When President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) last year said that he wanted the Taiwanese people to get accustomed to the democratic mechanism of a referendum, hordes of US think-tank figures fell over one another to condemn such "provocative" words. Just imagine: it might be used to change the "status quo!" Never mind that the present status quo derives from an anachronistic "one China" policy, itself the result of two Chinese regimes fighting a Civil War. Never mind also that a referendum is a widely-accepted mechanism for gauging people's views almost anywhere in the world. \nSuddenly, in the view of these think-tank pundits, it became "provocative" to even talk about it, let alone apply it to major issues which determine the nation's future. \nThe storm of commentaries then increased when Chen dared to suggest he would steer the country toward a new constitution. According to the think-tank folks, this meant destruction and disaster would befall the island. Never mind that the present Constitution of the "Republic of China" was drafted by China's National Assembly in Nanking on Dec. 25, 1946, and promulgated by Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) regime on Jan. 1, 1947. Some two-thirds of its articles are outdated. \nHere are some examples of how outdated it really is. The flag of the "Republic of China" is based on the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) flag, and was selected in China in the 1920s (Article 6). The territory of the "Republic of China" encompasses all of China, including "Outer Mongolia" and Tibet (Article 26). And the national anthem is a 1928 KMT song that has nothing to do with Taiwan. \nIt would therefore be practical and logical for the Taiwanese to devise a new constitution that meets the needs of the country today. \nBut the US Department of State and the White House have put their feet in concrete and their heads in the sand, telling Taiwan in no uncertain terms that there should be no new constitution, and certainly no changes to the Constitution which touch upon the issue of sovereignty. Only changes which would enhance governance would be acceptable. \nTo any reasonable person, such a position sounds ludicrous, but there are apparently people in Washington who maintain this position with a straight face. The reason for this, of course, is that they are playing to the "sensitivities" of Beijing. \nSo, let us see how "sensitive" Beijing is these days. On May 17, a few days before Chen's inauguration, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) declared that China would "completely annihilate" any moves toward Taiwanese independence, no matter what the cost, even the loss of the summer Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 -- a clear reference to military action if necessary. If Taiwan pursues independence, the statement warned, "the Chinese people will crush their schemes firmly and thoroughly at any cost." \nTo the casual observer, this looks like a rather provocative statement. However, the only thing State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli could say was that China's statement was "unhelpful." \nTo the casual observer it seems that there are two measures being applied: when Taiwan wants to make a baby-step in the direction of normality and acceptance in the international community, it is branded as "provocation." When big bully China throws its weight around, we have to tiptoe through the tulips. Isn't there something wrong with this picture? \nBy the way, Kenneth Lieberthal and other think-tank friends: you came down hard on Chen for making his referendum statements in November and December last year. But we still haven't heard your reaction to China's statements. \nProvocative, perhaps. Or just unhelpful? \nGerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique.
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