Part 7: The referendum question

Henry C K Liu

Part 1: Two nations, worlds apart
Part 2  Cold War links Korea, Taiwan

Part 3: Korea: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong enemy
Part 4: 38th Parallel leads straight to Taiwan

Part 5: History of the Taiwan time bomb
Part 6: Forget reunification - nothing to reunite

This article appeared in AToL on January 31, 2004

In the unconstitutional 2000 local elections on Taiwan for national offices, after losing the Guomindang, or GMD (in Taiwan known as the Kuomintang, or KMT) nomination for president to then-vice president Lien Chan, James Soong ran as an independent. The GMD responded by expelling Soong and his supporters from the party. In the final months leading up to the 2000 elections, the GMD, then under Lee Teng-hui's leadership, sued Soong for theft, alleging that as party secretary general, he stole millions in party funds in cash on behalf of the family of the late president Jiang Jing-guo and hid the money in the Chunghsing Bills Finance Co.

Initially leading in the polls, Soong narrowly lost the election with 36.84 percent of the vote to Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who also failed to score a plurality, with only 39.3 percent of the votes cast. Lien came in a distant third with only 23.1 percent. Were it not for the winner-take-all system, a runoff between the two top candidates would surely have put Soong in the winner's circle. It is widely believed that Lee Teng-hui secretly supported Chen against all other candidates, frustrating the popular will.

After losing the election, Soong and his supporters formed the People's First Party (PFP), a spinoff from the GMD. The loss of PFP splinter votes was a major factor in pushing the GMD to swing toward seeking political accommodation with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and in causing the subsequent expulsion of Lee Teng-hui. The struggle between the GMD and the CCP has always been a party-to-party struggle within one nation.

"Reunification" is a misnomer, since the country itself has never been divided to begin with. So no reunification is needed, except reunification between two political parties into a political coalition. What is needed is a peaceful permanent political accommodation between two political parties of different but reconcilable ideology. These two parties had cooperated twice in the past until right-wing extremists took control of the GMD.

For half a century, since the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), a GMD Revolutionary Committee has been active on the mainland. It was headed first by Song Qing-ling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen and the oldest sister of Madame Jiang Jie-shi (Chiang Kai-shek) and He Xiang-ning, the widow of Sun's top aide and leader of the GMD left, Liao Zhong-kai. Liao's assassination by rightists in 1925 caused the first split between the Communists and the Nationalists, and other top GMD members.

On the first anniversary of Liao's assassination, Liu Shao-qi, who 33 years later would become president of the PRC in 1959, wrote:

For to draw into the revolution the great majority of the worker and peasant masses who will fight for it with all their might, the revolution must reflect their vital interests. The workers and peasants are not to be tricked into joining the revolution. If we genuinely fight for their interests, continually help to improve their conditions and earnestly work for their emancipation, we will naturally win their enthusiastic participation in the revolution. With their participation the success of the revolution will certainly not be far off. Mr Liao [Zhong-kai] was the first person to implement a worker and peasant policy. He took an active part in promoting the worker and peasant movements and persevered despite many difficulties and much calumny. Mr Liao had a true understanding of the process of China's national revolution and of the workers' and peasants' part in it. Hence his greatness and exemplary role for all Guomindang members!
All Chinese seek single Chinese state

The national goal of all Chinese is a single Chinese state under a single government that regains all territorial integrity of China. As Hong Kong and Macau are now again under the sovereignty of China, the immediate outstanding issue is now Taiwan. The government of the PRC under the leadership of CCP, and to varying degrees the GMD and the PFP on Taiwan, all support peaceful political inter-party accommodation toward national reconstruction. In Taiwan politics, this group is known as the pan-blue coalition.

It is opposed by supporters of Taiwan independence, such as the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which are known as the pan-green coalition. The CCP has proposed political accommodation with the GMD, and the government of the PRC has proposed the reincorporation of Taiwan with the mainland under a "one country, two systems" policy similar to that for Hong Kong and Macau. This has little support in Taiwan, however, even among so-called "reunification" supporters, understandably so, because the situation of Taiwan is fundamentally different from that of the two former European colonies.

Taiwan is already Chinese territory. The dispute is between two political parties, not two governments or two countries. And unless and until the GMD regains political control of Taiwan and restores the Republic of China (ROC) government to its legitimate status as a pretender government of China, there is no basis for any political negotiation between the PRC and the current illegal and unconstitutional Taiwan authorities. China has as much right to re-establish Chinese control over Taiwan as US president Dwight Eisenhower had the constitutional authority to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 to enforce school desegregation ordered by the US Supreme Court under the US constitution, let alone president Abraham Lincoln's right to preserve the union from secession by slave-holding southern states.

