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DPP pro-independence clause still retains symbolic value

Taiwan has its own constitution, government, territory, and 23 million people who think that it is a sovereign country. But all this does not seem to meet the standard of an officially independent country.

As no country exists in a vacuum without other political entities, a country's independence is paradoxically defined by, and dependent on, its international relations. That is, one's independence must be internationally recognized — and few foreign states recognize Taiwan as a nation, except for a cohort of small allies whose views on cross-strait ties usually hold little weight within the international community.

The incessant row over Taiwan's independence again raised eyebrows earlier this week when Ker Chien-ming, a leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), proposed that his party formally “freeze” the pro-Taiwan independence clause in its charter.

His rationale is that the pro-independence clause has completed its “historical mission” and the party should move on with an eye to improving relations with the mainland Chinese regime.

The DPP must not let the Kuomintang (KMT) dominate Taiwan's ties with China, and must have a say in the debate, he argued.

Ker's proposal has received little support from his fellow caucus-members, many of whom reacted quickly and angrily to his attempt to shun what they view as one of the party's core values.

DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang has played down the issue, saying the party should not bicker over the pro-independence clause at all because Taiwan is already a sovereign country — an official line embraced by both the DPP and the KMT as well as by the general public.

Former Vice President Annette Lu, a DPP stalwart, noted that the clause, introduced in 1991, states that Taiwan's transition to a republic needs to be decided by popular vote.

She argues that when Taiwan conducted its first-ever presidential election by popular vote in 1996, it was already a de facto popular vote in favor of Taiwan's independence. In 1999, the DPP actually overrode the pro-independence clause by introducing a resolution that begins by proclaiming that “Taiwan is a sovereign country.” What she means is that Ker's move is unnecessary, as the clause is already “irrelevant.”

If the pro-independence clause is now truly irrelevant, then why is the DPP reluctant to take the next step and formally freeze it or even delete it?

The DPP is reluctant because it would erase a major part of the gray area on which it has relied for support. Though the clause is a pledge of allegiance to pro-independence fundamentalists, by playing it down the DPP can appeal to a wider demographic.

But Ker — and many others in the DPP, it is believed — obviously realizes that such a double-edged strategy is increasingly infeasible in the face of a China which is now undeniably a superpower and which has always been impatient with Taiwan's opposition camp manipulating such a gray area. The DPP needs a change to enhance its relations with China.

Ker's proposal has drawn a warm welcome from China, which says the DPP is heading in the right direction.

For China, the pro-independence clause in the DPP charter is far from being irrelevant: what Taiwan thinks of itself may not be sufficient to make it an internationally recognized sovereign country, but a lack of consensus on its own identity is definitely a stumbling block in China's attempts to accelerate cross-strait unification.

The pro-independence clause may have been put on the back burner, but it remains a symbol of the party's values. Perhaps it is also a symbol of the entire nation's values in terms of its emphasis on Taiwan as a sovereign country.

And that is the reason why Ker is only proposing that the clause be frozen, rather than completely erased from the DPP charter. The symbolic value still carries much weight, not just for the party, but for the entire nation.

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