As has been expected for some time President Chen Shui-bian today announced the abolishment of the National Unification Council and Guidelines … or did he? Here’s what he said:
The National Unification Council will cease to function. No budget will be earmarked for it, and its personnel must return to their original posts. The National Unification Guidelines will cease to apply. In accordance with procedures, this decision will be transmitted to the Executive Yuan for notice.
So does ‘cease to function’ mean that it’s been abolished? Or did it cease to function back in 2000? The answer to both these contradictary questions is probably ‘yes’. Perhaps Chen has decided that if the US is going to base their Taiwan-China policies on ‘strategic ambiguity’, then there’s no reason why Taiwan can’t either.
Perhaps the acid test for whether this is actually an abolishment of the council lies not with Chen Shui-bian, but with his successor. The wording of this statement seems to leave room for the next president to ‘resume the function’ of the NUC and the associated guidelines. But would Ma Ying-jeou feel comfortable doing that, given his public statements about letting the people decide about unification or reunification?
Clearly Chen has chosen the wording on this statement carefully. He’s avoided clearly ‘abolishing’ the council to make some concessions to the US, and to give his supporters some wiggle-room to argue as to whether this is a real change or not. If Chen can spin this as a non-event which the pan-Blues are overreacting to (I’ve already heard one legislator call him ‘Osama bin Laden’ and of course the move to recall him is in full swing), then he may yet come out ahead.
Whatever the reasons behind Chen’s move, it remind me less of Machiavelli and more of Baldrick’s “I have a cunning plan …”