February 08, 2006

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Chen's Desperate Gamble

An excellent article by former Princeton professor and now director of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, reprinted in the Korea Herald.

It analyzes how Chen has basically gone from hero to zero in a two-year period, and how instead of being chastened by lack of support for his independence agenda, he is attempting to ratchet up tension further, to the displeasure of Washington, China and, it seems, a significant portion of the voting public.

Pei suggests three reasons for the failure of Chen's once seemingly unstoppable momentum:

Broadly speaking, three seismic changes since President Chen's re-election victory two years ago have greatly altered the short- to medium-term political landscape both in Taiwan and across the Taiwan Strait.

First, alarmed by Chen's thinly disguised ploy to seek de jure independence through the passage of a new Constitution enacted by a plebiscite, Taiwan's voters decided to end the President's gambit by refusing to give the DPP a majority in the island's legislative chamber (a condition which would be necessary to give a new Constitution any realistic chance of passage) in the watershed election of December 2004....

Second, China's new leadership adjusted its Taiwan policy in two dramatic directions. On the one hand, Beijing's new leaders concluded that they must make their threat of military action credible. Consequently, the mainland accelerated military preparations for a conflict with Taiwan in light of Chen's vow to pass a new Constitution.

Chinese leaders also set in motion a legislative process to obtain pre-authorization for the use of force - which culminated in the passage of an "anti-secession law" in March last year.

On the other hand, China's President Hu Jintao coupled the threat of the use of force with a charm offensive, inviting the leaders of Taiwan's main opposition parties to visit the mainland and offering a package of economic benefits and goodwill gestures (a pair of pandas) to Taiwan...

Third, President George W. Bush, perhaps the most pro-Taiwan American president in history, re-adjusted his policy in late 2004. Although the Bush administration approved the largest arms package for sale to Taiwan in 2001 and substantially upgraded ties with Taiwan in the past five years, Washington was greatly alarmed by Chen's apparent strategy of taking advantage of U.S. support and seeking a dangerous confrontation with mainland China.

Read the full article with the link up top.

posted by HK Dave on 02.08.06 at 11:37 PM in the Taiwan category.


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China Through Rose Colored Glasses, Darkly
Excerpt: ChinaLawBlog has already been accused of being too bullish on China and I admit I am generally optimistic about China and its potential. But, of course, I do recognize China has its major risks, some of which are nicely laid
Weblog: China Law Blog
Tracked: February 28, 2006 11:14 PM


Sorry, there's so much wrong with that article, I hardly know where to start. It's typical of what happens when you get an expert on China to try and talk about Taiwan. Let's see:

1) His plans for constitutional change are not an attempt to declare independence, would in all likelihood be yet another set of amendments (not a new constitution), are very much needed (from an internal political viewpoint), were a core part of his election platform, and have almost zero chance of happening. He has repeatedly said that the changes wouldn't address sensitive issues like the name of the country or its official borders.

2) Any constitutional change requires 75% support in the legislature - so the failure of the DPP to get a majority in December 2004 is completely irrelevant. That election was not a 'stunning rebuke' to the DPP but a worse than expected performance which nevertheless increased the number of seats for the DPP. There are many reasons for the result, but my personal belief is that Chen went off the rails promising to attack the KMT in the last few weeks (again, nothing to do with China)

3) The 'fall from grace' for Chen has very little to do with China - and everything to do with recent corruption scandals in the DPP, the general incompetence of their government, and their inability to push through any legislation through the pan-Blue controlled legislature.

4) The article completely fails to understand Chen's recent rhetoric - which is aimed purely at building support for him in the DPP (which had fallen dramatically over the last few years because *he's too soft on independence* for most DPP members). He has been completely successful at consolodating his power in the DPP with these moves. The reaction of the rest of Taiwan, China and America are completely incidental to him.

5) The article is full of emotionally charged phrases which show the writer has a deep problem with Chen which stops him being balanced in his criticism: Chen's 'high-stakes gamble', 'recklessly challenged the fragile status quo', 'Chen's thinly disguised ploy'. The article could have been written by a hardcore KMT member - and as such gives a very skewed picture of what's happening.

I don't think Chen's doing a good job currently, but this article is terrible at describing the situation.

posted by: David on 02.09.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Agreed, Minxin Pei is probably not an objective observer of events in Taiwan. They may have a mainland skew, despite his long residence in the US. But then if one is Chinese, it is difficult not to have a strong opinion.

