During the presidential elections, Mainland China made intense efforts to prevent the Taiwanese from electing Chen because of the DPP's call for independence of Taiwan. However, in the December 2001 elections, Chen's DPP party won 87 of 225 seats in the legislature. Initially, Chen promised not to declare independence, instead calling for a more constructive relationship with China. In response, Chinese officials agreed in February 2002 to open the "three links" with Taiwan: shipping, mail and trade. In November 2001, Chen's government rescinded the 50-year-old ban on direct trade and investment with China. Previously, China insisted that Taiwan must accept the "one China" principle before such economic links would be allowed.
The early rapprochement did not last. In mid-2002, relations between Taiwan and the PRC took a decided turn for the worse. During August 2002, Chen made comments favoring a referendum on independence for Taiwan, provoking a storm of criticism in the Mainland Chinese media and condemnation by the Mainland's Communist Party officials. By September 2002, Chen took an even harder line, likening the PRC's military pressure on Taiwan to terrorism. Describing the stationing of hundreds of missiles aimed towards Taiwan by the PRC, Chen declared, "There is no reason to have 23 million people here being shadowed by protracted military threat." He called attention to high-tech weaponry which the PRC could use against Taiwan's communications and financial infrastructures. Still, despite the fierce rhetoric, backed up by military vigilance, relations warmed again in early 2003. A "semi-direct" series of flights (with only one stop-over) was arranged for Lunar New Year visits between Taiwan and the PRC in February 2003.
Lack of sovereignty has kept Taiwan out of many international organizations, and Taiwan has failed in repeated attempts to gain a seat at the United Nations. The World Trade Organization agreed to grant Taiwan separate membership, but only on the condition that China's admission was accepted. Support from the United States is essential in controlling Chinese influence and for providing Taiwan a sense of national security. Taiwan's First Lady, Wu Shu-chen visited Washington DC in a "private" visit in September 2002, during which she met with members of the US Congress. Another high-profile "private" visit was that of Vice-President Annette Lu to Indonesia. The PRC objects strongly to such high-level contacts, viewing them as acceptance of Taiwanese independence. When Thailand bowed to such pressure, refusing to allow Taiwan's labor minister to visit, an accord between Thailand and Taiwan on migrant labor was jeopardized.
Chen's foreign policy is based on supporting democracy in the region and providing economic aid to the developing world. Because of Taiwan's successful economy, the country now provides a significant amount of foreign aid and technical assistance to the developing world. In return, some emerging countries have recognized Taiwan by establishing formal diplomatic relations. In July 2002, the list of those with formal relations fell from 28 to 27, as the Pacific island nation of Nauru ended its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, replacing them with official ties to the PRC.