Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pro Reunification Plebiscite

The Pro Reunification Plebiscite: Chen Shui-bian rails against Tsao Hsing-cheng for 20 Minutes
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 20, 2007

Last week, Tsao Hsing-cheng bought a half-page ad in several major newspapers, promoting his "Cross-Straits Peaceful Coexistence Act." Its main provision was a "Pro Reunification Plebiscite." According to reports, Chen Shui-bian spent a full 20 minutes railing against Tsao, accusing Tsao of "manipulating politics" under the pretext of promoting peace, when his real motive was to oppose independence and to promote reunification.

This newspaper proposed a "Pro Reunification Plebiscite" ten years ago, opening up new possibilities for cross-Straits relations. Its reverberations have been endless. Over the past decade, the Democratic Progressive Party has drafted several "Pro Reunification Plebiscites" as replacements for "Pro Independence Plebiscites." Lee Yuan-tse established a cross-Straits group based on the same guiding principles. While discussing politics Frank Hsieh has frequently raised such a possibility. Tsao Hsing-cheng is an entrepreneur who is highly enthusiastic about such a plebiscite. His current proposal for legislation to that effect is probably the result of years of pondering the possibilities.

Tsao Hsing-cheng's proposal has some points worth considering. Chen Shui-bian's criticisms were rude and inappropriate. He was smearing and labeling Tsao. Tsao Hsing-cheng advocates a "Pro Reunification Plebiscite." Tsao's main assertion was that when the time comes to reunify, the people have a right to decide whether or not to do so. In other words, if the people on Taiwan do not agree to reunify, then they have legal recourse. They have a mechanism that conveys their opinion. Chen Shui-bian quoted him out of context, and leveled false charges against him. Tsao Hsing-cheng said "citizens have the right to decide whether or not to reunify." Chen spun this as "opposition to independence and promotion of reunification." He referred to the "Cross-Straits Peaceful Coexistence Act" as nothing more than a "Cross-Straits Unification Act," a "Taiwan's Forced Reunification Act," and a "Taiwan Surrender Act." Chen sounded like a thug, and nothing at all like a president.

Tsao Hsing-cheng's draft is of course not perfect. For instance, he states that the Taiwan side has the right of approval when the mainland side proposes a "Pro Reunification Plebiscite." This, we feel, is inappropriate. We believe the initiative for any "Pro Reunification Plebiscite" must remain in the hands of the Taiwan side. This must be prescribed by law. The initiative must not fall into the hands of the mainland side.

Tsao's proposal however, is motivated by concern for Taiwan. Every word is filled wtih heartfelt concern for the people's feelings. The ruling regime's response in the face of such opinions, was not to separate the wheat from the chaff, to extract the marrow from the bones, or to be inspired Tsao's earnest patriotism. Chen Shui-bian's response surprised everyone. He used the crudest, most caustic language to blast Tsao Hsing-cheng. Not only did he distort Tsao's statements, he questioned his patriotism. He treated Tsao Hsing-cheng like a traitor. Chen revealed the mentality of a petty tyrant, for whom heartfelt counsel is perceived as intolerable disloyalty.

Leave aside Tsao Hsing-cheng's draft for the moment. Ten years ago, this newspaper proposed its own "Pro Reunification Plebiscite" framework: One. The Republic of China is a sovereign and independent nation that has no need to declare independence. According to the Democratic Progressive Party's "Resolution on Taiwan's Future" Taiwan is a sovereign and independent nation that has no need to declare independence. If, on the other hand, it needs to declare independence, then by implication the Republic of China (or Taiwan) is not a sovereign and independent nation. Two. Reunification changes the nation's status quo, therefore it requires the agreement of 23 million people. The Democratic Progressive Party's "Resolution on Taiwan's Future" says that "changing Taiwan's independent status" by reunifying with the mainland, requires "a plebiscite/referendum by all of Taiwan's residents." Tsao's proposal contains similar stipulations.

In other words, the "Pro Reunification Plebiscite" is not what Chen Shui-bian refers to as an "Anti-independence Plebiscite." Its two main provisions are: One. The Republic of China (the Democratic Progressive Party will want to substitute "Taiwan") is a sovereign and independent nation. That being the case, how is Tsao's proposal "anti-independence?" It might even be considered "a defense of independence." Two. To change the status quo (by opting for reunification), must be decided collectively by 23 million people. That being the case, how is Tsao's proposal "promoting reunification?" It might even be considered "opposition to reunification."

Tsao's proposal contains ill-considered aspects. But its basic concept is that the nation is already independent, that its sovereignty should be defended, and any changes to the status quo must undergo a plebiscite/referendum process. In other words, any pro reunification plebiscite must take place only when the time is ripe. If a plebiscite opposes reunification, then Taiwan's sovereignty can be guaranteed. Such thinking, in the context of a complex cross-Straits strategic scenario, may come across as wishful thinking. But it bears scant resemblance to what Chen Shui-bian made it out to be.

Tsao Hsing-cheng's proposal may not have been completely thought out. But his patriotism does not deserve to be questioned. Any flaws in his proposal do not outweigh its virtues. Nor do they undermine his image as a world class entrepreneur. Chen Shui-bian's remarks were caustic, vicious, and cruel. If we were to compare him to Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we would be flattering him. Chavez and Ahmadinejad are nasty towards foreigners, unlike Chen Shui-bian, who is nasty towards his own compatriots.

2007.11.20 03:59 am










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