Tue, May 22, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Seductive illusion of sovereignty

By Thomas Huang 黃維幸

The “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” proposal is the latest development in a cross-strait discourse that remains nostalgic for de jure sovereignty. It was first broached by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄) and later affirmed by KMT Vice Chairman John Chiang (蔣孝嚴). The term is said to be based on the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, which makes reference to the “free area” and the “Mainland area,” and is supposed to be a magic formula for guaranteeing Taiwanese sovereignty and promoting cross-strait development.

The way I see it, it is yet another futile example of wordplay that fails to cast off the self-imposed restrictions of the sovereignty illusion, following in the tradition of other word games such as “two Chinas (兩個中國),” “one country, two governments (一國兩府),” “one country, two regimes (一個國家, 兩個政權),” “one sovereign state, two governing powers (一個主權, 兩個治權),” the “1992 consensus, or one China, with each side having its own interpretation (九 二共識, 一中各表),” “one China, common formulation (一中共表),” and “a constitutional one China (憲法一中).”

The cross-strait relationship is a relationship based on power. Its definition and development are determined by the interaction of and stimulation by various forces; it is not produced by constitutional inference, nor can it be consolidated through constitutional definition. If the relationship is not understood in these terms, it is but an article of faith or a preconceived idea just as devoid of logic as the practice during the Middle Ages when legal relationships were extended to include rats (that’s right, rats) so that courts would be able to put rats on trial.

Politicians should abide by the Constitution, but abiding by the Constitution does not mean that the spirit of the Constitution can be expanded ad absurdum, or distorted to the point that it overrides the public will. So long as there is peace in the Taiwan Strait, cross-strait exchanges continue normally and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is able to engage in dialogue with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), most people will not be bothered with the meaning of some “one country, two areas” proposal or politicians squabbling. Nonetheless, I would never dare say that most people agree that Taiwan is one area under the sovereignty of one China, nor would I assume that the illusory dreams of one politician could be forced on the vision of others.

Even if analyzed from a strictly legal perspective, not every statement in the Constitution is a guarantee for proper legal application. Legal interpretations focus on being appropriate in a contemporary context. Furthermore, one must not think that the law can create new possibilities, and that the Constitution does not have unlimited binding extraterritorial force. Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party will never voluntarily agree to being demoted to the “People’s Republic Area of China” just because that’s what the ROC Constitution says.

The root of the problem lies in starting out by restricting oneself with the abstract concept of “sovereignty” and believing that the “one country, two areas” proposal is a magic cure for reality, when in fact it is the opposite. Let’s use the relationship between Taiwan and the US as an example. The two maintain a wide range of political, economic and cultural relations, with some people even calling Taiwan “the US’ running dog.” However, the US has not formally recognized Taiwan as a sovereign and independent country by extending diplomatic recognition. Furthermore, the US-Taiwan relationship is not a relationship between two countries or a central and a local government, nor is it a federal, confederational or suzerainty — and of course it isn’t a “one country, two areas” relationship. The two sides of the Strait might develop a similar, or maybe even more advanced, relationship, but the abstract “one country, two areas” concept isn’t necessary for the development of such a relationship.

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