China / HK Macao Taiwan

Vote rule could hurt at 'sensitive time'

By Peng Yining and Zhang Yunbi (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-18 07:57

Editor's Note: China Daily is publishing a series of reports on cross-Straits relations ahead of Taiwan's new leader taking office. The reports are jointly compiled with the Taipei-based China Post. This, the third in the series, looks at some of those who crossed the Straits to experience the wave of entrepreneurship sweeping the Chinese mainland and embrace the challenge and opportunities of a larger market with a common history.

A proposal for amending Taiwan's Referendum Act has attracted extensive attention as the island's leadership is about to change, and might sabotage current cross-Straits relations, experts said.

Proposed by the island's New Power Party and Democratic Progressive Party, the amendment would subject new cross-Straits political agreements to approval at the ballot box before taking effect. It would also reduce the number of votes needed to pass a referendum and require a vote for any government decision involving territory.

The amendment was given preliminary approval by the island's "legislature" on May 11.

On Friday, Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the DPP, will assume leadership and deliver a speech.

"Once the amendment is passed, many political subjects, including 'Taiwan independence', would be subject to referendum," said Li Yihu, director of Peking University's Taiwan Institute. "The amendment is an extremely sensitive issue at an extremely sensitive time. We are keeping a close eye on it."

Li said any act that aims at undermining territorial integrity is unacceptable and will destroy the status quo of cross-Straits relations.

"If national sovereignty and territorial integrity were threatened, it would be possible for China to invoke the Anti-Secession Law," Li said. "Cross-Straits relations are now at a turning point. Which way to go depends on the activity of the island's new leadership."

Yang Lixian, a researcher at the National Taiwan Research Association, said the current proposal simply lowers the threshold for public votes. The key point is what do people vote for, she said.

She said the island's former leader, Chen Shui-bian, who was also a member of the DPP, launched a few referendums in order to split Taiwan from China, but they all failed.

"Tsai adjusted her strategy after Chen's failures and became less aggressive on independence because, on one hand, cross-Straits relations have been rapidly developing in the past eight years, and on the other, international society wants a peaceful strait."

Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the United States on Monday to "properly tackle the Taiwan question" during a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

It is hoped the US will uphold its one-China policy and firmly maintain its commitment to key joint statements released by the two countries, Wang was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.

Kerry said the US has not and will not change its position regarding Taiwan question, and it does not support Taiwan independence.

Although Tsai has talked about preserving the status quo in cross-Straits relations, she has not yet convinced people that the DPP will give up its pursuit of the island's full independence from the mainland, said Zhang Guanhua, deputy director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Tsai and the DPP have long refused to endorse the 1992 Consensus that says Taiwan and the mainland are both parts of one China, Zhang added.

"The proposal lowers the threshold for a referendum but pushes up barriers to cross-Straits talk and cooperation," Zhang said. "If the new leadership continues to equivocate on the 1992 Consensus, the exchange, especially economic cooperation across the Straits, would face growing pressure."

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