On September 26 the premier of Taiwan‘s executive branch said that Taiwan doesn’t need to formally declare independence because it is already a sovereign country. He stressed that Taipei wants to “extend a friendly hand” to China, but that the two sides “do not belong to each other.”
According to local reports, during a debate in the Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan), two lawmakers of the Guomindang, Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) and Li Yen-hsiu (李彥秀), asked the premier of the executive branch to clarify the position of the current administration with regard to relations between Taiwan and mainland China.
“Do cross-strait relations resemble a relationship between lovers, husband and wife, siblings, friends, or other?” asked Chiang.
William Lai Ch’ing-teh (賴清德), the newly-appointed premier of the Executive Yuan, answered that it is “a bilateral relation” (關係是雙方的). Lai stated that Taiwan’s priority is currently to “strengthen itself”, but that the government “should also extend a friendly hand to China’s Beijing authorities (中國北京當局).”
Lai pointed out that Taiwan’s “goodwill and sincerity towards China” (對中國的善意和誠意) will not change, but added that relations could not be advanced under the premise of “surrender”.
“Taiwan is an independent sovereign country and its [official] name is Republic of China. The two sides [China and Taiwan] do not belong to each other,” Lai said.
The premier stressed that incumbent president Ts’ai Ing-wen, like her predecessors Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou, have expressed the “goodwill of Taiwan’s society towards China”, but emphasized that “one must also see how China responds to it.”
Lawmaker Li Yen-hsiu asked Lai if the government supports the idea of a referendum to alter the territory of the ROC. Lai said that he “respects the decision of the Legislative Yuan.”
The parliamentary majority of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) drafted an amendment to the Referendum Act which would simplify the referendum process. The draft would bring down the number of signatures needed in the first stage to decide the topic of a referendum from about 94,000 to about 1,800; it would abolish the provision that more than 50% of all eligible voters must vote and the ‘yes’ vote must exceed 50% of the total number of votes; and it would reduce the voting age from 20 to 18.
The amended Referendum Act could pave the way for a pro-independence referendum, in which voters would decide whether to declare de jure independence from China, a move which Beijing is unlikely to tolerate without retaliation.
Lai stated that he supports Taiwan independence, but that he is a “pragmatic” independence advocate. Taiwan “is already an independent sovereign country, there is no need for a separate declaration of Taiwan independence,” he said, adding that “the future of Taiwan will be decided by its 23 million citizens.”
The DPP is traditionally a pro-independence party, but under Ts’ai Ing-wen’s leadership it has moved towards a moderate ‘Taiwan-centric’ position, advocating for the preservation of the status quo without official independence. Ts’ai’s strategy paid off and in 2016 the DPP captured the vote of the majority of Taiwanese, including those who do not want closer ties with China, but also do not wish to risk war by declaring de jure independence.
China has vowed to use force to bring about ‘reunification’ with Taiwan if possibilities for a peaceful solution of the issue “should be completely exhausted.”
Chinese media slammed Lai Ch’ing-teh’s statements and reaffirmed Beijing’s position that “there is only one China in the world, that the mainland and Taiwan both belong to one China,” and warned that Taiwan independence’ is unfeasible and a “road to disaster.”
According to a 2016 poll 79.8% of Taiwanese wish to maintain the status quo and only 22.4% would support unification with China if the status quo could not be maintained.