Annette Lu: 'They Made Me Famous'
Meet the woman Beijing recently labeled the 'scum of the nation'
Taiwan's Vice President-elect Annette Lu took a battering last week--but gave as good as she got. Beijing, enraged by remarks she made in a television interview in Hong Kong, blasted the 55-year-old lawyer as a "lunatic" and the "scum of the nation" for risking war by leading Taiwan toward independence. Lu, who will be inaugurated alongside President Chen Shui-bian on May 20, also came under fire by some of her own Democratic Progressive Party colleagues for her inability to hold her tongue--after she publicly complained about not being consulted on cabinet appointments. Lu, a former political prisoner, talks with TIME Taipei reporter Don Shapiro.
TIME: Beijing directed some pretty nasty words at you last week. How did you feel being the target for such verbal abuse?
Lu: They made me famous. I took it as a compliment--targeting me like that has made me internationally well-known. Actually, I'm used to that kind of treatment. Some of the language reminded me of what the Kuomintang (KMT) accused me of 20 years ago. The KMT put me in jail for six years, but they never thought that 20 years later they would have to transfer their regime to me on behalf of the freedom fighters.
TIME: What do you think Beijing's intention was in attacking you?
Lu: I think it reflects a deliberate and considered strategy toward Taiwan. It indicates that they are running out of patience and rationality. Singling me out also shows they were trying to divide me and the President-elect and to undermine our relationship, and to press him to make a more favorable inaugural statement on May 20. Also, to criticize me was a way for them to criticize the President-elect as well, so yesterday Chen Shui-bian urged all DPP colleagues to maintain solidarity. He did not find any fault with me. He said I was being attacked on behalf of him, and that nothing could spoil the relationship between him and me. There are many internal problems in mainland China. Before they enter the World Trade Organization, so many state enterprises have to be privatized. Therefore many people will become jobless. As a result, there have been riots and internal disturbance. So in order to cover up their problems, China is trying to play up nationalism, and certainly to crack down on so-called Taiwan independence is a good excuse for them to take some irrational action. Furthermore, [Beijing] by announcing that they would be watching what the President-elect says and does before May 20 will only cause world leaders to waste some valuable time waiting for his speech. The President-elect has already cautioned that people shouldn't have too high an expectation about the speech; one speech certainly can't resolve such a long and complicated conflict. Putting everything on hold between March 18 and May 20 may just give the PLA time to prepare for something. I believe that no matter what kind of statement President Chen makes, it won't be satisfactory to China unless we surrender. Once the statement is made and the Chinese leaders express their disappointment--and use it as an excuse to take some irrational action--it will be too late. So I urge those who are concerned about peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait to please apply whatever preventive diplomacy is possible, such as expressing concern over the issue to Chinese leaders as soon as possible. I urge them not to underestimate the seriousness of the matter.
TIME: You seem very concerned about the situation escalating into a serious conflict.
Lu: For the sake of caution, I would urge preventive diplomacy. It seems everyone now is just waiting for the inaugural speech, and that is wasting time.
TIME: Are you directing those comments mainly at the United States?
Lu: To leaders in Washington, D.C., in Tokyo, in Seoul, Manila ... even in Europe. Everyone should pay attention to this now. We don't know what may happen after May 20.
TIME: The comment that you made that set off the fireworks from Beijing was that Taiwan looked on China as a "distant relative and close neighbor." What was your intent in making that remark?
Lu: I meant it in the best way. There couldn't be anything better than to express our good will and sincerity to end the half century of historical enmity caused by the civil war. We have the best intentions to open up a fresh relationship with China, but unfortunately they rejected it. I began to convey that message even before the election campaign. I ran an advertisement in the New York Times and Washington Post on October 1, 1999, when China celebrated their 50th anniversary. At that time they were not angry with me, and it was the same message then. Foreign observers found it to be very creative and constructive. But now China reacted vehemently. It is a signal.
Lu: It was just an excuse to launch a campaign against us.
TIME: Beijing has also been saying that you are an incurable promoter of Taiwan independence. Is their assessment of you incorrect?
Lu: If I am a supporter of Taiwan independence, I am no more or less so than Chen Shui-bian or any other DPP leader. Why choose me?
TIME: How would you characterize the DPP's attitude now toward independence?
Lu: Before 1996 the DPP strongly supported making a clear gesture for Taiwanese independence. But in 1996 people on the island were, for the first time, allowed to elect their national leader, called the President. We interpreted that as meaning that Taiwan had become independent--automatically, because it's only an independent, sovereign state that holds presidential elections. China was outraged and launched missiles over Taiwan, but eventually they failed. Taiwan has not only de facto independence but de jure as well. This year was the second presidential election. It [Taiwan's independence] is self-evident. So there is no need to make any further declaration at all. Again and again the President-elect has said that he would not declare independence and he would not call for a referendum unless China launches a military invasion.
TIME: Do you hold out hope for unification at some point in the future?
