The questions of whether the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will adjust the party’s Taiwan Independence Clause and whether it will pass something like a “resolution on the Republic of China (ROC)” have implications not only on whether the DPP can regain power, but also for how the party governs in the future. It will also affect how cross-strait relations develop.
In 1991, before Taiwan had completed its democratic reform, the DPP passed the Taiwan Independence Clause, denying the legitimacy of the ROC and the system it stood for. Nevertheless, democratization fundamentally altered the nature of the ROC, equated it with Taiwan and made Taiwan a de facto sovereign and independent country. As the DPP participated in amending the ROC Constitution and the democratic elections of the time, it could no longer deny the legitimacy of the ROC Constitution nor the system it prescribes.
In 1995, then-DPP chairman Shih Ming-te (施明德) declared that Taiwan was already a sovereign and independent country, anticipating that should the DPP gain power, it would not have to, and would not, declare Taiwanese independence. Since then, the DPP has fought its election campaigns on the platform of maintaining the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. This was by-and-large met with the approval of the electorate, although many remained suspicious that the Taiwan Independence Clause would mean there would be a referendum that would change this status quo.
For this reason, in 1999, the party passed the Resolution on Taiwan’s Future, reiterating its belief that Taiwan was already a democratic, independent country. This won the support of swing voters, as it confirmed that, according to the ROC Constitution, Taiwan’s national title was the “ROC.”
After passing the resolution, the DPP adopted a policy of maintaining de facto sovereignty and independence for Taiwan. At the same time, however, it did not abandon the idea of de jure independence, and this caused consternation in China and the US.
During his inauguration in 2000, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) promoted his “four noes and one not” policy in an attempt to maintain cross-strait peace. However, the “peace referendum” Chen promoted in 2003 and the campaigns for name-change and a new constitution that he promoted in 2007, once again drew strong opposition from China and criticism from the US that Taiwan was trying to change the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait. With this, Beijing’s and the US’ faith in the DPP’s policies on the “status quo” plummeted.
The close trade exchanges between Taiwan and China have also given China more leverage when it comes to influencing Taiwanese elections. According to an opinion poll conducted in February last year, 5.75 percent of respondents cited cross-strait relations and 4.25 percent cited cross-strait economic factors as reasons behind their decision to support the reelection of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Furthermore, 2.8 percent of respondents said that they voted for former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), but that they were worried that cross-strait relations would be affected if Tsai were elected and that this would have an impact on Taiwan’s economy.
It is therefore likely that these people will be reluctant to vote for the DPP again. In the future, the number of Taiwanese who base their votes on cross-strait economic issues will only increase, as will their importance to the DPP in future elections.
The Taiwan Independence Clause is the main reason the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cannot engage in dialogue or exchanges of other kinds. It gives rise to concerns that there will be a change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Furthermore, it has sometimes led to other countries mistakenly assuming that Taiwan is not a sovereign and independent country, and intensified the struggles between pro-unification and anti-unification camps in Taiwan.
Only about 5 percent of the population supports immediate independence. During his eight years in office, Chen himself said that he would be unable to change Taiwan’s national title. If the Taiwan Independence Clause makes the DPP incapable of gaining a stable majority of voters in the future, or more than 60 percent of the vote, even if the DPP regains power, it will likely face the problems caused by internal strife arising from having a small ruling party with a much larger opposition party, as well as continued cross-strait standoffs.
The DPP should not only amend the Taiwan Independence Clause, it should also forge a Taiwan consensus and promote a resolution on the ROC, the main thrust of which should be “Taiwan is the ROC and the ROC is Taiwan.”
Since 2007, these are things that have gradually become a consensus between the ruling and opposition parties. They are capable of finding common ground on these. The ROC Constitution and the system it prescribes recognize the existence of Taiwan, but also include the obscure concept of there being one China. There is a chance that a cross-strait consensus can be found that will satisfy the majority of Taiwanese and which the US will accept and China will find tolerable.
The Resolution on Taiwan’s Future that the DPP passed in 1999 emphasized Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty and independence and accepted the ROC as the official name for Taiwan to attract swing voters. What the DPP should do now is pass a resolution on the ROC, embrace the system that it entails and use this as a way of merging mainstream opinion in Taiwan together and forging a consensus between the ruling and opposition parties.
Democracy should be used to protect Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty and independence, while the obscure concept that only one China exists as stipulated in the ROC Constitution can be leveraged to keep things the same, while not pushing for de jure Taiwanese independence. This would gain the support of the US and would be tolerated by China, and make it possible to establish a stable framework for the development of cross-strait peace.
Tung Chen-yuan is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron