Nation must clarify goals to world
On the eve of the last typhoon the Legislative Yuan passed four major constitutional amendment bills, including a reduction of the number of seats in the legislature, the establishment of the single member district, two-vote system, the abolition of the National Assembly and the inclusion of the referendum into the Constitution.
\nIrrespective of how this was actually achieved, these bills were passed with the support of all major parties. Although the jubilation of some was tempered by the disappointment of others, the most important thing here is for the government to make clear to the international community -- and especially China -- the international significance of these amendments.
\nBy "international significance," I am referring in particular to the process of constitutional reform and the inclusion of the referendum. Key here is the possibility that the amendments are surreptitiously paving the way for a legal basis for Taiwanese independence.
\nAustralian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) have both recently called on Taiwan to restrain itself and not to anger China by making any moves towards independence, saying that in such an event they would not support Taiwan. From their words, one would think that Taiwan had been threatening to make such a bid of late.
\nIn fact, they made no mention of what exactly Taiwan had done to prompt their remarks. It does seem that it had little to do with what they have actually observed, and more to do with pressure from China, which accuses Taiwan of seeking independence. This pressure merely serves to increase tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
\nThere is probably no better example of this than the speech given by Wang Zaixi (王在希), vice director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, at the opening of the conference on the "Peaceful Unification of China," held in Hong Kong on Aug. 6. In his speech, Wang said that the administration of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is refusing to give up the idea of constitutional reform as a step in the process of establishing a legal basis for Taiwanese independence, and has also refused to give up its timetable for this independence.
\nHe went on to say that on the surface, the "authorities" of Taiwan have recently been less vocal in promoting independence and separation from China, and have been less blatant in their actions. They have, however, allowed Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to represent them in their insistence on independence, pushed for the referendum and a new constitution and publicly backed the "Action for a Taiwanese Constitution" campaign.
\nHe said that recently, the Taiwanese "authorities" -- disregarding the tide of public sentiment -- have insisted on major acquisitions of advanced weapons from the US and continued their so-called pragmatic diplomacy. Despite the rhetoric, there is still no clear indication of what actually constitutes maneuvering into a position of creating a legal basis for independence.
\nNevertheless, there is a need for the international community to have a better understanding of these constitutional amendment bills. The Beijing-based China News Service has already published an article saying that despite their compromise on the issue of giving the people more say in constitutional reform, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was able to make the holding of referenda constitutional, something that they have been seeking ever since the party was established.
\nThe article continued to say that if the DPP is able to increase its control of the legislature, they will be able to pass further constitutional reforms, thus winning back the people's right to initiate reform. But due to the fact that referendums are now constitutional, they will also be able to instigate a referendum on altering the status quo on territorial issues, or even the name of Taiwan itself. This, they said, is an extremely dangerous development.
\nHowever, motions related to territorial issues or constitutional reform would first require a quarter of the total amount of legislators to raise the motion, three quarters of them to vote, and for three quarters of those who participate in the vote to support the resolution. Then, the referendum would still need support from 50 percent of the electorate in order to pass.
\nGiven these restrictions, the pan-greens have no chance of making any changes to definitions of territory or to the name of the country, unless they are able to secure the support of 75 percent of the legislature and the agreement of half the voters in a national referendum.
\nFor all intents and purposes the chance of this happening is quite low. So how could this be considered an "extremely dangerous development?" What's more, these last amendments were put forward by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
\nAre they really suggesting that the KMT are helping the DPP in their slow march to independence?
\nIrrespective of whether the Chinese officials and media are intentionally or subconsciously focusing on the worst-case scenario -- no matter how unlikely that scenario is -- they are succeeding only in deepening their misunderstanding of what is happening here. This can only be bad for stability on both sides of the Strait.
\nThe logic in the China News Service article may be contorted and murky, but the Taiwanese government would do well to take note. In their recent international remonstrations, China has been relying on its economic influence and the issue of regional stability to force other countries into showing where their allegiances lie.
\nThey are asking them to say, rather one-sidedly, that they would not join the fray and support Taiwan in the event that conflict begins in the Strait -- as if any problem would be the result of Taiwan's actions.
\nNeither Singapore nor Australia have gone on to say what they would do if any conflict arose that was not precipitated by the Taiwan side. Is this showing a responsible attitude towards stability in the Strait? China's strategy is to heap accusations on Taiwan, create tensions across the Strait, and make the international community blame Taiwan for the situation.
\nBy this logic, China will likely use the constitutional amendment bills to claim that Taiwan is steering a course for independence. In light of this it is important for the government to make clear to the international community just what these recent amendments are, and what their significance is. This would include clarifying referendum procedures -- especially the fact that the public does not have the right to initiate referendums for constitutional amendments.
\nIn their explanation of what is happening, the government should include a number of points. First, they must correcting misreadings and misunderstandings fostered by the Chinese and international media. Second, they should show how responsible Taiwan is being, and not give the impression that we are only interested in domestic political infighting.
\nThe recent amendments are a good example, since they passed with the support of both the government and opposition.
\nThird, the government should reiterate the fact that it keeps its word. In these recent amendments there was no mention of sovereignty, territorial issues or unification or independence -- as Chen promised in his May 20 speech.
\nThe government must act to clarify these crucial points, through all available channels. Otherwise, China's misreading and misinterpretation of Taiwan's political development will prevail, and Taiwan will once again lose points with the international community.
\nHsu Szu-chien is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University.
\n TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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