Charter 08 (零八憲章) is a document signed by a group of Chinese activists and intellectualls calling for political reform, human rights and democracy in China. It was released on 10 December, Human Rights Day. A full English translation of the Charter was published in The New York Review of Books.
The Taiwan News has made the Charter the subject of its editorial today. In relation to the Charter’s reference to Taiwan the editorial says:
Charter 08’s advocation regarding the “Taiwan question” is contained in its call to transform the PRC, including Hong Kong, Macau and other “national minority” areas, presumably including Tibet, into a “Chinese federated republic under a democratic constitutional structure.”
“Based on the premises of freedom and democracy, we should engage in negotiations based on equality and cooperative interaction to search for a formula for reconciliation across the two sides of the Taiwan Strait,” the Charter declares.
Unfortunately, “Charter 08” seems to be unable to transcend “great Chinese nationalism” as its implied commitment to eventual unification seems to share the CCP’s rejection of the free right of choice of Taiwan’s 23 million people, not to mention the people of Tibet or even Hong Kong and Macau.
This lack of understanding by the Chinese people of Taiwan is illustrated by a separate quote from a recent Financial Times article.
In China the public has been fed for decades on rhetoric that emphasises its claim of sovereignty over the island. As a result, the overwhelming majority of Chinese believe that it is separatist agents or foreign meddling, rather than the Taiwanese people’s will, that has kept the two sides apart.
Zhang Lei, a property agent in Beijing who considers himself well informed and unbiased, estimates that about 70 per cent of Taiwanese people are in favour of unification with the mainland. Taiwanese opinion polls put the figure at less than 10 per cent.
However, one would hope that in a truly free and democratic China there would be a much greater understanding of Taiwan and respect for its sovereignty and democracy. There is a popular notion that Taiwan is a model “Chinese” democracy that China can learn from. Taiwan’s democracy is still not fully developed though and in danger of going backwards. The best thing that can be said about Taiwan’s transition from authoritarianism to democracy is that it has been mostly peaceful, albeit far from perfect. It is hardly an ideal model.
This raises the key point and is the subject of Article 19 of the Charter which directly follows the article which mentions Taiwan. Article 19 calls for transitional justice and reconciliation.
19. Truth in Reconciliation. We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.
The failure to fully achieve transitional justice in Taiwan is at the root of many political and human rights problems. An authoritarian one party state that transitions to a multi-party democracy cannot fully develop its democracy until it is free of the legacy of the historically authoritarian party. In Taiwan’s case it means that until there are more complete reforms of the KMT and institutions that continue to be burdened by the historical legacy of the ROC/KMT, democracy will continue to be at risk.
In realising the dream of a free China lessons can certainly be learnt from Taiwan. A key lesson is the importance of transitional justice. If China can transform itself into a genuine democracy and move beyond the historical legacy of the Chinese Communist Party it could even become a model for Taiwan.