If relations across the Taiwan Strait are to be kept on an even keel, they need to be based on the broadest possible consensus within Taiwan, and between Taiwan, China and the US.
Over the years, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has used cross-strait relations to win the support of swing voters. However, if the DPP wants to win national legislative and presidential elections, it has to make solid proposals on how it would handle cross-strait relations.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) holds up the so-called “1992 consensus” as common ground between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but the existence of the consensus is a bone of contention between the KMT and the DPP. It has been denied by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was Taiwan’s president in 1992, the late Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), who, as chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, was the man in charge of cross-strait negotiations at that time, and by the DPP, so it cannot reasonably be considered a consensus among people in Taiwan.
While denying the existence of the consensus, the DPP has not come up with an alternative. A potential breakthrough emerged on Jan. 10, when former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) put forward the notions of a “constitutional consensus” and “each side having its interpretation of the Constitution.”
The “constitutional consensus” presents a domestic aspect to cross-strait relations. Taiwanese may have different opinions about Articles 4 and 5 of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, which are about the nation’s territory and population, but when it comes to those articles of the Constitution that protect democracy and freedom and define the system of government, a consensus does exist.
Hsieh’s “constitutional consensus” is about seeking common ground while agreeing to disagree on other aspects. The reality is that the DPP has participated in many elections under this constitutional framework, meaning it accepts the Constitution in practice.
The second part of Hsieh’s proposal, about “each side having its interpretation of the Constitution,” refers to the two sides of the Strait. Taiwan has the ROC Constitution, and the other side has the People’s Republic of China Constitution. The fact that Taiwan has its own Constitution indicates it is a sovereign nation. The ROC Constitution was established in Nanjing in 1946 and has been revised seven times in Taiwan.
Each constitutional -amendment started with the phrase “to meet the requisites of the nation prior to national unification,” and these amended articles also refer to “the free area” and “the mainland area,” leaving room for future developments in cross-strait relations.
The supreme legal authority of the ROC Constitution and its articles about democracy protect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future. There is more than one way of doing that, but the thresholds are set very high. Any motion to change to the Constitution has to be signed by a quarter of all legislators. A vote on such a motion requires a quorum of three-quarters of all legislators, and three-quarters of those in attendance have to vote in favor of the motion for it to pass. If a proposed amendment is put to a referendum, at least half of all eligible voters have to vote for the proposal for it to pass.