Editorial: It's time to retire an outdated relic

Fri, Feb 23, 2001 - Page 12

Ten years ago today, Taiwan promulgated the Guidelines for National Unification (國統綱領). Now, many people -- almost all in the opposition -- are harping on a document long consigned to history, hoping to create an atmosphere conducive to Taiwan's surrender and, consequently, the unification of China.

But such hype runs counter to public opinion and overlooks the changes that have occurred on both sides of the Taiwan Strait over the past 10 years. The guidelines may satisfy some people's nostalgia for China, but they are not necessarily good for the welfare of the people of Taiwan.

A decade ago, then-president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) convened the National Unification Council (NUC, 國統會) and, in the face of a boycott from the DPP -- the largest opposition party -- drew up the guidelines on the basis of discussions between KMT representatives and a few independents. From their very inception, the guidelines -- supposed to be a blueprint for Taiwan's cross-strait policy -- have had problems with their legitimacy and representativeness. They have no legal force nor a political mandate generated by partisan negotiations.

Beijing has never paid any attention to them. China's stance has always been a hardline "one China" principle -- a demand of unconditional surrender from Taiwan. Beijing's attitude was reflected in its rejection of "one China, with each side making its own interpretation" (一中各表) -- an agreement to disagree on sovereignty -- during the 1992 Koo-Wang talks (辜汪會談).

Beijing also showed its contempt for the guidelines in 1996 by lobbing missiles into the sea near Taiwan's coast shortly before Taiwan's first ever direct presidential election, and then again last year with its belligerent rhetoric in the run-up to the presidential elections. Perhaps back-room dealing is the only explanation for why the KMT, the People First Party and the New Party are suddenly discovering renewed value in a document that has been so thoroughly snubbed by Beijing -- and want to turn it into a law.

In trying to resuscitate the guidelines, the opposition parties are completely overlooking the changes across the Strait and in the international arena over the past decade. Lee effectively abandoned the guidelines when he put forth his "special state-to-state" dictum in 1999. What's more, KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) have both proposed a cross-strait confederation before. The change in Beijing's tone over this period is also apparent in rhetoric such as "Peaceful unification; one-country, two systems" and, more recently, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen's (錢其琛) statement that "Both sides of the Strait belong to `one China.'"

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) also proposed "integration" in his New Year's Eve speech, mapping out a process of integration from cultural and economic to political arenas. The US has tried to promote "interim agreements" and the confederation idea through "second track" channels. All these indicate that Taiwan, China and the US have gone through political changes far beyond the grasp of the guidelines.

All told, the guidelines are outdated and lack democratic legitimacy. But the opposition alliance has foolishly tried to hang on to the desiccated skeleton.

In a bid to stabilize domestic politics, Chen promised in his inauguration speech not to abolish the NUC nor the unification guidelines. But he certainly does not need to make a comforter out of a political strategy proven to be useless. Now that both the confederation proposal and Chen's "integration" dictum have received generally positive responses, why can't we look ahead and create a new consensus on cross-strait relations? Perhaps the smartest thing to do at this point would be to send the guidelines to a museum for exhibition as another ancient relic.