Thu, Sep 01, 2011 - Page 8 News List

The talks that led to claims of a ‘consensus’

By Chen Rong-jye 陳榮傑

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) says in the party’s 10-year policy platform that because there is no such thing as a “1992 consensus,” whether to recognize it is a non-issue.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), responding at a meeting of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee, said that cross-strait relations could return to the situation that prevailed under the previous DPP government if Tsai is elected. In China, a Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson said Tsai’s approach was unacceptable to Beijing and would lead to a breakdown in cross-strait talks and renewed uncertainty in cross-strait relations. Two different forms of expression, but the underlying threat is the same.

As secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) at the time of the original talks, I have been deeply involved in these matters, and I feel obliged to submit my view.

A review of all the documents related to the talks at that time reveals no instances of the phrase “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” (一個中國,各自表述), nor any instances of the abbreviation commonly used in Chinese, “one China, different interpretations” (一中各表). This catchy, communist-like slogan is in no way sufficient to correctly reflect the truth about the process and the background to the talks at the time. This is the source of the confusion.

When bilateral consultations about the mutual authentication of documents first began, China saw the issue as a “domestic Chinese affair” that should be handled under the “one China” umbrella. Taiwan viewed the issue as a functional matter and felt that political issues should not be attached to it. The “one China” issue was at the heart of the cross-strait dispute.

Three consultations were held over the arrangements on the mutual document authentication issue. China labeled these talks “procedural talks,” “working talks” and “director-level talks.” The first two meetings were restricted to exchanges of preliminary concepts and no substantive talks took place. The last meeting, in Hong Kong, was the “director-level talks.”

Taking a common-sense view, how could one expect that a core political issue like the “one China” issue could be hastily solved at preliminary talks at the informative stage of contacts and exchanges between the two sides?

The meeting in Hong Kong was intended to find a pragmatic solution to “procedural and technical side issues,” ie, the so-called “domestic Chinese affairs” issue that derived from the authentication of documents, and was insisted on by China as a precondition. The meetings were not formal negotiations about the “one China” issue.

What the two sides called “one China” at the time was superficially the same entity, but the fact is that, while they looked like family, they had different names: the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The two sides reached a consensus to state their respective interpretations verbally, thus creating a gray area in order to pragmatically solve a functional matter. It was merely an expedient solution.

On Nov. 16, 1992, China sent a letter to the SEF stating that “the functional consultations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait do in no way whatsoever involve the political implications of ‘one China.’” After that, China held on to the “one China” principle, continuously expanding its use, saying there is only one China and Taiwan is one of its provinces. However, this view is a gross deviation from the true meaning as understood at the time.

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