Lee Teng-hui and the Legacy of Chinese Nationalism
[M]ore than forty years of separation between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits and differences in our political systems have created tremendous gaps and a foundation of mutual distrust. Thus, the main intent of the Guidelines for National Unification is to gradually eliminate psychological, social, and economic differences between the two sides of the Straits through peaceful means, a rational attitude, and bilateral positive interaction: to build up mutual trust and cooperation, step by step, through reciprocity; and finally, to determine the nation’s future constitutional regime and the entire populace’s lifestyle on the basis of popular will. We believe that this is the most reasonable and feasible way to resolve the China problem.
Despite the many forces of obstruction that remain, we must do our utmost to affect the situation as it now stands, as well as sway the views of the minority and win the hearts of our mainland compatriots, thereby to attain the goal of establishing one democratic, free, and equitably prosperous China (Lee Teng-hui: President Lee Teng-hui’s Selected Addresses and Messages 1991. Taipei 1992, p. 10).
I will abide by the Constitution, and devote myself to the fulfillment of my duties, to promoting the welfare of the people and seeking national unification and a new era for the Chinese nation …
It was … agreed that we would enter a new stage in national unification by means of the termination of the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion …
A constitution is a country’s fundamental law from which its sovereignty is derived, by which its government is organized, and through which the rights of its people are guaranteed. Therefore, upon the establishment of the Republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen repeatedly advised the people, “Before the nation can develop along its future path, the Republic of China must have a good constitution.” Chiang Kai-shek, the late president, also advised us that, “The Constitution is the legal code for the whole nation to abide by. On the other hand, it must be far-sighted, and, on the other, it must take into account the actual conditions of the country.”
[The adjustments made to the Constitution by the National Assembly] allowed the Republic of China in the little corner formed by the Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu areas to become the hope for the future reunification of China … The Chinese people will eternally remember with gratitude such loyal patriotism (ibid., pp. 14-16).
[Taiwan] is not just Taiwan; it is the Republic of China. In addition to the island of Taiwan, the ROC’s effective jurisdiction covers the Penghu Islands (the Pescadores), Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu, the Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, and the Nansha (Spratly) Islands. In addition, the ROC has 87 years of continuous history and a Constitution that has been in effect for 52 years
(Lee Teng-hui: President Lee Teng-hui’s Selected Addresses and Messages 1998. Taipei 1999, pp. 133-134).
It is very touching to see so many overseas Chinese returning to the Republic of China and gathering here on the eve of its National Day in celebration of the republic’s 87th birthday … [T]he successful constitutional reform during the last decade has realized the “popular governance” ideal of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, our founding father …
The goal being pursued by the Republic of China on Taiwan [is to] build a new China, which is prosperous, strong, democratic, and dignified and will contribute considerably to human culture and world peace. The significant achievement of the ROC on Taiwan in implementing democracy and free market economy has also served as a grand blueprint for the future development of the entire Chinese people (ibid., pp. 176-178).
Today is the 1998 National Day of the Republic of China. We are gathered here, our hearts brimming with happiness, to celebrate the birth of our nation and, at the same time, solemnly take stock of the development of our country … For 87 years, despite the incessant changes and tribulations on our national front, we have never failed to adhere to the ideals of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, our Founding Father …
We are committed to the ideal of democracy, freedom and equitable prosperity in pragmatically promoting cross-strait relations … The two sides should promote mutual understanding … and seek eventual reunification under democracy by a gradual approach (ibid., pp. 178-181).
China – A Divided Nation
One could say that Peking’s accusations that Taipei is straying from the “one China” principle completely ignore reality and are entirely politically motivated. The Republic of China has always been committed to the “one China” principle; however, our definition differs from that of the mainland. Our view is that prior to 1949, there existed only one China – the Republic of China.
For the nearly 50 years since 1949, China has been under divided rule. The two political entities on the opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait rule only parts of China. Neither one has ever been able to exercise jurisdiction over the other’s territory. Therefore, at the present stage, “one China” should refer to the historic, cultural, and geographic China rather than one defined by political, economic and social factors. As for the future, it is our earnest hope to see a free, democratic, and equitably prosperous “one China” emerge through a peaceful process.