I do not think his points are invalid, actually, although they do represent one point of view. I think he has accurately portrayed how the people of Taiwan have not given his party and his platform the backing he needed to carry out his radical plans for plebiscites and paving the way for full independence.

I think to say that Chen has been lambasted for poor domestic performance is simply to be observing to opposite side of the same coin - he has been so preoccupied with the independence and anti-China agenda of his party that he has proven himself wanting in the task of actually governing the country, engaging in practices similar to his KMT predecessors.

One can use foreign politics to distract from domestic problems for only so long - and it seems, as Pei rightly points out, that his time, and his friends in the United States, are running out.

I do appreciate that the tone of Pei's article may irritate because it sounds triumphant. I do also agree that it would need to be more nuanced for accuracy's sake. I must also confess that I am pleased that the DPP is failing, so I liked the article that much more. Please forgive these prejudices in advance. We are all entitled to seeing the world in our own way.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.09.06 at 11:37 AM [permalink]

I still don't buy it: Chen hasn't got "radical plans for plebiscites" - he has a plan to update the constitution again. Did the update to the constitution last year cause a war? No. I don't think China even commented on it. As I said, any change to the constitution needs 75% support in the Legislature before it goes to a referendum: that means it *can't* be a radical change (in terms of cross-strait issues) because the KMT would never go for it. In fact, because Ma Ying-jeou has stuck his head in the sand and said he thinks the constitution is fine as it is, there is zero chance of any constitutional reform - that would be true even if the DPP had won 60% of the legislature.

His poor domestic performance is completely independent of any cross-strait rhetoric. The current DPP administration is both incompetent and blocked by the KMT - it's got nothing to do with focus. Frank Hsieh said very little about China, and was the least successful premier Taiwan's ever had last year.

The article is so busy with the tired old 'Chen the troublemaker' refrain that it doesn't stop to think: Chen spent most of 2004 & 2005 being criticized by his own party for being too soft on China: What was his reaction to the anti-secession law? A speech saying that China are being mean. What was his reaction to the pan-Blue leaders visit to China? An attempt to get one of them to act as an envoy for him. The recent change in tone is an attempt to win back his core supporters - any analysis which doesn't see that is just an exercise in Chen-bashing (a popular sport, I grant you) with no insight.

posted by: David on 02.09.06 at 12:23 PM [permalink]

"His plans for constitutional change are not an attempt to declare independence"

Each step of what CSB does doesn't directly means formal declaration. But it is one step closer. His plan is to continuously test the boundary.
It is quite clear that CSB (also LTH) has an ultimate objective of achieving nominal independence, even though he has made public address of "4 no 3 w/o",etc.

Pei MX is quite right in pointing that out "Chen's thinly disguised ploy to seek de jure independence..."

posted by: sun bin on 02.09.06 at 02:48 PM [permalink]

I also thought that "Chen's recent rhetoric" was targeting DPP internally in New Year.
But when he did it again in Lunar NY, I had some new thoughts. I believe his objective is to rally popular support for DPP, instead of what we have thought previously. How? by baiting and provoking CCP to react. When CCP reacts (overreacts), DPP will get more popular support, as happened in the past.
The only answer the mainland can provide is to keep silent, and endurance (and ask US to calm Chen down). Once CCP reacts, Chen wins. He would get what he wants.

posted by: sun bin on 02.09.06 at 02:53 PM [permalink]


this is amusing.
if wang jingping was telling the truth, then Chen was blaming Ma YJ for his CNY speech. according to wang, chen told wang he was 'provoked' by Ma's talk about ultimate aim as unification, i guess Dubya Bush should get mad at Ma instead......:D

posted by: sun bin on 02.09.06 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Quite. Couldn't have said it better. When all else fails, reach for the China Bogeyman and hope he shows up for a predictable scaring session.

But it's harder to get China to lob missiles when they think CSB is a lame duck.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.09.06 at 03:18 PM [permalink]

"His plan is to continuously test the boundary. It is quite clear that CSB (also LTH) has an ultimate objective of achieving nominal independence"

That's your whole argument? Anything CSB does must be pushing the envelope because he wants independence - I can therefore blame him for doing anything. Great.

