President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday announced that the National Unification Council will "cease to function" and Guidelines for National Unification will "cease to apply," bringing an end to weeks of speculation and debate on the fate of the largely symbolic body.
Chen said his decision was based on the principle of popular sovereignty, and was prompted by China's ongoing military buildup and attempts to use "non-peaceful" means to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
If all goes well, Chen said, he would approve the recommendation of the National Security Council (NSC) today.
As expected, the president stopped short of using stronger language about "abolishing" the council and guidelines. But it was not clear yesterday what, if any, substantive difference was intended by the carefully chosen wording.
When questioned by reporters, government officials could offer little explanation, saying only that the words Chen used were translations of legal terms from English.
Chen made the announcement after chairing a NSC meeting. He had instructed the council to come up with a report by today on the political and legal repercussions of his proposal to do away with the unification council and guidelines.
The National Security Council proposed that the unification council should cease to function and that a budget should no longer be earmarked for it. The unification guidelines should cease to apply and the Executive Yuan will be instructed to act according to this decision, the council proposed.
Chen said that his decision did not change the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait, but instead returned sovereignty to the people of Taiwan.
"We do not intend to change the status quo, and strongly oppose the use of any non-peaceful means to unilaterally change the status quo," Chen said.
Any assumption about the country's future -- such as the council and guidelines' premise of eventual unification with China -- would deprive Taiwanese of their freedom of choice, he said.
"We do not rule out any form of future development in cross-strait relations as long as the decision is made via democratic means and by the free will of the 23 million people of Taiwan," he said.
Chen expressed gratitude to US President George W. Bush for publicly lauding Taiwan's democracy and prosperity in his speech in Kyoto, Japan, last year. Chen also expressed appreciation to the US government for saying it wished to continue cooperating with Taiwan on issues of mutual interest.
With some concerned about whether future constitutional reform would further breach the pledges he made in his first inauguration address, Chen yesterday said that any reforms must be made from the bottom up, from the outside in and from civil society, not the government.
"Constitutional reform must obtain the consent of three-fourths of the legislature and ratification of the people," he said. "Any issue of constitutional reform that strays from due constitutional proceedings is not conducive to maintaining the status quo and should be disregarded."
Chen called on Beijing to engage in direct dialogue with his administration to facilitate sound cross-strait development.
Chen also asserted the administration's resolve to enhance the nation's defenses.
NSC Secretary-General Chiou I-ren (