[JURIST] Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian [official website, English version; BBC profile] has renewed calls for a new constitution for the country, prompting mixed reaction from the United States and mainland China. Speaking Sunday at a banquet hosted by the pro-independence Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) [advocacy website], Chen characterized Taiwan's sovereignty as "[lying] outside the People's Republic of China" (PRC) and said that Taiwan "needs a new constitution in order to become a normal, complete country." Chen's latest comments were an apparent departure from his 2000 "Four Noes and One Without" [Wikipedia backgrounder] inaugural pledge, in which Chen promised to not formally declare Taiwanese independence, promote a national referendum on the issue of Taiwanese independence, and not to abolish the National Unification Council (NUC) [Wikipedia backgrounder] or alter the national title and constitution to pursue Taiwanese independence. Chen effectively scrapped the NUC [BBC report] in February 2006.
Reiterating the US position on the issue, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack [official profile] told reporters at the DOS daily press briefing [transcript; recorded video] Monday that the "United States does not support independence for Taiwan" and opposes "unilateral changes to the status quo by either Taipei or Beijing because these threaten regional peace and security." McCormack characterized Chen's words as "rhetoric that could raise doubts about [his commitment]" to the 2000 pledge. Also Monday Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing criticized Chen's latest calls for a new constitution and stated that "whoever wants to split away will become a criminal in history." Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [BBC profile] issued a more reconciliatory offer to resume cross-strait talks "under the basis of the 'One China' principle." Previous cross-strait dialogues between the PRC and Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the Republic of China (ROC), have occurred under the framework of the "One China" principle with each side maintaining its own interpretation of the "One China."
Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website] have made calls for a new constitution [JURIST report] in the past. In 2006, Chen promised to support a new constitution [JURIST report] in his last two years of presidency. The DPP is very much pro-independence, but has lost support in recent national and local elections. Chen's proposal is unlikely to pass as the Legislative Yuan [Wikipedia backgrounder], which has the power to determine whether constitutional amendments will be placed before a national referendum, is controlled by the Pan-Blue coalition, which is against changes to the status quo. The Pan-Blue coalition consists of the Kuomingtang (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) [party websites]. The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which traditionally has advocated Taiwan independence alongside the DPP, has recently shifted it focus from de jure independence to domestic affairs. Legislative elections are slated to be held in late-2007. UPI has more. Reuters has additional coverage.