You both seem to be ignoring my two main points:
1) Any constitutional changes needs KMT support. Unless you suspect they are also continually pushing for independence, there is no possibility of creeping independence via this route.
2) Taiwan really needs an update to its constitution. It currently has 5(!) branches of government - one of which currently has no funding, and another of which has had no elected members for over a year. Noone knows whether Taiwan has a presidential system or a parliamentary system. There are constant battles between the legislature and the executive branches over who is responsible for what (not clearly defined in the constitution). All these weren't a problem when Taiwan was a one-party State because the KMT controlled everything. They are a big problem now.

As for the "He's deliberately winding up China to raise support" angle: answer me this. Why now? We're further away from serious elections now than at any time in the last 10 years - who cares if the DPP is unpopular now? Chen has a history of using anti-China rhetoric (generally very successfully) just before major elections - not just after a minor election. I'm sure he'll do it again before the late-2007 legislative and 2008 presidential elections. But it's absolutely pointless now. Meanwhile the DPP is going through some major turmoil and soul-searching (i.e. internal battles for power). You're saying it's coincidence that Chen has come out with stuff that is popular with the DPP faithful (but not really with the general populace) at a time when the DPP is in the middle of a power-struggle, but the country at large couldn't care less?

posted by: David on 02.09.06 at 04:20 PM [permalink]

Pei MX is quite right in pointing that out "Chen's thinly disguised ploy to seek de jure independence..."

What! You mean Chen wants de jure independence for Taiwan? Who would have thought it? Clever of him to disguise it thinly so no one would know..

I was going to rip this, but David beat me to it. It's really an awful article. I think I'll use the positive energy to write to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace instead, and ask them why their senior China people are (a) writing about Taiwan, about which they (b) apparently know little and (c) why they tolerate such bias in their presentations.


posted by: Michael Turton on 02.09.06 at 09:22 PM [permalink]

Why can't senior China people write about Taiwan?

a) I would've thought it would be logical for senior China, Taiwan and American people to write about each other, after all, those are the three most relevant powers in the Taiwan straits.

b & c) As for bias and knowing little, thats highly subjective, are you suggesting that alternative views should not be offered on the Taiwan issue?

posted by: boer on 02.09.06 at 10:40 PM [permalink]

What! You mean Chen wants de jure independence for Taiwan? Who would have thought it? Clever of him to disguise it thinly so no one would know..>>>

Disguising it thinly means people would know, as it is a poor disguise. I think that comment is fair, it merely suggests that he doesn't even bother disguising his intent.

posted by: boer on 02.09.06 at 10:46 PM [permalink]

David, let me answer your 2 main points.

1) Any constitutional changes needs KMT support. Unless you suspect they are also continually pushing for independence, there is no possibility of creeping independence via this route.

He can effectively change the consituition enough to make reunification an impossibility. He doesn't need to push for independence. If he makes reunification impossible by cutting cultural and economic ties and moving into a strategic alliance with Japan, independence becomes a given. Besides, he doesn't really care whether or not he can make independence happen, he just wants as close as possible.

2) Taiwan really needs an update to its constitution. It currently has 5(!) branches of government - one of which currently has no funding, and another of which has had no elected members for over a year. Noone knows whether Taiwan has a presidential system or a parliamentary system. There are constant battles between the legislature and the executive branches over who is responsible for what (not clearly defined in the constitution). All these weren't a problem when Taiwan was a one-party State because the KMT controlled everything. They are a big problem now.

Well, does anyone really trust Chen to reform the consitution without putting something in there that lessens the "China" aspect of Taiwan?

Of course not.

posted by: boer on 02.09.06 at 10:51 PM [permalink]

Boer: "He can effectively change the consituition enough to make reunification an impossibility."

I don't understand. How could he do this? It's as impossible to make reunification impossible in the constitution as it is to make independence impossible. The idea that a change of the constitution could make unficiation impossible makes no sense to me. And of course, why would the KMT agree to such a revision?

And what do you mean by lessening the 'China' aspect of the Constitution? The only things I can think of are:
1) The name of the country
2) How the borders are defined (along with some gumpf about the 'free area' of the ROC)
He has said these won't be part of the reform - and of course there's no way the KMT would allow them to be considered. Did last year's revision lessen the 'China' aspect? Not that I can see. So, yes. Lots of people trust him to reform the constitution without lessening the 'China' aspect.

