TAIPEI, Taiwan - Chen Shui-bian began his second four-year presidential term today, using his inaugural address to offer a new beginning in the island's long and troubled relations with mainland China.
Speaking at the end of a rain-dampened morning of inaugural festivities, Chen said that despite the divergence of the political systems over the decades, rapprochement between them was possible.
"If both sides are willing ... then [the two sides] can seek to establish relations in any form whatsoever," he said.
China called on Chen yesterday to renounce possible plans for independence, warning that it wouldn't be afraid to attack the island even if that meant sacrificing good relations with Washington.
China "will never tolerate Taiwan independence," the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily and other state media said in bellicose commentaries.
They warned that Beijing was ready to use "non-peaceful means" to keep Chen from trying to make the self-ruled island's de facto independence permanent.
In Washington yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan condemned the threat.
"We certainly would reject portions of the statement by China that threaten the use of force to resolve differences between Beijing and Taipei," he said.
In his speech, Chen also sought to ease Beijing's anxieties about his plans to reform Taiwan's 58-year-old Constitution, a document he said required a major overhaul to fit the needs of an island democracy rather than the continent-sized country of China for which it was originally intended.
Beijing has vehemently opposed any such changes, fearing them as a de facto step toward independence.
Chen repeated assertions that he had no intention of using the reform to initiate provocative steps such as changing Taiwan's formal name, its flag or boundaries - all moves strenuously opposed by Beijing.
Chen reaffirmed commitments made four years ago to renounce a series of steps that could be interpreted as moves toward independence. The commitments, referred to as the "five no's," include pledges not to change the current political status quo or to back a policy based on Taiwan and mainland China as two separate states.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.