Even though Beijing has stepped up political propaganda on unification with Taiwan in recent years, its "one China" aim remains unchanged. All top officials in China insist that there is only one China whenever they meet Taiwanese visitors. By contrast, the ruling and opposition parties in Taiwan take different positions on the "one China" issue. Taiwan's government shies away from facing the issue. The opposition KMT, on the other hand, identifies closely with "one China, with each side having its own interpretation," (一中各表) as it is the consensus that Taiwan's Strait Exchange Foundation (海基會, SEF) and China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (海協會, ARATS) reached in 1992 under KMT rule.
The current DPP government prefers simply to call it "the spirit of 1992," rather than acknowledge it as a consensus. This has provoked anxiety among the opposition parties in Taiwan and makes it more likely that the PRC will assume the ROC government is plotting independence. Such domestic disagreement in Taiwan takes no one by surprise due to the stark ideological differences between the DPP and the KMT. More alarming, however, is that the PRC has reacted capriciously to the 1992 consensus. As former deputy secretary-general of ARATS Li Qingping (李慶平) claims, the PRC showed no signs of disagreement about the consensus after December 1992, but it started opposing it in June, 1995.
When former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) visited the US in June, 1995, the PRC turned livid with rage, and then broke its earlier promise. And in the summer of 1999, Lee Teng-hui released his "special state-to-state" dictum (特殊兩國論) and that got China's hackles rising. After that, the propaganda bureau of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (中央臺辦宣傳局) and the Information Bureau of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office (國務院臺辦新聞局) launched a joint announcement titled "One China Is An Indisputable Fact." The announcement maintains that "one China" is the consensus the two sides reached in 1992.
It also states, "Taiwan's distortion of the `one China' consensus into `one China, with each side having its own interpretation' did not tally with what actually happened. Rather, such a distortion brought to light Taiwan's attempt to write its splittist stance into the phrase `each side making its own interpretation.' " According to this document, the new Taiwanese government will fail to pander to all Beijing's wishes even though it clings to the 1992 consensus again. In November, a pro-Beijing magazine in Hong Kong unveiled that the last of Chinese deputy premier Qian Qichen's (錢其琛) five guidelines for tackling Taiwan affairs is "to insist on the 'one China' principle."
Former deputy secretary-general of ARATS Li, however, has recently visited Qian in China along with the KMT's deputy chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄). Li claims that Qian did not raise his eyebrows at all while Wu mentioned "one China with each side having its own interpretation" during their visit. It seems that Beijing is yet willing to modify its earlier position on the one China issue. No sign of disagreement from Qian, however, does not mean agreement. Even if it did mean agreement, we can't be sure that China won't turn a deaf ear to the promise, given its notorious record for reneging on promises.
If China is enraged again, backtracks from its stance and manipulates its propaganda mechanisms to confuse right and wrong, how could Taiwan react? In fact, "one China, with each side having its own interpretation" is not something that Beijing will support because the statement itself implies that there are two or more interpretations of the "one China" issue. China interprets "one China" as the PRC while Taiwan construes it as the ROC. Does this not suggest that there are two countries named China? In short, this is not a matter of interpretation for Beijing but a matter of objective fact. The Beijing regime has consistently been reluctant to accept "one China, with each side having its own interpretation," and we can therefore no longer resort to it as an alternative. Similarly, the new Taiwanese government does not need to fear and try to shun this tentative conclusion reached in 1992.
If we want to improve the 1992 consensus -- "one China with each side having its own interpretation" -- without running more risks, it is probably constructive to supplement the specific locations where interpretations of one China could be made. As everybody knows, while Beijing exercises far-reaching influence with its interpretation of "one China," Taipei is only allowed to have its say at home. Both sides of the Taiwan Strait should offer their interpretations on equal terms in order to bring about the "equality" that the PRC has promised. At least, the PRC should allow the ROC to speak out in order to have its voice heard inside China, as PRC citizens visiting Taiwan enjoy the right to express themselves uncensored by any Taiwanese media groups. Now and again, the PRC expresses its view on the "one China" issue at the podium of the UN. The ROC should be invited to give its view.
China should set up universal criteria for measuring freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the PRC. It is unnecessary to label freedom in Taiwan as "laissez-faire implemented by the bourgeoisie." But the status quo in China is pigeonholed with terms such as "democracy in socialism," " the rule of law in socialism," and so on. December 10, the world's Human Rights Day, has recently passed. But China always looks like a country with a strong sense of "one human right with each country making its own interpretation."
Taiwan has long since righted the wrongs of the 228 Incident in 1947, and it has recently released several prisoners of conscience. By contrast, though China has signed international human rights conventions, it still refuses to apply the world's yardstick for measuring human rights in its territory. Beijing has arrested and persecuted Falun Gong members and torn down their hideaways in recent months. When the US harshly criticized these terrible events, China was incensed. As always, it lashed out at the US for its interference in the PRC's internal affairs.
And China has also incessantly pressured Taiwan with military threats, including a recent haughty statement made by Zhang Wannian (張萬年), vice chairman of the communist party's Central Military Commission (中共軍委會), that the PRC is bound to wage a war across the Taiwan Strait within five years. Such wily maneuvers have deprived Taiwanese of their right to be free from fear that are enshrined in international human rights conventions.
Given such a striking, if not conflicting, difference between both sides' ideological underpinnings, China is compelled to keep abreast of the latest developments in the international community. Only under this condition, will it be possible to bridge the gap between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and make the Taiwanese willing to embrace the prospect of unification.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.
Translated by Gatian Wang
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