Taiwan New Constitution Foundation founder Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), expressing frustration at what he says is President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) and the government’s reluctance to write a new constitution, on Sunday announced his intention to resign as Presidential Office adviser.
For Koo, a new constitution, for democratic Taiwan, is an indispensable step in the nation’s normalization.
He is absolutely correct in this, but that does not necessarily mean it is the direction the government should take the nation at this juncture.
The Republic of China (ROC) Constitution was not written with Taiwan’s topography, population, political or legal system, size or history in mind. It was written in, and for, another country entirely, maintained in Taiwan originally with the expectation that the exiled Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime would return to China, and later to bolster the fiction that the ROC of the past, under the leadership of the KMT party-state, still bears relevance today.
It has been radically changed before to more adequately reflect the reality of the times.
Since relocating in exile to Taiwan alone, the KMT regime imposed the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion, effective from 1948 to 1991, nullifying the Constitution and establishing martial law, and then implemented the Additional Articles of the Constitution (中華民國憲法增修條文), which were more relevant to Taiwan, in 1991.
Koo is completely right from a rational, practical point of view, but only if one agrees to ignore the elephant in the room: the threat of Chinese invasion.
For the KMT, the ROC is sacrosanct. The party and the state were separated by the nation’s democratization, but in the eyes of the party faithful the two concepts remain inextricably linked. The ROC is by no means integral to the existence of the KMT, but the party acts as if this were the case, which is why it will never change its name to something more fitting for its current circumstance as a major political party in Taiwan, not China: the KMT has no intention of ever giving up the notion that it represents anything other than China, even if it concedes that it will never again have control of the “mainland.”
It is within this context that the KMT leadership continues to perpetuate the idea that peace across the Taiwan Strait is guaranteed only when the integrity of the ROC is protected, albeit it only while ignoring Beijing’s assertion that the ROC no longer exists.
It is arguable that the KMT has a point, that the ROC and its Constitution need to be protected to ensure peace, as doing so avoids unilaterally changing the “status quo.”
Koo’s preferred option, of writing a new constitution and “rectifying” the country’s name, would absolutely constitute altering the “status quo,” but any clear-thinking person would know that the KMT’s strategy for maintaining peace is purely passive, quixotically kicking the can down the road, hoping the situation will change if the nation delays altering the detente long enough.
An administration headed by Tsai, Vice President William Lai (賴清德) and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) is unlikely opposed to writing a new constitution, “rectifying” the nation’s name to Taiwan or working to normalize international relations. Yet Koo is right: there has been a marked lack of progress in this regard.
Where Koo sees reluctance and the KMT fears the loss of its own relevance, the government is exercising caution. The threat of conflict breaking out across the Taiwan Strait is real, and nobody in their right mind would risk that.
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