We staunchly maintain that, as parts of China, Taiwan and the mainland must coexist peacefully and seek to create favorable conditions through exchange and dialogue for the ultimate peaceful unification of the nation. Therefore, in 1991 we promulgated the Guidelines for National Unification, which set the establishment of a democratic, free, and equitably prosperous China as the guiding principles of the ROC’s mainland policy. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to promote cross-strait exchanges and institutionalized consultations in hopes of moving forward from a China now under divided rule to a future “one China”.
However, prior to unification, neither side can claim to represent the other side or all of China, nor can the mainland resort to force or other coercive measures to threaten Taiwan. To do so would be tantamount to verbally annexing Taiwan, which neither the government nor the people of the Republic of China will by any means accept (Lee 1999, pp. 81-82).
The path to a democratic China must begin with reality. And, that reality is a divided China, just as Germany and Vietnam were in the past and as Korea is today. Hence, there is no “one China” now. Perhaps in the future there will be, but at present not. Today, there is only a “one divided China,” with Taiwan and the mainland each being a part of China. Because neither has jurisdiction over the other, neither can represent the other, much less all of China.
The “one China” as uttered by communist China means that “There is only one China; Taiwan is part of China.” The first half of this statement defies reality. The latter half is only a half-truth. Furthermore, this whole idea is equivalent to a “verbal annexation” of Taiwan (ibid., p. 122).
The Republic of China has been a sovereign state for the past 87 years. This status did not change as a result of the loss of governing power over the mainland area in 1949. Today, neither side of the Taiwan Strait is subordinate to the other, and China is thus under divided rule, just as East and West Germany were previously and as North and South Korea are at present. However, it remains our hope that China will be reunified in the future under a free, democratic, and equitably prosperous system …
[T]he Republic of China has long been a sovereign state and thus has no need to declare independence. In the past, most nations around the world shared formal diplomatic relations with the ROC … It was a charter member of the United Nations and a full member until 1971 (ibid., pp. 128-133).
Taiwan – The ‘Better China’
The economic miracle of Taiwan demonstrates to the people on the mainland that they can have a better life with a market economy. Similarly, the democratization of Taiwan proves that traditional Chinese culture is compatible with democracy, freedom, and human rights.
In recent times, communist China and some people from the West have frequently accused the Republic of China of carrying on a campaign for “Taiwan independence” or “two Chinas”, or “one China, one Taiwan.” This is a total distortion of the truth.
What we on Taiwan have done all along is to safeguard, for China, a piece of land that is free from communist rule. We have developed the economy and have promoted democratization, becoming the model for a future China reunified under democracy (ibid., p. 111).
Peking is basically a negative power; its strength lies in its extensive ability to cause problems in the international community. Its system and institutions, nuclear weapons, and trade behavior, as well as the uncertainties regarding its national development, are all major concerns for the rest of the world.
The ROC, on the other hand, is a positive power. The world is witness to our success in achieving freedom and democracy. We have a pluralistic society and a liberalized, globalized and market-oriented economy. In the international community, the ROC plays an active and contributing role (ibid., p. 130).
I hope that history will remember me as “a pioneer who created the first democratic entity in the Chinese world.” I’d also like history to affirm that in my tenure I accomplished two major breakthroughs: first, the transformation of Taiwan into a full-fledged democratic entity, and second, a rapprochement between Taipei and Peking to lay a solid foundation for China’s eventual reunification based on freedom, democracy, and rule of law (ibid., p. 134).
The “New Taiwanese” and the Beginning of a Taiwanese Identity
All of us who grow and live on this soil today are Taiwanese people, whether we be aborigines or descendants of the immigrants from the mainland who came over either centuries or decades ago … My dear fellow countrymen: Taiwan is our common homeland. Here we live and work, here lies our future. Only by continuing to build the consensus of the “new Taiwanese people,” and by rekindling the determined and fearless “Taiwan spirit”, can we … open up a brighter future for our descendants (ibid., pp. 188-189).
Not only will the development of cross-straits relations have immediate influence on the 21.8 million people in the Taiwan area, but it will also decide the well-being and future of the entire Chinese people (ibid. 191).