Thu, Mar 17, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Referendum on unification needed

By Edward I. Chen 陳以德

A vast majority of Taiwanese want to decide the future of their homeland for themselves. If Taiwan were someday to be unified with China, it should only be a result of the people’s choice. Conversely, if it were to become independent, that, too, should be the result of the people’s choice.

Yet, under the so-called “1992 consensus” concocted by Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, the right of Taiwanese to self-determination is in danger of being eradicated.

Under the scheme, the KMT has agreed to accept Beijing’s version of “one China,” which includes Taiwan. In return, Beijing has allowed President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government to claim that Taiwan belongs to the Republic of China (ROC).

Ma is well aware, however, that the ROC and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) cannot co-exist. Soon, he would have to negotiate with Beijing the demise of the ROC and the transfer of control over Taiwan. In other words, Beijing and the Ma government want to decide the future of Taiwan between themselves regardless of what Taiwanese want.

It is time that Taiwanese take back the government from the China-leaning KMT and regain the right to determine their own future. Here is my suggestion: The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should consider making a pledge to the 23 million people of Taiwan that if it is returned to power, it would implement at the earliest appropriate time a referendum to support or reject Taiwan’s unification with the PRC.

Such a referendum would galvanize people into a large anti-unification group and a much smaller pro-unification group (rather than green and blue or ethnic Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders).

The KMT would probably oppose the referendum and may call for a boycott as it did during the DPP administration under president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2007. This time, however, a boycott would likely fail because many Taiwanese who have supported the KMT would nevertheless want to have a chance to reject calls for unification.

If the KMT insists on boycotting the referendum, it runs the risk of being labeled collaborators with the Chinese Communist Party, and its leader as the 21st-century Wu Sangui (吳三桂).

China is also likely to oppose the referendum and may even threaten to use force to stop it, but China would then be unable to defend its claim of a peaceful rise. Taiwanese only want to express their wishes in a peaceful manner. How can Beijing expect the world to believe that its rise is peaceful when it cannot even accept the peaceful exercise of the right of Taiwanese to choose their future?

More than 115 years ago, China ceded Taiwan to Japan “in perpetuity,” an act that triggered the long separation of Taiwan from China. It is China’s moral imperative to seek the consent of Taiwanese on whether they are willing to return to their erstwhile “motherland.” The threat of using force would only stiffen people’s resolve to resist unification.

In the meantime, the DPP should assure Beijing that the rejection of unification would not automatically make Taiwan an independent state. It would only bring cross-strait relations back to the days of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen — that is, China and Taiwan are two separate entities

The DPP should challenge China to a peaceful competition to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese by means of trade, tourism, and educational and cultural exchange programs. It should make it clear that a DPP government would not be averse to a second referendum at an appropriate future time to gauge public sentiment on the issue of unification. Beijing still has a lot to prove that it cares about the welfare of Taiwanese.

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