Walking into referendum trap
In the debate over the wording and conditions of the planned referendum on Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower) Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮), little time has been given to analyzing why the Executive Yuan suddenly decided it would put the matter to a public vote.
This debate, and the vote on nuclear power, is a distraction from the true purpose of pushing for a referendum.
Construction on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant began in 1999 and was temporarily halted in 2000, before being resumed a year later.
In May 2000, legislators across party lines urged the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-controlled Legislative Yuan to pass a referendum act to allow the public to decide the matter.
The New Party and KMT both opposed passing the act because national referendums symbolized Taiwan’s independence — since voters from China would not be allowed to participate — and because it was feared the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would use a referendum to put the question of unification with China to a direct vote.
In 2003, a heavily watered down Referendum Act (公民投票法) was passed that not only excluded issues of sovereignty, territory and a new constitution from being voted on, but also set in place the “Double-50” clause that requires more than 50 percent of the electorate to participate for a referendum to be valid, and more than 50 percent of those having to vote in favor of a proposal in order for it to be approved.
The KMT had again gracefully “compromised” in a way that secured all its own important objectives whilst allowing the opposition limited symbolic achievements of its own.
Almost every national referendum since has failed and the Referendum Review Committee has been an obedient guard dog for the KMT to prevent votes on important issues, such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).
Why then now call for a referendum on nuclear power?
First, since the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project is almost complete, most of the construction contracts have been handed out and the budget already spent.
For the KMT, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant was a way to distribute funds through patronage networks to ensure political support.
That has been achieved. The close relationship between the KMT and Taipower can be seen in the fact that Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) is a former Taipower executive, and the head of the Taipower workers’ union is a member of the KMT’s Central Standing Committee.
Whether the plant goes into operation or whether it meets the nation’s energy requirements is academic.
It may then be the KMT’s strategy to use this referendum as a practice run.
In 2011, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised a referendum before signing any peace agreement with China.
That promise is an important component, alongside the ECFA, of Ma’s attempts to build the appearance of a public mandate to accelerate unification with China.
The nuclear referendum may be a ploy to gauge the strength of opposition and to determine the best way to frame and present a peace deal referendum.
Whilst the DPP and anti-nuclear groups are right to oppose the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and to call for amendments to the Referendum Act, they should also be wary of the government’s ulterior motives, lest they make themselves useful tools for an administration seeking to beguile Taiwanese into believing that they voted for unification.
Cairo claims lack substance
I read with fascination the last paragraph of a Taipei Times article on centenarian Flying Tiger Lee Hsueh-yan (李學炎), (“Ex-Flying Tiger turns 102,” March 5, page 3), which reads: “The Cairo Declaration [...] is the basis for the ROC government’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan.”
Indeed, for the past 60 years, the Cairo Declaration has been cited by the ROC government to justify its presence in Taiwan.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) also cites the Cairo Declaration to augment its claim that Taiwan is part of China.
The Cairo Declaration is held at the US National Archives just outside Washington.
Several years ago I received a letter from the assistant archivist for records services at the US National Archives, who wrote: “The National Archives and Records Administration has not filed this declaration under treaties. […] The declaration was a communique and it does not have [a] treaty series (TS) or executive agreement series (EAS) number.”
Clearly, the ROC and PRC sovereignty claims over Taiwan have feet of clay.
The 1943 Cairo Declaration that wrapped up a meeting between Winston Churchill, FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was merely a declaration of intention about the world’s affairs among the three leaders.
Although important at the time, it does not have any legally binding power almost 65 years later, allowing neither the KMT nor the PRC to derive territorial claims from it.