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Taiwan has been independent before

William Lai, mayor of Tainan, was asked in Shanghai early last week why his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants independence for Taiwan. He answered that the Taiwan independence movement had started much, much earlier than 1986, when his party was founded, and that the future of Taiwan should be determined by its people.

The question was, as is usual in Communist China, a framed one. Lai gave the expected reply and, hey presto, Fan Liqing, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, came out last Wednesday with a statement that the future of Taiwan has to be determined by all Chinese, including “Taiwan compatriots.” All Beijing wanted of Mayor Lai was the answer expected of him, which gave Fan the chance to repeat an anti-Taiwanese independence cliche on the eve of her boss Zhang Zhiqun's first-ever visit to Taiwan. Zhang, minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office, is scheduled to begin his visit next Monday, returning the visit his Taipei counterpart Wang Yu-chi made last February.

The Fan statement caused a stir in Taipei, of course. President Ma Ying-jeou's spokesperson had to reiterate that Taiwan's future has to be determined by its 23 million people “within the framework of the constitution” and the Mainland Affairs Council parroted the Ma line, while the opposition party said exactly the same but omitted the constitutional framework.

There is a difference. Legally speaking, Taiwan and mainland China are both parts of the Republic of China according to the constitution as amended in 1991. No change in the territory of the country can be made without amending the constitution. In other words, a constitutional amendment is required to declare the independence of Taiwan. The Kuomintang plays it doubly safe and prevents a DPP-called referendum or plebiscite on the question of the creation of an independent republic of Taiwan. The opposition didn't mention the constitutional framework to make it clear that a successful plebiscite alone is good enough to achieve de jure independence.

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