My purpose in proposing the idea of a “constitutional consensus” is to get everyone talking about how to keep focused on Taiwan while steadily developing cross-strait relations. The idea is to replace the “one China” principle and establish an “overlapping constitutional consensus” within Taiwan. With respect to cross-strait relations, the goal is to replace the notion of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” with “each side having its own constitutional interpretation.”
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) agree on what they call the “1992 consensus” and “one China, with each side having its own interpretation,” but these notions are highly controversial, and they have become tools for infighting in Taiwan. For the sake of the nation’s overall interests, we need to find a broader consensus, otherwise the KMT and CCP will be free to set aside their differences and seek common ground, while isolating the Taiwan--centric Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP does not believe in a “1992 consensus” or “one China,” but it needs to propose an alternative plan. That is why I suggested a “constitutional consensus.”
In my opinion, Taiwan’s most pressing need is for independence advocates and those who want to maintain the “status quo” to get together and resist those who are pushing for Taiwan to be united with China.
To achieve that, the pro-independence and pro-status quo factions will have to set aside their differences and seek common ground on the subject of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. If both factions can basically agree on this, they can form an overlapping consensus encompassing a broader range of public opinion, ensuring that Taiwanese society can move forward steadily. Besides, as time goes by, DPP mayors, county commissioners and other public officials will be visiting China with increasing frequency.
That being the case, we need to establish a bottom line that all these people can stick to. The Constitution can represent Taiwan’s sovereignty when we talk to people from other countries.
The point of the “constitutional consensus” is to replace the idea of “one China with each side having its own interpretation,” so of course it is opposed to the idea of “one China.” “One China” is not part of any overlapping consensus in Taiwan, so it has to be reassessed. Nevertheless, the Constitution can express what we have in common and affirm that we are an independent, sovereign state, not part of the People’s Republic of China.
Some have misinterpreted this “overlapping consensus” idea as meaning that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should establish an “overlapping constitutional consensus.” Clearly such a misunderstanding can only come about if cross-strait relations are seen as a domestic affair. For example, people in Hong Kong can talk about “one China with different interpretations,” but they can’t talk about “each side having its own constitutional interpretation.” In theory, a country can only have one constitution, so the idea of “each side having its own constitutional interpretation” does not mean accepting that Taiwan and China are one country.
The DPP’s 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future equates the ROC with Taiwan. This means that Taiwan’s sovereignty is at present expressed by the title “ROC” and we uphold the existence of the sovereign state in this form. This is a precondition for normalizing our national status. For China, both Taiwan independence advocates and those who uphold the ROC are its adversaries, so the two factions should form a tactical alliance to safeguard Taiwan’s existing sovereign status.
In the long term, the DPP calls for resolving fundamental constitutional questions by writing a new constitution, or amending the existing one, but the party also says that any change in the status quo must be decided by all residents of Taiwan through a plebiscite. In the meantime, before any such referendum is held, we need a formula for handling real-world exchanges and resolving crises under the status quo. The “constitutional consensus” idea is one suggestion. If other people can suggest better ways, I would be happy to take them on board.
Frank Hsieh is a former premier.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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