Why Bring Up a Dead Issue?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 6, 2009
Masaki Saito, Japan's representative to Taipei, declared that "Taiwan's status is still undetermined," causing a huge stir. But domestically and internationally, this perspective is long obsolete, and bears no relationship whatsoever to the actual status of the Republic of China.
Domestically, after four presidential elections, and two changes in ruling parties, the Republic of China has fully affirmed its legality and legitimacy. Internationally, the Ma administration's adherence to the 1992 Consensus and "One China, Different Interpretations" has allowed the two sides to avoid denying each other's legitimacy. Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory is hardly something that needs to be brought up again.
That being the case, why has Japan trotted out the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory now, triggering a major domestic and international controversy?
Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory had its roots in the Treaty of San Francisco. Is had a major impact on the Republic of China over the past five decades, particularly on its political development. According to the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory, even after Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing, it could still apply domestic law in the form of the Taiwan Relations Act in order to maintain semi-official relations with Taipei. Even after the rise of Mainland China, this allowed Taipei a certain amount of international breathing room.
The most significant impact of the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory however, was in domestic politics. Because if Taiwan's status was undetermined, that implied it could choose independence via a public referendum. As a result, beginning with early 1950's Taiwan independence activist Liao Wen-yi, the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory became the theoretical foundation for the Taiwan independence movement. The Dang Wai (Party Outsider) Central Committee was the predecessor to the Democratic Progressive Party. In 1983 it first set forth its view that "Taiwan's future should be decided collectively by the inhabitants of Taiwan." After the Democratic Progressive Party was founded in 1991, it adopted the Taiwan Independence Party Platform. It advocated using the initiative and referendum process to establish an independent "Republic of Taiwan."
The Democratic Progressive Party heavily promoted the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory. But it was also the Democratic Progressive Party that turned the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory on its head. The turning point was the 1996 Presidential Election. Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Shih Ming-teh, who was in Washington at the time, proclaimed that "If the Democratic Progressive Party assumes office, it has no need to declare Taiwan independence and will not declare Taiwan independence." He proclaimed that as long as Taiwan maintained the status quo, that would be enough to ensure its sovereignty and independence. Shih Ming-teh drifted further and further away as a result of political struggles with the Democratic Progressive Party. Nevertheless, during the 1999 Presidential Election, the Democratic Progressive Party passed its "Resolution on Taiwan's Future." For the first time it formally recognized the "Republic of China" as a nation. At this point, the Democratic Progressive Party effectively abandoned the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory, and recognized the Republic of China.
The key to the Democratic Progressive Party's turnabout was Taiwan's democratization. Following the re-election of every member of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, and the direct election of President Lee Teng-hui in 1996, the KMT's rule had been fully legitimized. Allegations that Taiwan's status remained undetermined no longer corresponded to public perception. In 2000, after Chen Shui-bian came to power, he still advocated maintaining the status quo. However, beginning in 2004, as President of the Republic of China Chen Shui-bian actually returned to the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory. He demanded a constitutional referendum and a change in the nation's name.
During his last two years as president, Chen pushed Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory to the limit, with painful consequences.
The first painful consequence was worsening relations with Washington. In order to block Chen Shui-bian's constitutional referendum, Washington changed its policy. In the past it would declare only that it did not support Taiwan independence. By 2004, U.S. State Department officials openly declared that they "agree that Taiwan is part of China." Chen Shui-bian's aggressive promotion of Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory and de jure independence, had the opposite effect on Taiwan's status.
Of course the bloodiest battle in this war was fought on Taiwan. Reunification vs. independence has long been controversial on Taiwan. It is a matter of personal belief. It is hard to talk about right and wrong. Maintaining the status quo is the greatest common denominator. When Chen Shui-bian used the machinery of state to aggressively promote independence, he Intensified controversy over reunification vs. independence. He also provoked tensions between social and ethnic groups. The harm he inflicted will be difficult to remedy any time soon.
The book Chen Shui-bian wrote in prison expressed regrets that he failed to rectify names and author a new constitution. The unspoken truth was that Chen Shui-bian's failure to rectify names and author a new constitution during his term of office was not due to caution on Ah-Bian's part. It was simply impossible given the international situation. American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt visited Taiwan twice in 2008 to prevent Ah-Bian from moving toward Taiwan independence.
In the wake of Ah-Bian's brinksmanship, Ma Ying-jeou came to power. Ma returned to strategic ambiguity. He did not trumpet the sovereignty of the Republic of China. But he aggressively used the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty of 1952 to resolve historical issues surrounding the Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory.
If we reaffirm the Republic of China, and cross-Strait relations develop harmoniously, the Republic of China government in Taipei may be able to participate in international activities and carry on exchanges with Beijing. By that time Taiwan's status will not longer be undetermined.