CAMPBELL: It is Chinese New Year in Taiwan. The temples fill with families praying for better times ahead. The Year of the Monkey just ended, has been a troubled period for this Chinese community that increasingly sees itself as separate from China.
The mainland renewed its threats of military attack, their pro-independence president was shot and in a crisis for this young democracy, his opponents accused him of staging the shooting to win re-election.
Its been a time many would prefer to forget but some fear things could get even worse in the new Year of the Rooster.
SU QI [OPPOSITION MP, TAIWAN]: If theres an accident or theres a miscalculation on the side of Beijing, then a disaster will take place. As long as Beijing leadership feels it is compelled to do so, feels that it has no other way to avoid a conflict, it feels that Taiwan independence is a certainty, I have no doubt that Beijing would resort to use of force.
Chief Chen Shui-Bian at air force base CAMPBELL: This is the man who may determine if theres war or peace, Taiwans President and Commander in Chief Chen Shui-Bian. He is Chinas public enemy number one. A democrat who refuses to accept the communists territorial claims.
President Chen PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: We state that Taiwan is already an independent sovereign country.
Chen with wife at air force base with wife in wheelchair CAMPBELL: Hes the classic underdog of Asian politics, a dissident who was jailed for his beliefs with a wife who was paralysed, in what some claim was a politically motivated attack.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: We should be able to walk hand in hand in the streets in Taipei President Chen, but now it is me pushing my wife and her hands are always cold. And I constantly ask why, and how come --and I did feel like giving up.
President Chen on plane Hes been surrounded by tight security since last years assassination attempt. Today its a trip on Air Force One to the village where his story began.
CAMPBELL: Chen Shui-Bian was born into a poor family of tenant farmers in the southern county of Taiwan.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: When I was a child, our family often didnt know where our next meal was coming from.
At that time my father didnt have a regular job, our family didnt own a piece of land to plough and my parents were illiterate.
President Chens mother at temple.
His mother still lives in the same simple farmers cottage where hes come to pay tribute to his ancestors. Unlike the nationalists who fled here after the communist revolution, Chens family, like most of his neighbours, have lived here for centuries.
Villagers welcoming President Chen:
Today the entire village has turned out to see him, more than twenty five thousand jostling for a glimpse of their local hero. Hes brought more than twenty thousand red envelopes, a traditional good luck gift for Chinese New Year. Some people have camped for days to be first in line.
04:32 Man in Crowd MAN IN CROWD: Hes very close to the people and hes the president of all the people so we give him our support.
Woman in crowd WOMAN IN CROWD: I like Chen because hes a native of Taiwan.
Food. Taiwan remains a quintessentially Chinese culture but politically it bears little resemblance to the communist-ruled mainland. Since Taiwan embraced democracy a decade ago, there has been a sea change in attitudes towards national identity. Today, only one in ten people call
themselves Chinese. Nearly half say theyre first and foremost Taiwanese.
Foongshwin Yeh and Shuyin Kuo walk through market in rain. Foongshwin Yeh and Shuyin Kuo are students at Taipeis Chengchi University.
FEMALE STUDENT: I think we dont have, we dont have really direct connection with mainland China.
Foongshwin Yeh and Shuyin Kuo. I have no idea who is the minister there, I have no idea. I have never been to mainland China.
CAMPBELL: So its like a foreign country?
FEMALE STUDENT: Yes.
Propaganda film Chiang Kai Shek Music
CAMPBELL: To many, Taiwan has been effectively independent ever since the communists seized the mainland.
ENGLISH COMMENTARY OF DOCUMENTARY: President and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek flew to Taiwan in 1949.
CAMPBELL: But the Chinese dictator Chiang Kai-Shek treated Taiwan as a staging post to rebuild his army in the hope of reconquering the mainland.
ENGLISH COMMENTARY OF DOCUMENTARY: Soon after he reached Taiwan, the people demanded he resume duties as chief of state and he did so. This was the turning point in the Republic of Chinas struggle against the communists.
CAMPBELL: Calling it The Republic of China he imposed strict martial law under his political party the KMT. The KMT ruthlessly suppressed calls for democracy and Taiwanese independence. By the 1980s an opposition group called the Democratic Progressive Party was openly demanding both.
Young Chen. An idealistic young lawyer, Chen Shui-Bian was one of its earliest activists.
