Taking the Lee Teng-hui Path is Changing the Status Quo
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 16, 2016
Executive Summary: The connections between the “Republic of China” and “China” are Taiwan's assets, not liabilities. Tsai wants the Republic of China only in name. Taiwan independence she wants in substance. But that will only lead to an eventual Mainland backlash. Cross-Strait relations will revert to wartime status. Only the Republic of China constitutional framework can ensure autonomy and a bais for consultations and interaction with the Mainland. Only that will enable the Taiwan public to reap the most benefits and gain the most breathing space. Only proactive cultural, economic, and social cooperation with the Mainland can avoid war and lead to the voluntary and peaceful reunification of the two sides.
Full Text Below:
Lee Teng-hui has spoken out on the 1992 Consensus. He has apparently predicted that the new government will revert to Lee Teng-hui's "special state to state relations” position. This should not be a surprise. Tsai Ing-wen was a member of Lee Teng-hui's late term National Security Advisory Committee. She was a member of Lee's inner circle of national security advisors. She was the chief spokesperson for Lee Teng-hui's "special state to state relationship” theory. She knows Lee's position backwards and forwards. Tsai Ing-wen has appointed Lin Pi-chao, who drafted the “two-states theory” to be her Presidential Office General Secretary. Other personnel appointments also suggest a return to the Lee Teng-hui path.
Of course, back then Tsai Ing-wen was merely a spokesperson. The ultimate decision was Lee Teng-hui's. To say that Tsai Ing-wen was the author or chief proponent of the “special state to state relationship” theory, overstates Tsai Ing-wen's influence. It also underestimates Lee Teng-hui's long-term planning.
In fact, Lee Teng-hui has long called for the “normalization of the nation" in order to promote substantive Taiwan independence. That means perceiving Taiwan as an already independent nation whose current name is the “Republic of China”. That means declaring formal independence is no longer necessary. On the contrary, demanding formal independence for Taiwan merely downgrades it, and undermines Taiwanese identity. In his view, all Taiwan needs now is the “rectification of names”, the authoring of a new constitution, the creation of a national identity, and membership in the United Nations. Compared to the violent conflict of Chen Shui-bian's "one nation on each side" approach, Lee Teng-hui's “special state to state relations” approach under the guise of the "Republic of China" is potentially even more harmful.
As Lee said, explicitly advocating Taiwan independence will only provoke a backlash from Washington and Beijing. Chen Shui-bian's blind lashing out looked fiercer than Lee Teng-hui's approach. But its lack of legitimacy paradoxically led Washington and Beijing to tighten the screws on him. Lee's path is different. It avoids touching sensitive nerves. It focuses instead on constitutionalism, gradualism, and on cultural, educational, and mass media indoctrination. Paradoxically it led to vastly greater gains in maneuvering room.
The “special state to state relations” theory has in fact provoked powerful backlashes from the Mainland. But the aftermath has been such that Lee invariably evades responsibility on Taiwan. That is why the Lee Teng-hui path has yet to suffer any major setbacks.
Consider the many things Lee Teng-hui did during his term. He pushed through six constitutional amendments pertaining to national identity. Basically he sabotaged the connection between the “Republic of China” and “China”. He implemented cultural and educational policies that led to the current alienation from the Mainland. In particular, his “concentric view of history” and “maritime nation” perspective, weakened public identification with the Mainland. Substantively speaking, the carefully planned Lee Teng-hui path led to an abundant harvest.
Now that Tsai Ing-wen is about to assume power, she can no longer resort to a strategy of deliberate ambiguity to reduce doubts about her rule. Recent actions already betray signs of a Lee Teng-hui path. Consider her personnel appointments. The Presidential Office General Secretary, and Minister of Culture and Education are key positions. She has appointed to both of them, Lee era people with deep green Taiwan independence political colors. Tsai Ing-wen insists she is maintaining the status quo, and avoiding provocationi. In fact however, she has replicated the Lee Teng-hui regime.
She defines the “status quo” the same as Lee. She asserts that Taiwan is “already a sovereign and independent state whose current name is the Republic of China”. That is why she refuses to issue a clear statement regarding the 1992 Consensus or one-China principle. Furthermore, the draft version of the Referendum Law has entered the review stage. The referendum threshold will be lowered. Preliminary consensus has been reached on a two-stage referendum for cross-Strait political agreements, and changes to the nation's territory. These create conditions necessary for de jure independence. They sound the alarm for future cross-Strait relations.
We must remind the new government, that although Lee's every step was carefully planned, overstep the bounds and Washington and Beijing will slam on the brakes. In other words, promoting Taiwan independence under the banner of the Republic of China will eventually be exposed for what it is. If Tsai Ing-wen is genuinely concerned for the well-being of Taiwan, she must abandon the Lee Teng-hui path. She must evaluate the current international situation, and the reality behind the cross-Strait balance of power. She cannot deal with cross-Strait relations merely by “avoiding provocation”. She must actively seek common ground with the Mainland and facilitate bilateral cooperation.
The connections between the “Republic of China” and “China” are Taiwan's assets, not liabilities. Tsai wants the Republic of China only in name. Taiwan independence she wants in substance. But that will only lead to an eventual Mainland backlash. Cross-Strait relations will revert to wartime status. Only the Republic of China constitutional framework can ensure autonomy and a bais for consultations and interaction with the Mainland. Only that will enable the Taiwan public to reap the most benefits and gain the most breathing space. Only proactive cultural, economic, and social cooperation with the Mainland can avoid war and lead to the voluntary and peaceful reunification of the two sides.