Former premier Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) suggestion on Jan. 11 of replacing “one China, two interpretations” with “two interpretations of the Constitution” has caused much debate, mostly hysterical and rarely considered. A former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman and presidential candidate, Hsieh is an experienced politician, so why did he risk angering his supporters with such a contentious suggestion? I found the answer in comments he made at a seminar on Dec. 26.
Hsieh was seeking to clarify the DPP’s stance, believing that in the past, the party’s ideals and plans to implement them were unclear. He said he has consistently held that Taiwan should be an inclusive welfare state and not simply a Taiwanese state. However, with the rise of pro-China elements, the country faces the risk of losing its autonomy and in the short term the priority is therefore to preserve this autonomy. This is why he suggested pro-independence factions unite with pro-Republic of China (ROC) factions against pro-unification elements.
Ideals are one thing, but one must also be pragmatic.
Hsieh borrowed the concept of -overlapping consensus from the late US philosopher John Rawls to bridge the divide between the pan-blue and pan-green camps and reduce conflict between the countries on either side of the Taiwan Strait. How? Domestically with the ROC Constitution (appealing to the pro-ROC factions), and with China by replacing the idea of “one China, two interpretations” with “two interpretations of the Constitution.”
Hsieh said he recognizes the ROC Constitution, but rejects the “one China” principle. It is unfair of his critics to bring up the “constitutional one China” idea — with its implicit acceptance of “one China” — that he has spoken of before.
The ROC Constitution is no longer that of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), having been amended six times by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and once by Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). These amendments, collectively known as the Additional Articles (增修條文), ended the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款) and gave “electors of the free area of the Republic of China” — consisting of Taiwan proper, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu — the right to vote on constitutional amendments.
It is only when one understands this constitutional revolution that one can fully grasp the special state-to-state principle proposed by Lee in 1999.
The DPP’s platform underwent several changes during the 1990s. The original and dominant position was that Taiwan was already an independent nation. Then, in 1999, the Resolution on Taiwan’s Future addressed issues in the party’s Taiwan Independence Platform of 1991, bringing it into line with all factions, and making it the largest common denominator uniting them.
The party believed Taiwan had already become a democratic country, after the Additional Articles enabled direct presidential elections and the election of the entire legislature. The Additional Articles, then, were integral to Taiwan’s status as a democracy. This being the case, it automatically implies the existence of at least two Chinas — the “free area” and the “mainland area” — simply by invoking the ROC Constitution.
At the moment, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) propaganda about the ROC centenary is everywhere you look. If the pan-greens wanted to pull down the ROC, they could simply invoke historical fact, such as the Xinhai Revolution, the role of General Yuan Shikai (袁世凱), or the claims that it was a state consisting exclusively of Han Chinese. Or they could point to the many evils perpetuated by the ROC government on Taiwan, such as the 228 Incident or the White Terror era.