Taiwan Communiqué No. 74, February 1997

Taiwan becoming Taiwan

National Development Conference: changing course

From 23th through 28th December 1996, the Taiwan authorities organized a multi-party conference in Taipei aimed at gaining a broader consensus on the island on Taiwan's future. Some 170 delegates from the KMT, DPP, and New Party met for five days of discussions, and decided to:

  1. continue an active foreign diplomacy, striving for international recognition as a separate entity,
  2. streamline the governmental system by starting to dismantle the Provincial Government and National Assembly, and
  3. realign the responsibilities of the President and the Legislative Yuan.

In particular points 2) and 3) will still need to be formalized by the National Assembly in an upcoming session in the first half of 1997.

The reforms are significant, because they start to revamp the anachronistic Kuomintang government system left over from the 1940s, and move towards a new system that reflects Taiwan's present-day political reality.

Continuing international diplomacy

In the first significant development, the Democratic Progressive Party delegates joined the Kuomintang delegates in support of President Lee Teng-hui's policy of seeking to enhance Taiwan's separate diplomatic standing by winning international recognition. The pro-unification New Party, which broke away from the Kuomintang in 1993, walked out of the conference in protest.

According to an AP-Dow Jones News Service report on December 27th, this shows how the old doctrine of China-Taiwan reunification is giving way to a new feeling of Taiwan-for-the-Taiwanese, and to a further marginalization of the pro-unification camp in Taiwanese society.

A joint statement by the Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party stated that "...only by pursuing a progressive foreign policy shall we be able to develop relations with the mainland without losing our dignity."

The conference also rejected proposals to end a 47-year-old ban on shipping and airlinks with China, insisting that China must first cease its hostility towards Taiwan. The Conference decided that the relationship between Taiwan and China should be "...based on a framework that guarantees the safety and prosperity of Taiwan."

Discarding the Provincial Government ....

In another significant development, the Conference agreed to start dismantling the Provincial government, by suspending the elections for the Provincial Government and Assembly, which are generally considered to be redundant.

The Provincial government is an outdated anachronism from the late 1940s, when the Kuomintang authorities fled China and occupied Taiwan, which had been under Japanese rule until 1945. The KMT then declared Taiwan a province of China, and instituted a provincial government and assembly.

The democratic opposition parties of the DPP and Taiwan Independence Party (TAIP) have repeatedly urged the KMT to discard these holdovers from its shady "Republic of China" past, and progress towards a new status as a fully free and independent Taiwan.

National Development Conference: "Trying to repair the Kuomintang's outdated mechanisms."

This reform is thus long overdue. For 50 years, the KMT government maintained two layers of government, a central government and a provincial government that virtually duplicates many functions of the central government.

Economically, it also makes sense to scrap the provincial government. It has a vast and inefficient bureaucracy of more than 30,000 persons on an annual budget of US$13 billion, which is mostly financed by the central government. Business leaders have long complained about the inefficiency of the bureaucracy that is the major obstacle to Taiwan's international competitiveness. Eliminating the provincial government will greatly cut waste and inefficiency.

Governor James Soong, a mainlander who until now supported President Lee's reforms, angrily offered his resignation in protest. Soong's resignation reflects his own frustration that this move suggests he has been sidelines in the struggle for presidential succession. However, after some soothing words by President Lee and Premier Lien Chan, Mr. Soong flip-flopped and returned to work on January 21.

... and the National Assembly

Another redundant governmental institution on its way out is the 334-member National Assembly, the largely ceremonial body which until the direct popular elections of March 1996 was responsible for the "election" of the President, a tightly KMT-controlled procedure which over the past 40 years always resulted in the "election" of the KMT candidate.

From the 1940s through the 1980s the Assembly overwhelmingly consisted of old KMT stalwarts elected on the mainland in 1947. It wasn't until the early 1990s that the KMT allowed elections for all seats of the National Assembly.

The only remaining function of the National Assembly is approval of amendments of the Constitution, and in the next few months it will be called upon to decided on its own gradual dismantling. The December 1996 National Development Conference decided that elections for the Assembly will be suspended and that the number of seats will be reduced. In the future the members of the Assembly will be appointed by the parties, pro-rata the percentage won by the parties in the elections for the Legislative Yuan, thus avoiding fractious elections, which over the past years have led to much corruption in Taiwan.

The President and the Legislative Yuan

The Conference also agreed to a realignment of powers between the President and the increasingly influential Legislative Yuan. The membership of the Legislative Yuan will be increased from the present 164 to 200 or more, and the term of office will be four years instead of the present three years.

The President will in the future have the power to appoint a Premier, and not have to go through a legislative approval procedure. At present the Legislative Yuan is holding up the approval of President Lee's appointment of vice president Lien Chan as prime minister, a dual position which many in the legislature consider unconstitutional.

The president will also have the power to dissolve the Legislative Yuan, necessitating new elections, but in return the Legislative Yuan will have the power to dismiss the Premier and the Cabinet through a no-confidence vote. The Legislative Yuan gained the power of impeachment, which is currently being held by the largely ineffective Control Yuan.

Furthermore, the Legislative Yuan will be able to audit and investigate government agencies, and will adopt a committee-type hearing system.

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