INTERVIEW: Frank Hsieh explains his ‘constitutional consensus’ proposal

Former premier Frank Hsieh caused a stir with his proposal to use a ‘constitutional consensus’ as the new basis for cross-strait dialogue. In an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporters Huang Tai-lin and Vincent Y. Chao on Tuesday, Hsieh went into greater detail on his idea. This is the second part of the interview

Huang Tai-lin and Vincent Y. Chao  / 

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 - Page 3

Taipei Times: As a member of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Central Standing Committee, how has your proposal been received by members of your party?

Frank Hsieh (謝長廷): Although I have not officially raised my ideas within the party, I think those are the issues the DPP should consider as it works towards creating its “10 year political platform.” I did not specifically design those policies for the DPP, but for Taiwan as a whole and as a way to protect Taiwan in its entirety.

Some critics say they cannot accept this, that they want full independence for Taiwan. However, how long will this take? We need three-fourths approval from the legislature to make any drastic changes [to the Constitution]. Will this be possible for the [DPP] in four years? In five?

In the meantime, what can we do during this period? Taiwan needs to first unite, instead of being more fragmented. If we continue to see a growing blue-green divide, what we are going to see in future is a growing role for Beijing, or even domination by it.

What Taiwan needs right now is to see all Taiwanese united. We need to talk [as one] with Beijing. We have to ask ourselves why we have allowed the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] to serve as Taiwan’s voice with Beijing. It’s because we are so fragmented internally.

TT: When people compare the DPP’s Normal Country Resolution [passed in 2007] with your ideas, they see discrepancy between the two. As the resolution clearly terms the current constitutional system as abnormal, isn’t your proposal — bringing up again the Republic of China [ROC] Constitution — a contradiction [to the resolution]?

Hsieh: I don’t think they contradict one another. All the parts that aren’t “normal,” as labeled by the resolution, are the parts that are not overlapping as part of the consensus. But we can’t just question the validity of the entire Constitution, just because of parts that we don’t find “normal.”

Take the DPP for example. I, in fact, find it is absolutely not normal that no DPP politician can look me in the face and tell me whether they recognize our Constitution. What we should be doing is accepting the Constitution and working to revise the parts that we don’t agree with.

The Constitution is by definition a formation of its articles. Look at Japan or countries in Europe; many people don’t agree with some articles in their Constitutions, that’s why they work to revise them. This is how it works.

On the flip side of this argument, are we ready to say that Taiwan doesn’t have a Constitution? If this is the case, DPP politicians would be scamming the people when they go to take the oath for president or for lawmaker. This isn’t the case.

We should be accepting this Constitution. The ROC is Taiwan and Taiwan is the ROC. We are equals. Sure, this Constitution has remnants left over from the past that at present we have no way to fix, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work hard to fix them in future.

As to whether we can make these changes; I recommend the DPP first take a step back and try the Constitution out as it is. See if China can accept us using this as the basis. See if they can accept us as the ROC.

If it’s simply not acceptable, at least everybody will see this quite clearly. However, right now, if we don’t even try it out, the DPP will not have enough consensuses to go and change this anyway.

The way I see it, we must have at least 65 percent or 75 percent of the population united before Taiwan can be stabilized. The current 50-50 divide we see today is a situation where even one bullet can change everything. This reality is detrimental, where Taiwan cannot be stable.

I want to provide the base for Taiwan to be stable, a method that will give us the energy to replace the KMT and give Taiwan a method to correct injustices. Only then will we have the ability to make these necessary changes, otherwise what can we do now with the 50-50 split?

Everybody is afraid of losing their votes — look at the KMT in the past few weeks, afraid to provoke anger from public servants. Everybody is afraid of losing that critical 2 percent of the vote. This is where Taiwan is not normal and down this path Taiwan is only waiting for the day when Beijing takes over.

TT: Since your ideas involve the concept of a consensus with not just pan-green voters, but also with pan-blue ones, what has the response been like?

Hsieh: My strategy isn’t to gather the acceptance of KMT politicians like [Legislative Speaker] Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). What I instead hope to see is broad acceptance of it from the public. I want to break the gridlock between pro--independence advocates and supporters of the status quo.

Polls show that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the public support the “status quo.” Some say this can go as high as 60 percent or 70 percent. We have to think about how we are going to acquire their support.

So, you can see that what I’m trying to do is bring us out of this, to give us a wide range of support. Of course, there is going to be some criticism — I mean [KMT Legislator] Chiu Yi (邱毅) said my ideas were even more “pro--independence” than before — but if both sides are attacking me, it probably means that I have achieved some sort of middle ground.

And only with this middle ground, can we attempt to broaden our consensus.

TT: Do you feel you would be better equipped to handle your proposal if you were to assume some official role, possibly as -president, in future?

Hsieh: Well, I’m still looking at the situation right now. Ideally, I would want someone else to do this. So I’m hoping that somebody can bring this up as part of a comprehensive cross-strait policy, even President Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)].

TT: What happens if nobody comes out to raise this comprehensive cross-strait policy?

Hsieh: Under such a condition, perhaps we find something close. Of course anything is possible. I know [people] want to know if I will run for [the presidency] in future. I think all sorts of possibilities could happen. I believe politicians shouldn’t make an absolute denial on many things; I mean, [three] years ago I said that I would back out of politics. That [pledge] has troubled me since.