Oh, and one thing I forgot: for any constitutional change to succeed, as well as the support of all the major political parties, it needs massive support from the people in Taiwan who would have the final vote. The ROC constitution now stipulates a process for constitutional change which is harder than any other process I know - add to that the fact that most Taiwanese are ultimately very pragmatic rather than idealistic and you have the fact that no radical change to the constitution can happen unless there is huge support for it from everyone in Taiwan.

posted by: David on 02.10.06 at 11:13 AM [permalink]

Well, David, let draw upon an example. Taiwan is already called ROC (Taiwan) in some areas of representation, correct?

Its not a far reach to go from that to changing the consituition half-way to something similar. It doesn't have to change borders but it can add things. Something like ROC (Taiwan) in the constitution seems to me to be touch and go, in terms of KMT support.

If the KMT don't support it, Chen can play his Taiwan Patriotism card and the KMT would be slightly screwed.

Therefore I don't believe he will be stupid enough to change the constitution all in one go, but he can do it gradually and slowly. Each step seemingly going nowhere but infact, does go somewhere. It would be hard-pressed for the KMT to oppress such semi-steps, while Chen can still claim that he has not declared independence.

Thats how I see "creeping independence" to mean.

posted by: boer on 02.10.06 at 12:35 PM [permalink]

Boer - fair enough. Except:
1) He's promised not to do this
2) There's no way the KMT would support it
3) The Taiwanese public would sigh sadly, say he's being a daft bugger, vote the ammendment down, and then probably vote the DPP out of power.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that Chen isn't pushing for greater independence - he does. What I'm arguing is that he hasn't got the power (as president), inclination (as a politician) or the support (from the public) to do anything like this to either the constitution or the status quo.

There are many good reasons for constitutional change which have nothing to do with China. All the arguments against are basically hot-air and fear-mongering.

posted by: David on 02.10.06 at 02:15 PM [permalink]

Incidentally (I just can't keep away from this post) Sun Bin: I saw the comments about Chen claiming he was countering Ma's views on unification, and I agree it's a joke:

Ma is very clear to say that unification is a long-term goal *of the KMT*, which is perfectly reasonable. If the Taiwanese don't agree with this, then they just avoid voting the KMT into power. KMT policy does not equal national policy - I'm surprised CSB hasn't noticed that :)

posted by: David on 02.10.06 at 02:23 PM [permalink]

i don't think anyone (incling Pei) is saying that CSB ahs the power to change the consitution. but he is testing the boundary, and is trying to push in small baby steps.

he is also doing thing that he know that will not suceed. but he is going to do it anyway, because it helps him get more votes, and help to further divide/antagonize the 2 camps - even if it is just an exercise with known results (similar to the arms procurement agenda push, same proposal for the 45th times).

i was actually puzzled that he chose to do it this time, when there is no imminent poll casting (as David has pointed out). but i don't think he needs the Lunar NY speech to unite DPP internally. the NY speech has already done the job, and he got the Premier, DPP Chairman chosen already. So this left us with only one possibility...would he do it anyway just to counter the MYJ/Panda effect, even if there is no election?

posted by: sun bin on 02.10.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

Sun Bin:
Check out this article here, about DPP internal policy reviews on China. I believe the shakedown of power in DPP is still very much ongoing, and will be for some time ...

posted by: David on 02.10.06 at 03:25 PM [permalink]

I agree that Chen is doing this to shore up the support of the Taiwan independence hardcore elements. If Chinese communists get really upset, that's even better.

However, he has failed, as the Chinese communists used the Americans to tell Chen to shut up and make him flip-flop again.

posted by: LA on 02.12.06 at 12:02 AM [permalink]

[quote]b & c) As for bias and knowing little, thats highly subjective, are you suggesting that alternative views should not be offered on the Taiwan issue?[/quote]

"bias" and "knowing little" are not "highly subjective" but are obvious from a reading of the piece and knowing something about Taiwan. David has already pointed out the loaded language -- and I should add that calling Su Tseng-chang a "hardliner" is especially rich. David has also demonstrated that the author does not know anything about Taiwan -- constitutional reform has been an ongoing target of both parties for the last 15 years, most recently in the elimination of the National Assembly and the restructuring of the legislature, in 2005. There are many other indications of a serious lack of knowledge.

