Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced the DPP’s 10-year party guidelines (十年政綱) last week, saying that cross-strait relations should be based on a democratic Taiwanese consensus, in the spirit of seeking harmony, while reserving the right to disagree and seeking agreement through conciliation. This, she said, was to replace the government’s approach, arrived at by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), of dialogue in the context of what it calls the “1992 consensus” under the “one China” principle.
Her words were immediately pounced upon by the pan-blue camp and the Chinese, who accused the DPP of having taken leave of its senses and warning it that such a move would put cross-strait relations into reverse and render further negotiations impossible.
There is a good reason why the DPP and its supporters oppose the so-called “1992 consensus,” and that is because it did not exist in 1992. This is historical fact. When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in power he urged China to negotiate “in the spirit of 1992,” trying to achieve substantive negotiations through setting aside differences and seeking common ground. At no point, however, did he concede that this constituted a consensus.
Historical documents show that if any consensus was reached in 1992, it was a “consensus without consensus,” vastly different from the “1992 consensus” broached in 2008, in which “one China” was taken as read.
It is generally accepted that the “1992 consensus” now being referred to is the consensus reached in 2008 between the CCP and the KMT. The Ma administration speaks of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation,” whereas Beijing favors a two-fold formulation depending on who’s listening. To Taiwan, it says that any cross-strait agreements shall be based on the “1992 consensus,” but to other countries it says they are based on the “one China” principle.
Regardless, the two principles are so close that the difference does not matter, something the government does not deny. That is why it tries to justify its stance by continuously trotting out the idea of a “constitutional one China” and saying that the issue is a leftover of the Chinese civil war.
Of course, there is consensus on these issues between the CCP and the KMT, but within Taiwan itself they are still very controversial. According to public opinion polls, most Taiwanese do not accept unification with China, and there is very little support of future unification even if the “status quo” is maintained in the short term.
This suggests that very few people in Taiwan find the “one China” framework acceptable. “One China” is implicit in the “1992 consensus” and to promote it goes against what the public regards as common sense.
Furthermore, 1992 was a long time ago, and in the intervening period Taiwan has gone through democratization and localization, had four presidential elections, witnessed two transitions of political power, and has seen a significant increase in support for independence. Taiwan has moved on from the situation it was in back in 1992. A consensus should mean a result that everyone can accept. If half the people in the country reject the idea, how can it be said that a consensus exists?
Rather than referring to the “1992 consensus” as a consensus in the sense it is meant, it would be more accurate to say that the consensus exists purely between the CCP and the KMT.