Soong's speech draws flak from leader's office for 'denying Taiwanese a choice' Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and his government yesterday praised opposition leader James Soong Chu-yu for advocating the 'Taiwan experience' in his university speech in Beijing, but chided him for denying Taiwanese a right to decide the island's status. In a meeting with South Korean visitors yesterday, Mr Chen said he heard part of Mr Soong's speech at Tsinghua University and was pleased he had talked about Taiwan's economic transformation. But a Presidential Office spokesman was more critical. 'He [Mr Soong] was merely stating his personal position, which is within the range of freedom of speech,' said the office. 'But he should not impose his personal political stand on others as the 23 million people in Taiwan have the right to choose what they want.' It was referring to the comment by the People First Party (PFP) chairman in his speech that independence was not an option for Taiwan because it would push the island into an unworkable dead end. The office said a 10-point consensus signed by Mr Soong and Mr Chen in late February clearly stated that any change to the island's status must be approved by its 23 million people and no option for future cross-strait ties should be ruled out. Cabinet spokesman Cho Jung-tai also rebuffed Mr Soong's remarks, saying he could not represent all Taiwanese people by ruling out other options to solve the cross-strait impasse. 'The government welcomes efforts by all political parties or individuals to expound the democratic values of Taiwan to Chinese people,' he said. Observers said the Taiwanese government's mild tone was expected since Mr Soong was a new ally of Mr Chen, who had even asked him to carry a personal message to President Hu Jintao . But the ruling Democratic Progressive Party distanced itself from Mr Soong by lambasting his speech, saying it betrayed the interests of most Taiwanese people. Fearing a flight of pro-independence supporters from the weekend's National Assembly election, DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang said he was disappointed by the speech as it failed to mention the sovereign, independent status of the 'Republic of China'. 'He did not touch on the Anti-Secession Law and the Taiwanese resentment towards the mainland's threat to use force against Taiwan,' he said in a television interview. The pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union poured scorn on Mr Soong's speech for the serious distortion of 'Taiwan consciousness' and denigration of the island's sovereignty. But the opposition Kuomintang backed Mr Soong by saying he helped people on the mainland gain a better understanding of the Taiwan success story.