Proper Nomenclature Beneficial to Cross-Strait Relations
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 9, 2011
In his Chinese New Year speech, President Ma Ying-jeou gave government officials specific instructions. In all future documents, they must refer to the other side of the Taiwan Strait as "the Mainland," or as "Mainland China." They must not refer to it as "China." This would avoid confusion over the issue of sovereignty and "two Chinas." It would ensure that cross-Strait relations are based on the constitution. His remarks elicited different reactions from the Blue and Green camps. But in fact this was a simple matter of law, and fundamental to cross-Strait relations. It was what the government should have been doing all along.
Under the provisions of the ROC Constitution, the current cross-Strait situation is one in which "the nation has yet to be reunified." Therefore the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been classified as the "Free Region" and the "Mainland Region." Article One of the "Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Region and the Mainland Region" states that "This article has been specially crafted to ensure the safety and welfare of people in the Taiwan Region prior to national reunification, to regulate exchanges between the Taiwan Region and the Mainland Region, and to deal with such legal matters as may arise," The article explicitly defines the Taiwan Region as Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and any other areas under the jurisdiction of the government. The Mainland Region is defined as "sovereign territory outside the Taiwan Region belonging to the Republic of China." The competent authority in charge of cross-Strait affairs shall be the "Mainland Affairs Council."
Everything, from the constitution, to the law, to government entities, explicitly refer to the other side as "the Mainland." Logically speaking, official documents are the same as the law. Naturally they must accord with the law. They can hardly use concocted names. President Ma reiterated the government's position. He stressed that this was a description of the status quo. This status quo was derived from amendments to the constitution, and from the "Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Region and the Mainland Region." It has not changed since the establishment of the MAC, despite two changes in the ruling party.
DPP legislators have alleged that President Ma Ying-jeou's declaration demeaned our sovereignty. Their allegations are groundless. When the DPP was in power, then Premier Yu Shyi-kun was questioned in the Legislative Yuan. Yu ordered the various government agencies to refer to the other side as "Mainland China" or "the Chinese Communists." Yu Shyi-kun had no choice. As the chief executive of the Republic of China, he was duty bound by its constitution and laws. Besides, the other side refers to us as "Taiwan." We refer to it as "the Mainland." Who can complain? We have not repudiated the Beijing authorities' jurisdiction. But neither have we recognized their sovereignty. How exactly have we "demeaned" ourselves?
Following the five cities elections, the DPP held lively debates, in which they discussed new cross-Strait policies. Former DPP chairman and premier Frank Hsieh proposed "One Constitution, Different Interpretations." He proposed a return to his long held "One China Constitution." The DPP may refuse to recognize the 1992 Consensus. But it can not avoid the spirit of "One China, Different Interpretations" when dealing with cross-Strait affairs. The ROC Constitution, after all, implies "One China." On Taiwan, the term "China" means the Republic of China. On Taiwan, this is the lowest common denominator regarding cross-Strait policy.
Scholars have commented on President Ma Ying-jeou's declaration. They consider it a gesture of goodwill toward the mainland. They also think it may appeal to swing voters. The two may go hand in hand. Official documents are law. They represent the government's position, When government officials prepare official documents, or are questioned by legislators, they must do so in accordance with the law. They must refer to the other side as "the Mainland" or "Mainland China." Basically they must reaffirm the Republic of China. They must not repudiate the policies of the Republic of China "prior to reunification." The Mainland fears that Taipei's attempts to assert its sovereignty may pave the way for Taiwan independence. The government must dispel any such concerns. On the other hand, the government must firmly uphold the Republic of China's sovereignty. This is its public responsibility. The government must not neglect national sovereignty, merely because it is attempting to strengthen cross-Strait relations.
For the public on Taiwan, the constitution should be treated like air and water, essential to our national survival. It is not necessary to pay it constant lip service. But cross-Strait relations are increasingly intimate. Historical disputes over the two sides' sovereignty have yet to be resolved, If repeated declarations reduce controversy, why not? Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan spoke of Taiwan's seven major interests. But she failed to stipulate "under the framework of the ROC Constitution." As a result, scholars wondered whether her proposal was "unconstitutional." People were incredulous. Beijing characterized this as a "minor matter." Just to make sure, Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the government's position, He gave Lai Shin-yuan support. Cross-Strait exchanges are currently in full swing. The various ministries may be forced to deal with cross-Strait matters. The Lai Shin-yuan incident may become a problem for all government officials.
Cross-Strait exchanges have been going on for 24 years. People to people exchanges are warmer than ever. People refer to the other side using all sorts of names. These include China, the Peoples Republic of China, the Beijing authorities, the Mainland, Mainland China, even the Chinese Communists. The man in the street may not understand the distinction between "jurisdiction" and "sovereignty." The government is not about to tell private citizens what terms they should use when referring to the other side. Take the calendar for example. The private sector has long used the Western calendar for publication dates. But the government is not the private sector. All official documents must use "Year of the Republic" dates. When dealing with cross-Strait affairs and policy, the government must abide by the same laws. Only then can it avoid misusing words and generating controversy within a complex political environment.