Fri, Jan 21, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Proving the existence of a so-called ‘consensus’

By James Wang 王景弘

Where is this so-called consensus?

If a consensus had really been reached by Taiwan and China in 1992 that the definition of “one China” could be “interpreted by each side” as they pleased, then the dispute over the Taiwan Strait would have ended long ago and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) would have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) would not now be out on a limb advocating each side having its own interpretation of the Constitution.

There are so many ways to interpret the phrase “one China.” For example, one could say that there is only one China and Taiwan is not a part of it. One could say that there is only one China and that Taiwan and China are different nations on each side of the Taiwan Strait. One could also say that “one China” refers to the “People’s Republic of China” and has nothing to do with the “Republic of China.”

If the two sides had a consensus that they could both choose to interpret freely, then the idea of “state-to-state relations” between Taiwan and China that Lee proposed in 1999 would not have caused such a stink. The truth of the matter is that China is trying to get Taiwan to say that it is a part of China, and it doesn’t want to let Taiwan interpret its status freely and define itself as a separate nation. The two sides have a fundamental difference of opinion about “one” or “two,” so there can hardly be any “consensus” between them.

Many people, including Lee and late Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), have denied that there is any such thing as a “1992 consensus,” but President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration insist that the consensus really exists. If this were true, they should be able to convince the public by showing us the records of the negotiations and agreement that led to this “consensus.”

In international disputes, such as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) sovereignty issue, all sides involved can choose to interpret the issue freely, drag things out and avoid solving the issue, and there is no need for a “consensus.” However, issues that are legally binding on both sides need to undergo negotiations and agreements for a “consensus” to be reached.

Take for example the way US-Taiwan relations are defined. The US and China had an agreement that, after they established diplomatic relations, the US and Taiwan would only be able to maintain unofficial ties. However, former president Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) administration wanted to keep official relations.

The final agreement that resulted from negotiations between Taiwan and the US was that the US could say publicly that Taiwan’s Coordination Council for North American Affairs was the counterpart of the American Institute in Taiwan, and that they were both “unofficial” organizations. Taiwan did not object to this. But when Taiwan said that the council had been set up through legislation and funded through a formal appropriations procedure, and that bilateral relations were of an official nature, the US did not object to that, either.

The US and Taiwan describe their relations differently, but only after agreeing to do so. They are not really free to say whatever they want. The Ma government, for its part, keeps claiming that the hugely important issues of Taiwan’s sovereignty and national status are covered by the “1992 consensus” and the notion of “one China, with each side free to interpret it as they want.” If that is indeed the case, the government should turn the records of the negotiations and the resulting agreements over to the legislature for review in accordance with the law.

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