From the collapse in 1947 of negotiations to form a coalition government in China until the mid-1970s, political accommodation was not the main subject of discourse between the CCP and the GMD; each formally envisaged a military takeover of one by the other in an unfinished civil war. In 1979, with Deng Xiaoping as leader, the PRC replaced the policy of liberating Taiwan by force with the policy of peaceful political accommodation with the GMD on Taiwan.

Within the GMD, the possibility of militarily retaking the mainland was finally recognized as an impossible dream in the 1970s, particularly after the death of GMD leader Jiang Jie-shi. The prospect of political accommodation between the two parties briefly looked promising under Jiang Jing-guo, who had been a CCP member in his youth.

Unfortunately, US opposition prevented Jiang Jing-guo from making any meaningful rapprochement with the PRC, despite repeated overtures from the CCP. With the loosening of authoritarian rule in the 1980s and the shift in power within the GMD away from the mainlanders, the GMD began to move away from the claim of being a government of China.

Taiwan sets up new warlord regime

With a sizable standing military backed by the United States, the Taiwan authorities in fact established a new warlord regime on Taiwan, an anomaly that the GMD itself fought against, with the help of the communists, in the historic Northern Expedition against warlordism in 1926. In the 1990s, Lee Teng-hui as an illegitimate president of the ROC unconstitutionally exacerbated the shift toward warlordism within the GMD, leading to a separatist confrontation with the PRC and factional splits within the GMD.

Until the mid-1990s, supporters on Taiwan of the concept of one China were also bitterly opposed to communism. Since the mid-1990s there has been a considerable warming of relations between the CCP and the GMD, and between them the one China concept has never been an issue. Closer ties with the mainland are undeniably in the interest of Taiwan as a province of China.

After the elections of 2000, which unconstitutionally and illegally brought the independence-leaning DPP to power, the GMD, faced with factional defections to the PFP, expelled the traitorous Lee Teng-hui. In 2001, Lee helped create the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). Lee's primary motivation was to stop the GMD from moving away from his ideas of Taiwanese separatism and from shifting the party toward peaceful political accommodation with the CCP. The government of the PRC under the leadership of the CCP adopted policies of economic incentive designed to encourage Taiwanese businesses to investing on the mainland and to create a pro-accommodation bloc within the Taiwanese electorate.

Within Taiwan, supporters of peaceful political accommodation with the CCP generally do not assert that the ROC should be the sole Chinese government. On the other hand, the PRC government has declared that under the principle of one China, all issues can be discussed, including the appellation of the state and the selection of a new national flag and national anthem. The GMD can even keep its separate military on Taiwan. In addition, supporters of political accommodation do not oppose localization or a Taiwanese identity, but rather see Taiwanese identity as a component of a broad Chinese identity - not a separate cultural identity. What supporters of peaceful political accommodation do oppose is de-sinicization or the effort to create a Taiwanese national identity in a separatist context.

Despite the factional rivalry between Lien, the GMD chairman after 2000, and Soong, the new PFP chairman, the GMD and PFP have pledged to cooperate in future elections in order to prevent splitting the vote, since they basically share the same electorate. The GMD-PFP alliance, known as the pan-blue coalition, has been stormy, but it has been marginally successful thus far because of their realization that united, they stand a better chance of winning in any election whose voters are overwhelmingly Taiwanese natives.

Though losses in the 2001 legislative elections made the DPP the largest single party in the Legislative Yuan, the pan-blue coalition holds a narrow majority over the pan-green coalition. In April 2003, after discussions between the GMD and the PFP, Soong announced that he would run as a vice-presidential candidate under Lien Chan in the 2004 elections. There are widespread rumors that Soong agreed to take the vice-presidential post in exchange for a pledge by Lien to give him significant power, including the premiership, in a Lien government. Many GMD members are opposed to the linkage and political rewards, as they consider Soong an opportunist and political traitor.

Non-aggression pact a non-starter

The key difficulty lies in the GMD's acquiescence in subjecting national offices to local elections. In his campaign, Soong advocated a gradual union between Taiwan and the mainland by first signing a non-aggression pact followed by the formation of a cross-Strait union similar to the European Union. This proposal is a non-starter, since the two sides are not separate countries with which any union can be formed.