Nevertheless, my first priority is perhaps to see someone else take the helm of this policy. I do think anyone that aspires to be president should have some courage in this aspect; to convince the people that don’t agree with them to forge a greater consensus and bring Taiwan forward.

TT: While you desire to bring Taiwan forward, how will you respond to critics who, noting the increasing Taiwan identity (台灣意識), perceive your proposed “constitutional consensus” (憲法共識) as bringing Taiwan back to the China framework? Critics say what you are doing is once again enveloping Taiwan in the shell of the ROC.

Hsieh: I do believe that in the 21st century, Taiwan’s national identity has already been formed. After all, more than 75 percent of people identify themselves as Taiwanese.

However, it’s important to note that I don’t believe Taiwanese national identity should be used against Chinese nationalism. Instead, as I have said before, we should use our national identity to complete our sovereignty movement and walk toward greater international cooperation.

We also hope that Taiwan can influence China to open up more internationally instead of setting a course for conflict, for us to both bring benefits for humanity. Under these conditions, [groups] from both sides can carry on a normal relationship.

Taiwanese and Chinese have no shared hatred. We have a common history experience, which is, in fact, fighting against the KMT. How many Chinese people have died in order to remove the KMT from power [during the Chinese Civil War]. Many Taiwanese people also lost their lives to the KMT in Taiwan.

So when I say that 75 percent of the people identify themselves as Taiwanese, this isn’t in contradiction to the Constitution. However, it should be noted that if, in the meantime, we still aren’t able to [move the process along], I believe that gradually fewer young people will continue [to identify themselves as Taiwanese].

TT: Given that many people around the country can already accept the Constitution’s ideas on liberties, democracy, etc, don’t you think your “constitutional consensus” is redundant?

Hsieh: Based on what I have learned, there are two main points of contention for my proposal. One is that they misunderstand the overlapping consensus and think that I am applying it to Taiwan’s relationship with China. What I advocate is the “one Constitution, two interpretations” (憲法各表) idea for cross-strait ties, there is no overlapping involved. The overlapping consensus is for Taiwanese society.

Second, critics have said that my “constitutional consensus” is useless, that Beijing won’t accept it. [As I have said], it would instead be the problem if China could accept it. No, we aren’t looking for China to accept it. What we are looking for is something that walks a fine line between what China can and cannot accept.

I’m also not out to please the deep-green sympathizers. All I’m trying to do is to find the greatest consensus that everyone in Taiwan can live by. With this in the future, we can talk with Beijing as one [Taiwan], instead of relying on the KMT to speak for us.

TT: Would you call the criticism a misunderstanding of your intentions [for Taiwanese independence]?

Hsieh: The misunderstanding is that the Constitution refers to “one China” and that Beijing will see this acceptance of the ROC Constitution as acceptance of this principle. We have to put this all in perspective. The “one Constitution, two interpretations” idea will be an improvement over the “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” (一中各表).

We can’t not forge a compromise and rule out finding middle ground, just because we can’t immediately [realize our aims] 100 percent.

This criticism doesn’t really bother me; I had already expected most of it.

TT: Does all of this fall in part of the gray areas idea that you were advocating earlier?

Hsieh: The entire Constitution has many gray areas; it’s not just me who believes in the gray areas. In part, this is also why there are so many complexities in the cross-strait relationship.

We are clear on our part that we are a separate sovereign nation. But there are questions over this internationally; there are even concerns on whether the ROC is a legitimate government. All of this is complex, which is why we can choose to avoid dealing with some of these matters.

[Both sides] should keep some imagination, we can say what we want and they can say what they want. The thing that we cannot forget is our sovereignty and our country’s integrity.

TT: Could China not also have its own plans, first attacking Taiwanese independence, and then dealing with the ROC through its “Anti-Secession” Law?

Hsieh: This is why I have said before that while [Taiwanese independence advocates] are their No. 1 enemy, status quo supporters are right behind them, at No. 2. This is also the reason why I have advocated that these two factions join together, to fight against China.

Both of these factions are already public enemy No. 1 and public enemy No. 2. But here we are, still having disagreements between the two, even now. There is no reason for the supporters of the “status quo” to be happy, either way; they are next.

Between the two, I really don’t see [where the large disagreement is]. The only difference is really just on what we are called, if we have already accepted that this is our country and that the 23 million people who live here in Taiwan are our citizens. Even while there might be objections to changing our name, these issues are ones that can be discussed and figured out.

As a result, the very least that should happen is that both of these factions should work together to defend against unification efforts with China. However, we are still fighting about these [resolvable issues] even while the [tide is turning] against us. Soon, even young people will change their opinions.

When the DPP governed [between 2000 and 2008], we did many things to increase recognition [of our country]. For instance, we instituted education revisions and promoted Taiwanese awareness. All of this is gone now and I believe in another 10, 20 years, our current public opinion [in favor of Taiwan] will change. I’m very concerned about this.

TT: Have you ever thought about expressing your ideas in the form of a new political movement, for example, in another political party, if your proposal is unable to gain traction within the DPP.

Hsieh: I think that I still have some more space [to express these proposals] within the DPP. If I came out to form my own party, I’m sure that many people would join and that it would have a certain amount of influence, but I don’t think that this is in the Taiwan’s long-term interest.

What I need to do is find the overlapping consensus, even within the DPP. It’s not like every member shares the same opinion.

This is the final part of the interview. Part one was published in Sunday’s edition.