Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) has called on his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) counterpart, William Lai (賴清德), to abandon his party’s Taiwanese independence platform.
Hou’s remarks follow an article published in the Nov. 30 issue of Foreign Affairs by three US-China relations academics: Bonnie Glaser, Jessica Chen Weiss and Thomas Christensen. They suggested that the US emphasize opposition to any unilateral changes in the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait, and that if Lai wins the election, he should consider freezing the Taiwanese independence clause.
The concept of de jure independence was first proposed in the DPP’s original 1991 party charter. Written by Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) and other founding party members, the DPP’s “Taiwan Independence Clause” (台獨黨綱) proposes establishing a new constitution and a sovereign and independent Republic of Taiwan. Its objective is to break free of the shackles of the KMT’s autocratic regime and to deconstruct its ruling mythos.
However, the DPP platform faced its first challenge in the mid-1990s when Taiwan held its first direct presidential election. As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) saw the election as a precursor to Taiwanese independence, it fired missiles over Taiwan, resulting in the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. As the DPP platform became a point of controversy during elections, the DPP passed its “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” in May 1999, tweaking the idea of independence by defining Taiwan as a sovereign country; although Taiwan’s Constitution calls the country the Republic of China, it is not subordinate to the People’s Republic of China. Any changes to the “status quo” must be decided by a public vote.
For the DPP, the “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” has almost replaced the clause. When asked about Taiwan’s sovereignty, the DPP almost always quotes the resolution in response. However, as the DPP has not abolished the clause, it could mean it still intends to pursue formal independence, which some consider a source of instability.
The idea of Taiwanese independence has stirred controversy because the term covers a broad spectrum. It could mean establishing a new constitution for a Republic of Taiwan, or simply holding a presidential election — after all, why bother having elections if Taiwan is not independent? To the CCP, choosing any other way than conceding to its “one-China principle” means pursuing independence.
However, the DPP has proven through its actions and practices over the past two decades that it has shelved the Taiwanese independence clause. It is therefore unnecessary for Lai to declare that the party is relinquishing the clause to reassure the US and China. Even if the DPP were to do so, the CCP would find another excuse and say the DPP is harboring intentions for independence.
Although the CCP has always claimed that Taiwanese independence is the biggest obstacle to cross-strait exchanges, this is not so. When Lai took part in a symposium at Fudan University in Shanghai in 2014, he reiterated his pro-independence stance: The idea of Taiwanese independence existed long before the DPP came into being. Control Yuan President Chen Chu (陳菊) also visited Beijing in 2009 when she was the mayor of Kaohsiung. The CCP must have already known their stances and ideologies prior to inviting them. The only difference now is Taiwan’s governing party and the CCP’s political demands.
The idea of independence is a political stance that Taiwanese should safeguard and respect. By not letting the CCP define Taiwan’s democracy, Taiwan holds the reins to its identity and ideology. It is due to the birth of the independence clause that further depth has been added to the resolution. Although the political environment has largely evolved, keeping the clause in Taiwan’s arsenal is a good thing.
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