Soong's platform called for the characterization of relations between the mainland and Taiwan as neither foreign nor domestic. Although widely seen as the candidate most friendly to the mainland, Soong took particular effort to counter the perception that he would "sell out" Taiwan. His base of support includes strong supporters of political accommodation with the CCP, rural voters who remain grateful for the selective economic development undertaken during his governorship, and urban middle-class voters who see him as a cleaner alternative to the GMD old guard. Soong has been a staunch opponent of Taiwan independence and has publicly attacked President Chen for proposing a referendum on independence.

(The referendum scheduled for March does not specifically ask about independence. Voters would be asked, among other things, whether the PRC should be requested to redirect nearly 500 missiles currently aimed at the ROC from the mainland, and if Beijing refuses, whether the ROC should improve its own defensive missile capabilities.)

In January 1988, on the death of Jiang Jing-guo, Lee Teng-hui succeeded him as president, but not without resistance. The hardline faction of the GMD, headed by General Hau Pei-tsun, deeply distrustful of Lee, threatened a coup. With the help of James Soong, who calmed down the hardliners, Lee was allowed to assume the presidency unobstructed. Lee consolidated his power by speaking of defending the GMD party line, while emphasizing the global trends of reform. Lee and his allies in the government used the pressure from the hardliners as a tool to work for developing the underlying Taiwanese localization movement. In December 1991, the original members of the Legislative Yuan, elected in 1947 to represent mainland constituencies, were forced to resign and new elections were held to apportion affirmatively more seats to local legislators, bensheng ren. The elections forced Hau from the premiership, a position he had been given in exchange for ending his opposition to Lee.

The Taiwanese localization movement has its roots in the home-rule groups founded during Japanese occupation, and they have emphasized Taiwan as the center of political deliberation, as opposed to China proper. During the two-generation Jiang dynastic rule, China had been promoted on Taiwan as the focus of awareness around which a Chinese national outlook could be instilled in a people who had once considered themselves Japanese colonial subjects during 50 years of occupation.

Given this China focus, Taiwan was seen as a temporary place for mainlanders to reside while they waited for the re-conquest of the mainland from communism. Taiwan was often relegated to a backwater province of China in the GMD-supported history books. People were discouraged from studying about Taiwan and old local customs were to be overwhelmed by Chinese mainstream customs.

Lee supports Taiwan independence

By contrast, Lee Teng-hui sought to turn Taiwan into a national center rather than an appendage of the mainland. Lee presided over the democratization of Taiwanese society and government in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the promotion of local chauvinism. During his presidency, Lee was dogged by persistent suspicions that he secretly supported Taiwan independence. These suspicions were proved valid by Lee's behavior after his presidency, which eventually led to his expulsion from the GMD. He subsequently became the spiritual leader of the strongly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. Since leaving office, Lee has actively campaigned on behalf of pan-green coalition candidates and has actively opposed candidates of his former party. In addition, Lee has publicly stated that he supports changing the name of the country from the Republic of China to the Republic of Taiwan and opposes increased economic ties with the mainland.

Elections for the president of the ROC on Taiwan are scheduled for March 20. For the ruling DPP, backed by the pan-green coalition, incumbent Chen Shui-bian will be the presidential candidate and Annette Lu, also incumbent, the vice-presidential candidate. The opposition pan-blue coalition will run a combined ticket - GMD chairman Lien Chan as the presidential candidate and PFP chairman James Soong as the vice-presidential candidate.

As with all elections, the contest will be to woo the undecided. The main issues in the campaign are relations with the mainland, political reform, and the economy. In addition, although they tend not be noticed by the international press, local issues have been important in the campaign, particularly because these issues influence undecided voters. These issues vary from county to county but include funding for irrigation projects, the location of new expressways, and the redrawing of local administrative boundaries.

The DPP has been attempting to portray the Lien-Soong ticket as one that would "sell out" Taiwan to PRC mainland interests, and it has been emphasizing constitutional reform, proposing a new constitution and holding a referendum on the future of Taiwan. This has led to justifiable fears that Chen intends to use a new constitution and a referendum to declare Taiwan independence, which would lead to a military response from China. Worries about this have caused even the United States at several points to ask for and receive assurances that Chen has not abandoned the "Four Nos plus One Without" (si bu, yi meiyou) pledge made in his inaugural speech on May 20, 2000, concerning the political status of Taiwan.