Lu: Not in our generation. But you never know what will happen. We can take as an example the European Union. If European countries and people are happy with integration, why can't Asian people learn from them? Why just push Taiwan to be embraced by one single nation? Or one day, we don't know how long from now, the people of China and Taiwan may be happy to come together. But for the foreseeable future, the people of Taiwan are strongly in favor of the status quo, plus progress and development.
TIME: But China is not likely to accept the status quo and their reaction could also affect progress and development. What can Taiwan do to try to bring about a solution?
Lu: As the new leaders, it is certainly our responsibility to try to maintain the status quo and bring about prosperity in Taiwan. We emphasize our goodwill and sincerity to have an open-ended dialogue with the Chinese leaders. We are prepared for more communication and more exchange programs.
TIME: If dialogue takes place, China would hope that the result will be unification. If you enter into dialogue, will you have the same goal?
Lu: Taiwan is democratic. No single person can make [such a major] decision on behalf of the people. Eventually the Taiwanese people must make the decision. Even elected representatives are not authorized to make it for them. We must make clear to China that Taiwan is not just an island. It has 23 million well-educated people with a well-developed sense of democracy. Don't underestimate their collective strength.
TIME: What role could be played by other world powers to try to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait?
Lu: I urge the leaders in Tokyo and Washington, D.C., to keep alert for any possible crisis that might take place in the near future and to work closely together with us to prevent anything from happening. In particular, I urge President Clinton to seriously consider inviting the leaders of both sides for peace talks in Washington, D.C., as he has done to settle disputes in many other countries. Sooner or later this will happen. But why not right now, especially before President Clinton finishes his term? He could win a Nobel Peace Prize.
TIME: Isn't the catch that Beijing would refuse to take part on the grounds that this is a domestic issue?
Lu: Of course it will take time. It always takes time. But someone has to initiate it.
TIME: You've long been involved in pushing for Taiwan's reentry to the United Nations. Will the new administration have any different approach on this issue?
Lu: The policy is firm. There is national consensus. But perhaps the strategy employed should be reevaluated. What has been done needs to be improved, and certainly we are aware that this is a long-term effort. We need patience. Korea waited for 13 years and China waited 22 years to enter the UN. We aren't in a hurry. It is the people's desire for Taiwan to have greater international stature, and we have to do what the people ask for. What's more, Taiwan deserves to be a member of the UN. The only obstacle is China, so working out a better relationship with China should be the first priority.
TIME: Besides the attacks from Beijing, you've also been criticized domestically in recent days, by members of your own party among others, for not staying gracefully in the background. Are you being treated unfairly on the home front as well?
Lu: The Constitution has room for ambiguity or flexibility on the role of the Vice President. In the past, some Vice Presidents also served as Premier--because they were men, everyone took it for granted. Now for the first time a woman is becoming Vice President and everyone is trying to downgrade the role. Everywhere I go I'm being reminded that I need to be voiceless and certainly powerless. It sounds like jealousy or male chauvinism. That's why I have to fight back. In fact, what I'm doing in speaking out is just a process of education, a continuation of what I've been doing for 29 years. There are still too many sexist attitudes in this society, unfortunately even among my party colleagues.
TIME: How much progress has occurred in Taiwan in terms of women's rights?
Lu: Being elected as Vice President in itself is a historical milestone. But I can give you some other examples. In our Congress currently, 41 out of the 225 members are women, which amounts to nearly 20%. In the Taipei City Council the percentage is even higher--over one-third--and the Speaker is a woman. Compared to many other countries, even the U.S., the situation is not bad. But the consciousness [of the need for equality between the sexes] in this culture is still not sufficient. I would like to clean up all this ideological garbage before I officially enter into office.
TIME: Have you come to an understanding with President-elect Chen Shui-bian on what role you will play as Vice President?
Lu: Normally the Vice President would just assist the President, and when the President goes abroad, he would replace him temporarily. But the Vice President must be ready to succeed to the presidency at any time if required, and so he must be well prepared. He should be allowed to participate in the President's activities; it is illogical to say that he should not be involved in major decision-making. During the election campaign, President Chen and I spent nearly three months together. After a rally, while riding in the same car, we had the chance to exchange viewpoints. But after the election, the National Policy Advisory Committee was suddenly appointed. It was embarrassing not to include me. It was embarrassing to have only one woman in the group. Everywhere I went I was asked, "Why only one woman? Why were you excluded?" It really embarrassed me. When I made some complaints in a television interview, I was criticized. They said I should be voiceless. And some rumors were fabricated of problems between the President-elect and me. Perhaps it was a conspiracy to undermine our relationship for whatever reasons--male chauvinism or whatever.
TIME: Fifteen years ago you were sitting in a jail cell as a political prisoner. When you take the oath of office on May 20, what thoughts will be going through your head?
Lu: Amazingly enough, inauguration day happens to be my birthday on the lunar calendar. What a coincidence! If you believe in destiny, perhaps I was destined for big things. What I'm proud of is that the same party, the KMT, that suppressed me 20 years ago will be transferring power to me, peacefully, on May 20.
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