President Chen PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: We published this underground political weekly magazine and we appealed for fully-fledged freedom of speech.
Prison. Unexpectedly I was imprisoned because of these activities.
CAMPBELL: Chen spent eight months in this prison but resumed campaigning immediately after his release, taking advantage of the KMTs gradual easing of one-party rule. In 1994 he became Mayor of Taipei.
In 2000 to the KMTs horror, he was elected President, but by now fear of invasion had forced Chens DPP to tone down its pro-independence rhetoric.
President Chen PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: In my inaugural speech on May 20 I stated very clearly that so long as China doesnt use military force against Taiwan, Taiwan will stick with its pledges including not to declare independence during my term of presidency.
Photo. Su Qi
CAMPBELL: His opponents simply dont believe him. Su Qi was the KMTs chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the chief policy body on relations with China.
SU QI: Well hes,
Su Qi. Super: Su Qi Opposition MP, Taiwan you know he turns left and right you know at different times. So he has said he wont do it fifteen times, he has said he would do it twenty times. Something like that, so nobody knows where he really stands.
Chinese military exercises.
CAMPBELL: The Chinese military has stepped up its rhetoric since Chen came to power making clear it will attack if it feels Taiwan is moving toward a formal declaration of independence.
Three years ago I was taken on a rare media visit to a Chinese military base outside Beijing. The tour not only showed off the militarys hardware, a senior commander made clear the willingness to use it.
Colonel COLONEL: As everyone knows, Taiwan is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory. The people in mainland China and Taiwan share the will -- and the task of our military army is to defend the motherland and to ensure the territorial integrity of China.
Taiwanese military exercise
CAMPBELL: Across the strait in Taiwan the government is also happy to show off its military strength, even if its hopelessly outgunned. The United States remains it primary guarantor against attack but even Americas staunchest Pacific ally, Australia, has made clear it would not feel obliged to help the US defend Taiwan. During a visit to Beijing last year, Alexander Downer the Foreign Minister, said the core defence treaty with the US did not apply to Taiwan.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Some other military activity elsewhere in the world -- be it in Iraq or anywhere else for that matter --doesnt automatically evoke the ANZUS treaty. Its important to remember that.
CAMPBELL: Taiwan saw his comments as Australia kowtowing to the communists.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: President Chen. I must say that I feel sorry for that. If Taiwan became part of China, like Hong Kong, as a special administrative region, then I believe that China would be able to extend its power eastward.
Chen on plane.
CAMPBELL: Taiwan and China are already fighting a diplomatic battle for the East. We joined President Chen on a journey to Taiwans dwindling band of Pacific allies, his plane escorted by Taiwanese fighter jets until it left Chinese airspace.
The main destination was one of the worlds least courted countries -- the Solomon Islands.
Aerial Solomon Islands/Welcome Music
CAMPBELL: The Solomons is one of only twenty five countries that still have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Every other country has chosen to recognise mainland China. President Chens visit, with two planes carrying more than one hundred officials and Taiwanese journalists was the biggest diplomatic entourage the country had ever seen.
Solomons Hospital. The Taiwanese President doesnt often get to travel. Since the big powers switched recognition to mainland China in the 1970s, Taiwan has become a diplomatic outcast, its leader unable to even set foot in most countries. Today just a sprinkling of small weak nations recognise Taiwan in return for aid and while President Chen is fighting to hold on to Taiwans few allies, China is fighting just as hard to take them away.
Vanuatu. Taiwan has already lost the fight for the Solomons nearest neighbour, Vanuatu. Late last year it switched recognition to Taiwan only to switch back to mainland China amid rumoured deals of giant cash payments.
For now long term aid projects like this rice growing scheme are keeping the Solomons ties in tact but its getting ever harder for Taiwan to compete with China in a cheque book diplomacy.
President Chen meets Kemakeza. For all the bonhomie of this visit, the Solomons Prime Minister Sir Allen Kemakeza admitted his country was also being courted by mainland China.
PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: They approached me and my ministers, my officers at the international conferences for bilateral discussion.
Prime Minister Kemakeza CAMPBELL: But there could be a time when the Solomons could switch recognition?
PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: Maybe. I cannot predict the future.
CAMPBELL: Another day, another country. President Chen is nothing if not a fighter. His bid to thwart China included a State visit to a country even smaller than the village he was born in, Palau.