< style="font-family: times new roman,times,serif;">The pledge is an important part of cross-Strait relations. It states: Provided that the PRC does not attack Taiwan, Chen's administration would: < style="font-family: times new roman,times,serif;">
  • Not declare Taiwan independence.
  • Not change the national title from "the Republic of China" to "the Republic of Taiwan".
  • Not include the doctrine of special state-to-state relations in the new constitution.
  • Not promote a referendum on unification or independence.
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    In addition, the "one without" was Chen's pledge not to abolish the National Unification Council or the National Unification guidelines.

    Four Nos plus One Without pledge

    The "Four Nos plus One Without" pledge has become an important basis of Taiwan-US relations. Chen has had to reassure the United States on several occasions that the pledge has not been abandoned. The US responded by saying it "appreciates Chen's pledge and takes it very seriously".

    In a televised address on January 16, Chen reiterated his "Four Nos plus One Without" pledge, but justified the forthcoming "peace referendum" on March 20 by some rhetorical questions: "The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should mainland China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and openly to renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?

    "Would you agree that our government should engage in negotiation with mainland China on the establishment of a 'peace and stability' framework for cross-Strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?"

    The Lien-Soong ticket attempts to portray Chen as someone who lets politics get in the way of improving the Taiwanese economy, which depends on integration with the mainland. It focuses on Chen's inability to deal with the prolonged recession.

    The PRC in mid-November 2003 issued several very sharp warnings at high levels that it would not stand by if Taiwan declared independence. This was widely seen as a response to US reverses in its promise gradually to disengage from Taiwan, as stipulated by the Three Communiqués that define US-China relations. In early November, Chen Shui-bian took an unofficial trip to the United States in which he was much more on public view than in previous visits. This trip increased his popularity on Taiwan to the point where most polls indicated that he was even or slightly ahead of the Lien-Soong ticket. His US trip in early 2003 also alarmed the PRC in that it appeared to convince them that the US would do less to constrain Chen Shui-bian than it had earlier indicated.

    Another referendum could ask about independence

    Chen's rise in the polls caused the opposition to change its campaign strategy. To counter Chen's platform for a new constitution by 2008, the opposition campaigned for a major constitutional change by 2004. In addition, the opposition ended its obstruction of a referendum bill, thus permitting referendums. The vetting of the referendum bill prompted Beijing to issue sharp warnings about passage of a referendum bill - which at some point would also permit a popular vote on sovereignty. The bill that was passed on November 27 did not contain restrictions on the content of referendums, but it did include very high hurdles for referendums on constitutional issues.

    In addition, the bill contained a provision for a defensive referendum to be called if the sovereignty of the ROC were under threat. On November 29, Chen announced that given that the PRC had missiles aimed at Taiwan, he had the power under the defensive-referendum clause to order a referendum on sovereignty - although he did not do so. This statement was very strongly criticized both by Beijing and by the pan-blue opposition coalition. But instead, Chen proposed a referendum to ask the PRC to remove missiles aimed at Taiwan.

    During Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao's visit last November, US President George W Bush gave a clear statement that it "opposes" any form of referendum that would unilaterally change the status quo of Taiwan. The United States fears that Chen will put Washington in the unwelcome position of having to show its hand in its policy of ambiguity adopted in recent decades - if Chen's game of pushing the independence envelope should trigger a PRC military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. That conflict would involve the US.

    The US has an implied obligation to help Taiwan defend itself, as stated somewhat ambiguously in the Taiwan Relations Act, a US domestic law that infringes on the internal affairs of China in the name of defending democracy. Yet democracy on Taiwan is not the issue. The issue is Taiwan independence. The US is unwilling to confront China in East Asia especially while it is bogged down in an Iraq quagmire, with no end in sight. Also the issue of Pyongyang's nuclear proliferation hangs in the balance. Despite vocal US reservations, however, Chen continues to insist that a referendum will be held on March 20, as well as the presidential vote.

    Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, chief architect of US-China rapprochement under president Richard Nixon, published an essay titled "The way to avoid confrontation" regarding US policy toward China and Taiwan in the October 25, 1999, edition of Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun. In sum, the idea is to avoid a crisis of Sino-US confrontation and defer China's "reunification" with Taiwan by getting Taiwan to agree that Taiwan is part of China.

    Kissinger wrote: "Relations between the United States and China this year [1999] have come under the greatest strain since bilateral diplomatic ties were re-established in 1971 ... In this atmosphere Taiwan's sudden and unilateral challenge to the existing political understandings in the Taiwan Strait ... is interpreted in Beijing as the culmination of a US plot to divide China. Chinese warnings of a possible military response have taken on a severity reminiscent of the prelude to the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in 1950."