Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Give the gift of a new constitution

Today is Constitution Day, which celebrates the promulgation of the ROC Constitution (行憲紀念日). The Constitution is full of fine-sounding rhetoric, but what ensued was a civil war with the communists and relocation to Taiwan in 1949. The Constitution was set aside and replaced by the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款). This Constitution was enacted in China, and catered to a land with a massive population and vast territory -- unsuitable for the areas and people under the jurisdiction of Taiwan. It has been amended six times since 1990.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has pledged not to declare independence, change the national flag or title, constitutionalize the special state-to-state policy or hold a referendum on unification or independence to change the status quo. He will not change the symbols of the nation; instead he will only change the government system into a presidential or semi-presidential one, and a five-branch government into a three-branch system, and include the modern human rights spirit in the constitution. The question of de jure independence does not arise, and the status quo will not be changed. This will not overstep the US' red line and China should have nothing to say either.

Outsiders may find it difficult to distinguish between the "constitutional amendment" advocated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the "rectification of the name of Taiwan and a new constitution" proposed by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU).

In fact, the DPP seeks to amend the constitution whilst retaining the name of the country, whereas the TSU wants a new constitution for the country, with Taiwan as its new official name. President Chen and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) made clear their relative positions on these issues during the election campaign. The ideas advocated by the ruling DPP and the non-governing TSU parties have very clear differences between them.

At the very same time, the Chinese are discussing the creation of an anti-secession law (反分裂法), and earmarking the year 2020 for the unification of China and Taiwan, with the possibility of military force being used to this end. The biggest landmine in the Taiwan Strait is making a law which could provide the basis for military action in the future.

Hardline pro-Taiwan groups could advocate an "anti-annexation law" (反併吞法) as a countermeasure, and cross-strait relations would go from bad to worse, tensions could escalate to a point of no return, and there may then be no question of maintaining the status quo. According to a poll conducted by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), over 80 percent of Taiwan's people oppose the idea of an "anti-secession law." China wants to prevent Taiwan's secession by making a new law, but this may be counter-productive and generate another wave of pro-independence feeling in Taiwan.

Nations need to make amendments to their constitution and related laws so that they reflect the current reality. Even the People's Republic of China (PRC) has undertaken four rounds of constitutional amendments since 1988, a clear indication that they accept that adjustments to the constitution are necessary in response to national and governmental changes. This is part of a healthy process of development within a constitutional government, and the world need not look askance at Taiwan's moves to amend its Constitution.

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