Palau visit: This nation of less than twenty thousand people had never seen anything quite like it. The full Taiwanese delegation attended the inauguration of Palauan President Tommy Remengesau, an event for which other world leaders could only send their regrets.
REMENGESAU [TO CROWD]: First from United States, Laura and I regret being unable to attend. My thoughts will be with you on that historical day. Sincerely, George W Bush, President of the United States.
Singer at inauguration
Chen in speedboat
Chen in wetsuit
CAMPBELL: To cement relations with this tiny ally, Chen even donned a wetsuit to show off its potential for Taiwanese tourism, unperturbed by the fact he cant actually swim. Armed with a kickboard and surrounded by nervous security guards he took his first ever plunge. Its hard to tell what ,if anything, these outings achieve for Taiwans international standing.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: Why has Taiwan become an orphan of the international community? I would ask all the democratic countries in the world including the United States, Japan and Australia to put themselves in Taiwans shoes and see how they would feel.
Chen in speedboat.
CAMPBELL: Back home in Taiwan, many see Chens foreign visits as an embarrassing sign of how desperate their nation has become.
Foongshwin Yeh and Shuyin Kuo.
FEMALE STUDENT: Mainland China is so big, we are so small. They have a big voice, we have only a very small voice. So thats the problem.
CAMPBELL: Well very few countries recognise Taiwan. When you see President Chen going off to some very small Pacific Island
STUDENT: We even, we have no idea they are.
Chen plays drums.
CAMPBELL: Chens attempts to stride the world stage have been further undermined by the KMT, which has tried to deny him any credibility as Taiwans leader.
SU QI: We simply believe that the presidency is illegitimate and the gulf unfortunately is very deep.
Su Qi. Super: Su Qi Opposition MP, Taiwan.
Taiwan population still deeply divided, roughly into half-half. One half believe he is a crook, the other half believe he is the president.
Motorcade shooting incident.
CAMPBELL: The division comes from the most controversial incident since he came to power. A mysterious shooting on the day before last years elections. President Chen was trailing badly in the polls when his motorcade was apparently fired on. He was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment, his office later releasing graphic photos of his wounds.
The next day, an outraged public swung their support behind him, re-electing him with a razor thin majority of just twenty nine thousand votes. The KMT claimed theyd been robbed.
SU QI: I think he lied and he staged the shooting incident. He had to cover up his lie one after another and it was just like Watergate. We simulated the shooting and based on all the evidence he provided, things just dont match. The whole thing was most likely faked.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: I do understand the sentiment of the other camp which lost the election, but theres no doubt about the fact that I was shot and they accused me of rigging the vote and staging the assassination the shooting incident.
CAMPBELL: The KMT refused to accept defeat and took over the streets demanding new elections. The Taiwanese nation was split down the middle.
SU QI: This made me even more worried about PRC attack
Su Qi: because we have no unified national will to defend ourselves because if any attack occurs, one half of the population will blame the other. You guys caused the trouble, and why should I defend it because you guys caused the trouble - so this is very dangerous. This is why I find it very deplorable; the President should have done something about this.
CAMPBELL: But theres one thing both sides of the Taiwan Strait have in common business. While the politicians have been arguing, Taiwanese entrepreneurs have invested billions of dollars in Chinas booming economy.
MALE STUDENT: Maybe one day China will realise that peace is the only solution and maybe we can be friends.
Foongshwin Yeh and Shuyin Kuo,business, were in business.
CAMPBELL: Business, but not politics.
FEMALE STUDENT: They have to get money, not politics. Money is more important.
Soldiers tossing guns:
CAMPBELL: For all the military bluster, theres strong hope commonsense will prevail on both sides. China has much to lose from any miliary attack and as much as Taiwanese tend to see themselves as a sovereign country, few want to risk invasion for the sake of formally declaring independence.
PRESIDENT CHEN SHUI-BIAN: I believe in the wisdom and strength of our people, and our people will back us up our people will back democracy so I see all these troubles and hardships as only small ripples that wont cause big waves or torrential rains, and I have great confidence in the future.
CAMPBELL: Its a comfortable, if sometimes uneasy status quo and as Chinese around the world begin the Year of the Rooster, it wont just be the Taiwanese praying that it stays that way.
Credits Reporter: Eric Campbell
Camera: Geoffrey LyeSound: Michael Nudl
Editor: Simon Brynjolffssen
Research: Anya Keuppers