After having been demoted to an opposition party, the position of the alien political power -- the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) -- on foreign affairs has undergone a big change. Close to the US and opposing China in the past, the party now cozies up to China and opposes the US. While close to the US and opposing China, they used US and Chinese positions to frighten local forces. Now their position has reversed, but they still play the same game. They aren't even above distorting or making up facts to achieve their goal of blocking the development of democracy.
They treat the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) position on the referendum issue in this way, and bestow the same treatment on President Chen Shui-bian's (
Beijing isn't muddle-headed and Washington even less so. Washington's response can only be described as downplaying such behavior, balanced and low key, avoiding interference in Taiwan's political wrangling instead of responding with great surprise or forceful interference.
In a question and answer session after a briefing on Sept. 29, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher offered a complete assessment of Chen's call for a new constitution in 2006. Boucher's comment included the following three parts.
First, Boucher called Chen's statement an "individual campaign statement." This is due to the brilliance of both Chen and Washington. Chen made the statement at the DPP's anniversary celebrations, and provided a further explanation during a meeting of the DPP's Central Standing Committee. In other words, he clearly made these two statements in his capacity as DPP chairman and not in his capacity as president.
Having understood this point, Washington could naturally acknowledge them as Chen's stating his political opinion during a campaign, and as a vision for carrying out constitutional reform in order to realize democracy in Taiwan, rather than a policy to be immediately implemented.
Second, based on the definition of Chen's remarks as an "individual campaign statement," Boucher reiterated the US' stance that it "won't take a position on [Taiwan's] domestic politics." Competition in Taiwan's political process, how the parties attack each other and defend themselves, what choices voters make -- this is Taiwan's domestic business, and the US does not take a position on these issues.
Third, Washington made reservations for issues involving US interests. These are issues that the US feels are of fundamental importance to stability in the Taiwan Strait. The reservations Boucher cited are in fact the "four noes" that Chen pledged in his 2000 inaugural speech: "not to declare independence, not to change the name of Taiwan's government, not to add the state-to-state theory to the Constitution, and not to promote a referendum that would change the status quo on independence or unification."
Boucher said that "We have expressed our support and appreciation for that pledge in 2000, and his [Chen's] subsequent reaffirmations of it. And we would take it -- we continue to take it very seriously."
That was Washington's assessment. Anyone who necessarily must interpret it as "a warning" to Chen, a "deterioration in [US-] Taiwan relations," or as "creating trouble for the US" and other such nonsense, is not as cool-headed as are Washington officials. The US assessment mentions Chen's "four noes," but, more important, it doesn't "show concern" or "call for restraint," nor does it ask for "an explanation."
Judging from the level of Washington's reaction, the constitution statement is not as excessively sensitive as the referendum issue.
Washington brought up Chen's "four noes" because the US believes they affect the stability in the Taiwan Strait, but, more important, it did so because he made these statements in his capacity as president, and not as a presidential candidate or DPP chairman. There is nothing wrong with the US taking important declarations made by Chen in his capacity as president "very seriously."
The government and the DPP responded to Washington's reaction by reiterating the "four noes" pledge. In fact, both this pledge and the construction of a new constitution are very flexible, and they are not incompatible. The "four noes" are no to declaring independence, no to changing the national title of Taiwan, no to adding the state-to-state model of cross-strait relations to the Constitution and no to holding a unification or independence referendum. They are contingent on three premises.
First, that China does not launch a military invasion on Taiwan. Second, they are Chen's individual guarantees. Third, the validity of this pledge is limited to Chen's term of office. A first-term pledge does not automatically carry over into a second term.
And this is not all. There is no issue concerning the inclusion of the state-to-state model in the Constitution, and Chen does not have the power to change the national title or "declare independence." As for a referendum on the so-called unification-independence issue, he has only pledged not to initiate such a referendum, but he cannot stop the public from demanding one.
These issues should be decided by the people themselves; they can't be decided by Chen on his own. If the people of Taiwan want a unification-independence referendum, to change the national title, or declare independence, they cannot be restricted by Chen's pledge.
We should pay even more attention to the fact that Chen's four noes, ie, the pledge quoted by Washington, do not include a pledge not to amend the Constitution or create a new constitution. The Constitution was created without the participation of Taiwan. A foreign power forced it onto Taiwan in order to rule it -- an anachronistic, backward, decrepit constitution that no longer is functional or applicable to the current environment. It has already been amended six times.
Only if the people of Taiwan themselves were allowed the decision to create a thoroughly new constitution would we be able to demonstrate the superiority of Taiwanese democracy and its potential to develop further.
There is still no concrete decision on how a new constitution should be created, or what it should contain. The creation of a new constitution was not proposed by Chen in his capacity as president, nor was it proposed by the government. Chen simply pointed out the DPP's position and direction in his capacity as the party's leader.
The initiation and completion of a new constitution requires the relentless efforts of the Taiwanese people as well as their understanding of the concept of autonomy. The US may request that Taiwanese politicians make this or that pledge, but it cannot demand that the people of Taiwan give up democracy and their basic human rights.
With Taiwan already having entered the democratic era, issues such as a new constitution, a new national title, and unification or independence should be decided by the people. The government should expend its efforts on demanding that the international community, including the US and China, respect Taiwan's democratic mechanisms, and the rights and choices of the Taiwanese people.
James Wang is a Washington-based journalist.
Translated by Perry Svensson
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
In 1955, US general Benjamin Davis Jr, then-commander of the US’ 13th Air Force, drew a maritime demarcation line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, known as the median line. Under pressure from the US, Taiwan and China entered into a tacit agreement not to cross the line. On July 9, 1999, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) described cross-strait relations as a “special state-to-state” relationship. In response, Beijing dispatched People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft into the Taiwan Strait, crossing the median line for the first time since 1955. The PLA has begun to regularly traverse the line. On Sept. 18 and 19, it
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if