There isn't any "baby step" that Chen could take as the KMT knee-jerkedkly opposes all moves made by the DPP, even when they were originally KMT moves. Hence no strategy of baby steps could succeed as analysts in the KMT, China, and the US would all have to be fooled -- a slim possibility indeed. Especially the KMT.

Note also that the article is focused on Chen to the exclusion of all else -- this is a prime example of the obsession with Chen among the pro-China crowd. The DPP is more complex than Chen, and the independence movement is more than the DPP.

Finally, let's not forget, Chen is not evil or crazed for wanting independence and democracy in Taiwan (although he certainly didn't handle this latest announcement very well). This whole "fear of Chen" attitude that underlies both the article and this conversation are hugle biased. The evil crazed people in this equation sit in Beijing and plan to maim and murder Taiwanese in order to annex Taiwan. if you want to understand what is going on, start by seeing Chen as a pragmatic politician surrounded by intelligent people who understand where all the lines are drawn, and have great experience drawing them, and who has a complex domestic situation to respond to.


posted by: Michael Turton on 02.12.06 at 04:49 PM [permalink]

I find it funny that the defenders of CSB on this post find it so difficult to accept outside criticism of their hero. He can only be given a hard time by people within the borders of Taiwan that are qualified to judge him by virtue of the ir knowledge of the island's domestic politics. I bet George Bush would love for that to happen. Look, if he is in the international eye, we all have our right to our own opinions.

I find it even stranger that David and Michael think that he has no responsibility for his clear, strong pursuit of independence for Taiwan simply because there is not sufficient support for such a move in the legislature amongst the people of Taiwan. He is responsible for his own words and actions, and it is his words that ring loudest not only across the Taiwan Strait but also around the South China Seas and the Pacific Ocean.

Michael and David's observations about Chen and his complex domestic political situation are interesting - but he is the official representative of Taiwan, and its legally constituted executive. Of course the world, and outside analysts, are rightly going to focus on what he says, and interpret it at face value.

I think the problem with him along is that despite the rather delicate position of his 'country' he refuses to acknowledge that he has a responsibility not only to his domestic audience, but also in the interests of regional and even global peace and stability, to a foreign one too.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.13.06 at 03:17 PM [permalink]

CSB is 'my hero'? Oh dear. Where did you get that idea from? Perhaps it was from when I said I didn't think he was doing a good job. Or maybe it was when I called his administration incompetent. When I start claiming that Hu Jintao is your hero, you'll know that I've lost the plot too :)

I am not defending Chen - I am refuting arguments about his actions which seem to me to be massively ill-informed and plain wrong. Lets see:
The article claims that his planned constitutional reforms are a 'thinly disguised ploy' to independence - I have pointed out that
a) He has promised not to table any independence-related ammendments
b) He couldn't even if he wanted to, and
c) The reforms are badly needed and will help the democratic development of the island. I strongly support them for this reason.
I haven't seen any compelling counter-arguments to any of these points, but you still seem to be accusing Chen of stirring up global tensions with these reforms. Why?

The article claims that Chen's low support rating is due to his pro-independence stance. I have tried to explain why this is not the case. Feel free to ignore it, but I'd suggest having some idea as to why people do what they do may be relevant.

I have been trying to argue specifics: this is what he is doing, this is why he is doing, and this is why I think it is reasonable (or not, as the case may be). All you and the other CSB-detractors have said is "He wants independence, so he's a trouble maker". You all seem to be remarkably reticent to site particular policies which you think are deliberately provocative.

There are many things that Chen has done which I'll agree with criticism on: for example his recent announcements on the NUC were (in my view) assinine. Equally, there are things he has done which I approve of which calm tensions: for example his repeated (futile) attempts at olive-brances to China in 2005.

Finally, your claim that he 'refuses to acknowledge' responsibility for regional peace is just bizarre. This is the man who 15 years ago wrote the 'formal independence' clause into the DPP manifesto - and yet his first act as president was to promise not to pursue this (the '5 noes', which lost him some support from his party). This is the man who tried to negotiate with his sworn enemy last year (a man who was involved in imprisoning him for advocating democracy) to bear a message of peace to the Chinese president. If you want to claim that Chen doesn't get the balancing act right, and doesn't do enough to appease China, then fine - but to claim he doesn't even recognise the need? That's just Xinhua-talk.

