EDITORIAL: Taiwan does need new constitution

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 - Page 8

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) caused a stir the other day by saying something that to many people is blindingly obvious — Taiwan needs a new constitution.

What was of particular note about this news was not that Lee called for the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution to be scrapped, but that so few other politicians or former national leaders voiced support for his proposal.

Not even former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was able to successfully challenge the vaunted piece of fantasy that is the ROC Constitution.

It is beyond comprehension that the 19th-biggest economy in the world lives under a Constitution that nobody, not even the people who enforce it — with the possible exception of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — believes to be a legitimate representation of reality.

The ROC Constitution, which was adopted by the National Assembly on Dec. 25, 1946, and went into effect one year later, was originally intended to apply to all of China. Today it is de facto law for only Taiwan and a few small islands, but continues to claim sovereignty over all of China, Tibet and Mongolia, not to mention parts of Russia that not even the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims.

That Taiwan still uses this Constitution is the biggest roadblock to the nation ever becoming independent. The only countries that do recognize Taiwan’s independence are islands in the Pacific Ocean, a handful of countries in Africa and South American nations.

Why is it that only Lee, a retired statesman, is willing to call a spade a spade?

The ROC stands for the Republic of China, not Taiwan, and until politicians face this fact, Taiwanese will never be able to independently decide their own fate.

Taiwan being a democracy is irrelevant if the Constitution claims authority over China, Tibet and Mongolia — if a real representative referendum were held on Taiwan’s independence, how would the Chinese vote?

The main reason for not scrapping the Constitution is a practical one — avoiding war with China. The bottom line for the PRC is that the ROC never declares independence, and as long as Taiwan retains its current Constitution, it is doing just what China wants. However, Taiwan will never be an independent nation if this piece of legal fantasy remains in force.

If an elected government were to revoke the ROC Constitution or rewrite it in a way that defined Taiwan as an independent country, separate and equal to the PRC, the People’s Liberation Army would attack.

To turn Taiwan into an independent nation, it is an absolute prerequisite that the ROC Constitution be scrapped, but one that brings with it major risks.

The most likely scenario if this were to be done would be a war with China, and few politicians, not even those from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, are ready to face that challenge.

Until that is done, Taiwan will continue to be just part of China, as defined by the ROC Constitution.