A common theme in news reports about Chen Shui-bian recently has been his plans to change the country’s name to ‘Taiwan’ (from the current official name ‘Republic of China’). [See here for a recent example, translated by ESWN – and Michael Turton’s rebuttal]
So, does he really plan to change the name? Or are the journalists just making stuff up?
The first point to make is that Chen has repeatedly promised not to change the country’s name. On his inauguration in 2000, he said:
Therefore, as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called “state-to-state” description in the Constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regard to the question of independence or unification. Furthermore, there is no question of abolishing the Guidelines for National Unification and the National Unification Council.
He also reaffirmed these promises in his 2004 inauguration. However, his move to effectively abolish the NUC called into question these promises. Since then he has reaffirmed the remaining promises – here is what he said on June 20th in his ‘report to the people’:
On June 8, I told Raymond Burghardt, Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, that the “four noes” I mentioned in 2000 would remain unchanged as long as China has no intention to use force against Taiwan. I reiterated the “four noes,” and the United States welcomed my statement. That is all.
In addition to this, he said this about constitutional reform in a Japanese newspaper interview in March:
We also affirm that any sovereignty issue that strays from constitutional proceedings not only fails to contribute to maintaining the status quo, but also should be disregarded.
So, it looks like he’s promised not to change the name.
A man with ideals
Unfortunately, very little is black and white with Chen. In the same (June 20th) speech where he promised not to change the name he also spoke of his goal to rename the country Taiwan:
Taiwan of course is our best possible name, most forceful name, most beautiful name. I have not changed my opinion about this in the least. In our dealings with countries with which we have formal diplomatic relations, we use the Republic of China, followed by Taiwan in parentheses. All of our joint communiques denote our country in that way; otherwise, people would really get mixed up.
Therefore, we hope that these issues can be considered. What could be wrong with that? We need a timely relevant, and viable new Constitution for Taiwan. The differing views people have on this matter are all open to discussion. But this is a goal, an ideal. What can be wrong with that?
Of course, I know that changing the name of the nation is a very difficult matter. But inasmuch as some of our people advocate doing so, we should respect their views. Until such time as a change is made, we are still the Republic of China, and we must display the ROC flag internationally. Wherever I go, I take the ROC flag with me and sing the ROC national anthem.
So, he’s promised not to change the name, he doesn’t think that sovereignty issues should be part of constitutional reform … but he’s happy for the issue of Taiwan’s name to be considered in any new ‘Constitution of Taiwan’.
The President’s power
At this point, there’s an important procedural point that should be made:
The president has absolutely no control over constitutional reform.
Any constitutional amendment must be proposed by the Legislature, voted on by the Legislature, and put to a referendum. The president has zero involvement in this process. Chen Shui-bian has as much control over this process as any of the other ~16 Million Taiwanese voters.
So, as President, Chen can do nothing but talk about consitutional reform and name changes. Of course, his position of influence inside the DPP gives him some control – but it’s debatable whether he’s got any more influence than other senior DPP figures, and he’s definitely got less power in this regard than KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou.
So, in summary:
- He would clearly like to change the name (and has publicly said so), but
- He’s promised not to, and
- He has no power to do so anyway, and
- Even if he could convince the DPP legislators to propose a name change it would be trivial for the KMT/PFP to block it