The Presidential Office last week quickly corrected an “error” made after a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and US Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. The “error” came in a post-衫eeting press release that quoted Ma as referring to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as “nations.” It was later changed to “two areas” on the Presidential Office Web site.
The following day, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) told reporters that Ma would never make such a “mistake” and reaffirmed the administration’s adherence to the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, which, when taken literally — as Wang did — signifies that China is an “area” of the ROC. Wang also underscored that Taipei does not recognize the sovereignty of the Chinese Communist Party.
The use of “areas” to describe Taiwan and China, he said, reflected the longstanding “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait and was followed by the administrations of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
This last characterization, however, masks a far more complex shift in Taiwan that began in 1991 with what authors Bruce Jacobs and I-hao Ben Liu describe in their paper Lee Teng-hui and the Idea of Taiwan as the recognition by the ROC on Taiwan “that it did not control the Chinese mainland.” In other words, Lee sought to fix Taiwan as the limit of the ROC’s jurisdiction. This would lead to six constitutional amendments under Lee, changes to the final clause of the first phase of the National Unification Guidelines (國家統一綱領) and the termination of the Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of National Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員勘亂時期臨時條款).
This culminated with the announcement by Lee during an interview in July 1999 that cross-strait relations are “special state-to-state relations.”
In the following days, various polls showed strong public support for Lee’s statement, with a survey by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Institute on Policy Research and Development showing 60.9 percent of respondents agreeing (32.3 percent agreeing very much) against 26.6 percent who disagreed.
This statement was made amid efforts by Lee’s administration, with the participation of academics and officials from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — including future DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) — to flesh out what came to be known as the Two-State Theory. Chen later picked up the momentum of this with references to “one country on each side.”
Analysts see Wang’s papering over the orthodoxy reversal that occurred under Lee and Chen as an attempt by the Ma administration to turn back the clock.
“This throws Taiwan back to the pre-1991 period, when the KMT still considered itself the legitimate ruler of all China. Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian gradually brought Taiwan into the present reality, but the statements from the Ma administration represent a return to the fiction of the old ROC,” Gerrit van der Wees, editor of Taiwan Communique, told the Taipei Times.
John Tkacik, a retired US foreign service officer, lamented that “Ma seems to be leading Taiwanese into a fight with China about which side is the ‘real China,’” a fight that Taiwan “is sure to lose.”
“Presidents Lee and Chen wanted to keep Taiwan out of that fight for the same reason — they, too, knew that Taiwan was sure to lose,” he said via e-mail.