Tuesday, July 22, 2014

EDITORIAL: Freezing the independence clause

Tue, Jul 22, 2014 - Page 8

For the time being, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is able to evade the controversial proposal to freeze the party’s Taiwan independence clause after DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) sent it to the party’s Central Executive Committee for further discussion at the party congress on Sunday.

Rest assured that the issue is set to cause infighting and fiery debate within the party in the future. When it comes to independence, things have always been complex.

The proposal, drafted by former DPP legislators Julian Kuo (郭正亮) and Chen Zau-nan (陳昭南), called for freezing the so-called independence clause, which refers to the first chapter of the DPP charter that lists the party’s goal as “establishing a sovereign and independent Republic of Taiwan.” They said that since the DPP maintains that Taiwan is sovereign and independent, and that since the party formed the government of the Republic of China (ROC) for eight years, there is no need for such a clause.

More importantly, freezing the clause would improve the DPP’s ties with Beijing, increase bilateral exchanges and possibly minimize China’s hostile interference with the DPP’s presidential campaign in 2016.

However, it might not make sense to freeze the clause as support for independence has been rising in recent years, particularly among young people, according to the majority of public opinion polls.

As far as the presidential election is concerned, is it possible for the DPP to appeal to China without losing the votes of independence supporters?

The next question is: What does “freezing” the clause mean?

If it means suspending the clause for the sake of winning the trust and goodwill of Beijing, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said during his visit to Taiwan last month that freezing the clause was not enough and that Beijing would be watching the DPP closely.

If it means that the DPP is to abandon its goal of de jure independence because Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, the party might as well scrap the clause altogether, rather than simply freeze it.

The truth appears to be that even if the DPP has repeatedly said that “the ROC is Taiwan and Taiwan is the ROC,” the party — as well as the majority of its supporters — has never liked the name “ROC.” Some say that the ROC is an historic entity that no longer exists, and even if it did still exist, it would take Taiwan nowhere in the international community.

On this controversial issue, the DPP has to do some soul searching and ask itself the ultimate question: What is the party’s definition of Taiwanese independence?

Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) put it best the other day, saying that there were probably a dozen different interpretations of independence in Taiwan.

According to Beijing’s definition, Hsieh added, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “no unification, no independence and no use of force” is a form of independence.

The current controversy about independence stems not only from the independence clause, but also several DPP resolutions, including the resolution on Taiwan’s future in 1999, which Tsai and former DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) have said was the most widely accepted consensus among DPP members, and the resolution on making Taiwan a normal country in 2007, which called for renaming the nation as Taiwan.

The issue of independence, which comes back to haunt the DPP every once in a while, seems to reflect the fact that its ambiguity on the issue — intentional or unintentional — has created confusion among its members and the public, and the problem cannot drag on forever.

That perhaps explains why the most important task at the end of the day is not pleasing China, whose position has always been contrary to that of mainstream public opinion in Taiwan, but to provide itself and the public with a confident and clear position.