Articles like this attempt to reinforce the caricature that Chen is a madman, whose hard-line independence talk is massively unpopular in Taiwan. In fact, his actions on China are pretty popular - he's much softer on it that most of his party and his standard talking points ("Taiwan's future must be decided by the people of Taiwan", "Taiwan is an independent sovereign state whose sovereignty needs to be defended") are pretty much mainstream views in Taiwan.

posted by: David on 02.13.06 at 05:31 PM [permalink]

Firstly, I apologise for mis-labeling you. We are all independent thinkers on this site.

Look David, with all due respect to you, it is entirely up to you if you want to believe the specious sophistry coming from Chen Shui-Bian and his saying on the one hand that he is not moving towards independence, while on the other hand try to institutionalize referenda, the tool that would be ultimately necessary for Taiwan declare independence, or to change the official name of the 'country' from Republic of China to Taiwan, or a litany of other measures that can generally only be interpreted in one way. Personally, I don't think many people outside Taiwan believe he really means it when he says he is not ultimately seeking independence. And the people I know from Taiwan don't buy it either.

I don't think anyone that has observed the CSB administration can conclude that while he says he is not gunning for independence, he is not also doing all he can, in small symbolic but nevertheless meaningful ways, to pave the way for the possibility of independence in the future.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.13.06 at 05:53 PM [permalink]

Dave, I'm not arguing with you about whether he want independence or not - he clearly does. The issue is what he is doing, whether it is reasonable, and in particular whether his constitutional plans are linked into this.

Referenda as a tool for independence? Flat out wrong. The constitutional change he effected last year (which requires a referendum for any further changes) has made it *much more difficult* to declare independence. What it has done is made any change subject to direct approval by the people - whether that change is towards unification or towards independence. He has made one of his personal goals (full independence) more difficult so that one of his other goals (only the Taiwanese people can decide any change to Taiwan's status) can be fulfilled.

I don't understand your comment about changing the countries name - this is something that Chen has explicitly promised NOT to do. Again, something he'd personally like to do, but has foresworn to placate China.

So you're left with what as your 'litany of measures' towards independence? Putting Taiwan on people's passport. Not acceding to China's 'One China' demands. Complaining about missiles being pointed at Taiwan. I'd agree with all of those - but none of them are earth-shattering changes.

Again, I come back to my main point: last years constitutional reform was NOT about independence (the previous 6 changes before CSB came to power were also not about it). The next round of changes will not be about independence. The article, and anyone who claims it is are wrong.

posted by: David on 02.14.06 at 12:15 AM [permalink]

I don't find your arguments about referenda convincing. Whereas before independence was an amorphous, hazy idea, now it is possible, provided a high level of support for it comes from the people of Taiwan. Far from obstructing his own goal for independence, Chen has put a mechanism in place that makes independence possible. Whether the majority supports it or not now is in fact totally irrelevant, given the very long-term nature of this contentious issue. We have no idea how the people of Taiwan will vote in ten or even five years' time on such an issue.

All of the promises Chen has made that I have seen regarding the constitution have been with respect to the duration of his term. I believe that the new constitution, if amended, would come into effect on May 20th, 2008, the day after his term in office has expired anyway. Seems like a loophole to his promise to me.

And for the record, his five 'nos' were made conditionally - that China renounce the use of force. Since it hasn't done that, he may elect to see fit not to stick to those pledges he made six years ago.

I am not saying that he will renege on all he has said - but that a lawyer's word is not necessarily his bond, given their inherent conditionality. For that reason I don't find your reasoning that begins with "Chen said" particularly convincing or compelling.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.15.06 at 11:25 AM [permalink]

Dave - from before the DPP came to power, they've had a fairly clear position:
1) Taiwan is already a sovereign independent nation (albeit one whose name is kinda confusing, and whose border definition could do with some work)
2) Any change to Taiwan's status should be done through constitutional means.

What that means is that 'formal independence' is basically a change to the constitution which redefines the name and national boundaries of the country. That's been their position since 1999. What that means is that there has always been a clear and well-defined way of declaring independence. However, the defined way of changing the constitution before 2005 was a mess (so much so that less than 20% of the people of Taiwan actually voted for the change).

So while I don't agree that the process was 'fuzzy' before, I would say that the new process has much more 'moral authority' about it - if the people have clearly voted for it, then there is less argument about whether they actually want the change or not (which is important if external recognition matters to you).

