Cross-strait ties should value people over politics

By Yen Chueh-an 顏厥安  / 

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 8

Whether one calls it state-to-state relations, the so-called “1992 consensus” or “one China, two areas,” the concepts of cross-strait relations proffered by the nation’s political parties are restricted by the classical theory of sovereignty on the one hand, and by strategic ambiguity on the other, as they seek to avoid pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In a series of articles on topics ranging from cross-strait unification to cross-strait linkages, the Chinese-language United Daily News has proposed new interpretations of the “one China” concept.

This is a creative approach that has rarely been seen before.

However, this discourse, which is a development of “roof discourse,” remains dependent on the concepts of sovereignty and nation, while saying too little about another important factor: the real people that live under this imaginary roof.

The Declaration of Free Men recently proposed by Taiwan Democracy Watch advocates the reconstruction of the cross-strait relationship based on the UN’s Human Rights Charter.

The hope is that it will be possible to build friendly ties between the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait based on human rights.

This is based on some fundamental concepts.

First, although the priority is cross-strait relations, the “people” cannot be simply described as “Chinese” — it concerns all East Asian people.

Second, what people need most of all is not a “roof” of sovereignty, nation or culture, but real human rights.

The sovereignty mentioned in the Declaration of Free Men is not the classical kind of sovereignty that focuses on the power of a ruler, but a popular sovereignty that gives precedence to the protection of human rights.

In a one-party dictatorship, there are limited human rights and there is no popular sovereignty.

Finally, we believe that only through the realization of East Asian democracy and cooperation between civic societies can there be true peace in East Asia and across the Taiwan Strait.

Traditional sovereignty theory is dominated by violence. It monopolizes and it excludes.

This is precisely why cross-strait relations have always been mired in ambiguity and lies. This is where the “roof linkage” concept has made a breakthrough.

The declaration further advocates a concept of “human rights linkage.” Human rights are a common good without any need for monopolization or exclusion.

If I enjoy human rights, that should not obstruct the human rights of others.

The history of human civilization reveals that political integration that has been forcibly initiated by military or economic means often ends in disaster.

However, the experiences of the US and the EU show that a consensus based on the UN’s Human Rights Charter can lead to guarantees of liberal democracy, justice and fairness.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela said: “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”

We believe that cross-strait relations must show mutual concern for the freedom and human rights of people on both sides of the Strait. This is the only way for a friendly relationship to take root at the civic society level, which in turn is the only way for cross-strait empathy to grow and mature.

It is also only when constitutionalism and popular sovereignty have been properly implemented on both sides of the Strait, so that human rights are guaranteed, that we can seize the historic opportunity to link the two sides together.

Yen Chueh-an is a professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Law and a supervisor of Taiwan Democracy Watch.

Translated by Perry Svensson