Friday, February 26, 2010

Ma ‘error’ throws Taiwan back two decades

The Presidential Office last week quickly corrected an “error” made after a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and US Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. The “error” came in a post- meeting press release that quoted Ma as referring to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as “nations.” It was later changed to “two areas” on the Presidential Office Web site.

The following day, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) told reporters that Ma would never make such a “mistake” and reaffirmed the administration’s adherence to the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, which, when taken literally — as Wang did — signifies that China is an “area” of the ROC. Wang also underscored that Taipei does not recognize the sovereignty of the Chinese Communist Party.

The use of “areas” to describe Taiwan and China, he said, reflected the longstanding “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait and was followed by the administrations of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

This last characterization, however, masks a far more complex shift in Taiwan that began in 1991 with what authors Bruce Jacobs and I-hao Ben Liu describe in their paper “Lee Teng-hui and the Idea of Taiwan” as the recognition by the ROC on Taiwan “that it did not control the Chinese mainland.” In other words, Lee sought to fix Taiwan as the limit of the ROC’s jurisdiction. This would lead to six constitutional amendments under Lee, changes to the final clause of the first phase of the National Unification Guidelines (國家統一綱領) and the termination of the Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of National Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員勘亂時期臨時條款).

My analysis, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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