It's a bit of a stretch to go from there to 'a step towards independence' given that:
a) It means that a party clearly can't be elected on a promise not to declare independence or unification, and then turn round and change the constitution without the people's consent.
b) As i mentioned, the requirements for constitutional change are much stricter than before - making things harder
c) It's as much a step towards unification as independence.

Personally, I don't see how anyone (apart from the PRC) can complain about something which makes it clearer that no change to the status quo can happen without the strong explicit consent of the Taiwanese people.

As for Chen's pledges - yeah I agree there are loopholes (the 'it happened after I stepped down' one is one I hadn't thought of though!). However, Chen has also said that a name change and border change shouldn't be part of the constitutional reform. I understand you don't put too much faith in what he's said - but it's surely a factor.

Incidentally, is this the longest comment thread on SimonWorld? If not, how much longer do we need to discuss to get to the record? :)

posted by: David on 02.16.06 at 05:37 PM [permalink]

This could very well be the longest thread on Simonworld, David, although we'd have to ask Simon himself. I've only had this gig for the last six months...Simon?

While we are waiting for his answer, I shall continue, out of respect for the 'sturm-und-drang' relationship between Chen and the leaders in Beijing that we seem to be re-enacting on this page. How can I resist the provocative repartee?

I agree that it was not out of reach to declare independence, but that no-one had actually gone out of his way before to show how it could be done, and to create precedent. This is what I meant.

I think there are many people that are not CCP members, or even live in the PRC, that would disagree with your idea that if the Taiwanese people want to be independent, that is their prerogative. It is not so different, as is the oft-cited example, than when Jefferson Davis, finding a clear majority of the (voting, white) population in the Southern states favored secession from the Union, thought it would be alright to declare the Confederate States of America - and the remaining states of the Union fought to stop that secession. There too, the rallying cry for the Confederacy was the right to self-determination because of its own distinctive way of life.

One problem, I suppose, is that the idea of China and a Chinese nationality, has never been about specific borders. It has been about culture, and bloodline. To some extent, it is incompatible with the Western-created notions of citizenship and formal definitions made by holding a passport. In this sense, Taiwan will never be able to convince the billion + Han Chinese on the mainland that they are completely different from the PRC and therefore have a right to independence. This perverse relationship between kinship and ownership of the land in which their 'kin' live is as strong a notion as the 'One Nation, Under God' etc of the United States.

I remember how crestfallen I was when, a decade ago, I met a ten-year-old boy in Changsha that said that when he grew up, he wanted to die taking Taiwan back for China. His classmates mostly felt the same way. And I think that although brainwashing is a factor, it runs deeper than this. Unfortunately for Taiwan, I think that the culturo-historic veneration for unity runs thick in Chinese veins - I am always surprised how many people think of Qin Shi Huang Di as a great hero, when from what I can tell he was a heartless, conniving, bloodthirsty SOB.

So here's to hoping that the hypothetical situation of the large majority of people in Taiwan wanting independence remains just that - hypothetical. Because I don't think the CCP leadership in Beijing could not go to war, even if they didn't want to.

posted by: HK Dave on 02.17.06 at 07:35 AM [permalink]

Yeah - we do seem to have drifted away from the initial article into very standard Taiwan vs. China debate.

Arguing self-determination could go on for a long time, but briefly: I don't doubt there are a billion Chinese who don't believe Taiwan should have it, or that there are a large number of Westerners who hope it isn't used. However, clearly Taiwan has had it ever since democracy hit the fair isle. Even the KMT Chairman has said the people can declare independence if they want (although that's been raising a stink).

As to your analogy: it would hold more weight if the PRC had actually been ruling Taiwan for the last 50 years. E/W Germany, N/S Korea, or even Australia leaving the commonwealth would be analogies that I'd feel were more comparable :)

A final point: the Taiwanese people are very pragmatic - and they know that Taiwan is the big loser in any possible war (best case scenario: America rides to Taiwan's defense & China collapses - large parts of Taiwan get flattened and the economy collapses). They have before deserted the DPP when it got too idealogical/radical - and will do so again if that happens (and of course the TSU is hardly a major force in Taiwanese politics for this reason). I trust the Taiwanese people a hell of a lot more than the politicians they elect.

posted by: David on 02.20.06 at 01:39 PM [permalink]

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