatened to destroy the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Chen said relations with Washington stabilized after he promised in his May inaugural speech not to change the cross-strait status quo unilaterally. He urged the public not to judge Taiwan’s relations with the U.S. on whether he can visit Washington, which is off limits to Taiwan’s president because of Washington’s One China policy.

Citing U.S. and Japanese support for the island’s World Health Organization bid in May, Chen said this is a good indication of Taiwan’s diplomatic success.

In related reports, Chen said yesterday that he has invited former Vice Premier Lin Hsin-i to head his economic advisory panel.

Chen said the panel, headed by Vincent Siew, chairman of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, will be reshuffled in the near future. The panel will recruit more representatives of various sectors of society concerned about financial and economic issues.

The panel’s work will focus on strategic issues regarding the country’s financial and economic development. Its work will not contradict or overlap with work of other government agencies.

The list of panel members will be announced at a later date, Chen went on.

Chen named Siew last May to head his economic advisory panel of Chen Po-chih, chairman of the Taiwan Think Tank; Wu Jung-yi, president of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research; and Chen Tian chih, president of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.

Lin served as vice premier from 2002 to May 20, 2004 before Chen started his second four-year term.

During that period, he doubled as chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, the country’s top economic planner.