President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) recently indicated that if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is given a stable legislative majority on Dec. 11, he will definitely complete drafting and passage of a new constitution, as well as end the "forced implementation of the Chinese Constitution in Taiwan," among other absurd phenomena.
Chen also proposed a new timetable for the new constitution. At the end of the 2006, a referendum will be held to ratify Taiwan's first new constitution. On May 20th, 2008, the day that his second term ends and the next president is sworn into office, the new constitution will come into force.
Given that timetable, it is not hard to see that Chen is indeed pushing for the adoption of the new constitution out of a sense of mission.
He does not aim to revise the Constitution because of his personal needs, nor seeking to become a "super domineering" president. Chen has very clearly explained his goal in drafting the new constitution. It is based in the need to correct the problems, flaws, and incompatibilities of the current Constitution. Chen has emphasized that we need substantive constitutional reforms to tailor the document to our time, place and needs.
He has also indicated that he does not want to become trap-ped in a war of words over whether what he "really" intends to do is to adopt a "new" constitution" or "amend" the existing one. But the US seems to be skeptical. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher pointed out on Nov. 29 that the US takes Chen's 2000 inauguration promises seriously and believes that these pledges should be respected.
He also reiterated Chen's promises word for word: not to declare independence, not to change the official name of Taiwan from the Republic of China, not to add the "state-to-state" model of cross-strait relations to the Constitution, and not to hold a referendum to change the status quo on independence or unification with China. As for whether Chen's new constitution will violate these promises, Boucher indicated that Chen should clarify that himself.
Chen gave an immediate response the next day during his meeting with visiting US representatives. According to Chen, the timetable he has given regarding the new constitution, in terms of direction and substance, is completely compatible with the existing constitutional and political system. Moreover, the direction and policy of the constitutional and political reforms addressed during his inauguration speech, Double Ten National Day speech, and National Security Council speech on Nov. 10 will not be changed during his term.
Boucher pointed out that the primary US interest is in maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait and that the US opposes any unilateral change to the status quo. "We are opposed to any referendum that would change Taiwan's status or move toward independence," he said.
Boucher's statements indicate that the US is concerned about Taiwan's campaign to reform the Constitution. This concern stems from a misunderstanding about the new constitution: thinking that it entails a public referendum that moves Taiwan toward formal independence. It stems also from an inaccurate judgement about the situation in the Taiwan Strait.
The US wrongly believes that Taiwan is about to change the status quo, which could further heighten tension in the Taiwan Strait. In reality, there is absolutely no need for the US to feel skeptical about the president's timetable for the new constitution.