Upon being re-elected chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) on Friday, Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) vowed to forge ahead with negotiations under the so-called “1992 consensus,” a clear sign, if one was needed, that Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) intend to leave no room for the emergence of alternative approaches to cross-strait talks.
Chiang’s pledge plays right into the KMT’s insistence on abiding by the controversial consensus, whose existence is denied by both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was in office at the time the agreement was alleged to have been struck.
Chiang showed that the nation’s top cross-strait negotiator is anything but neutral, since it has been widely rumored that the DPP is hard at work trying to ensure that communication with Beijing would not cease if the party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), were elected on Jan. 14. Although the DPP has refused to confirm the rumor, at least two of Tsai’s advisers are reportedly engaged in talks with Chinese officials on alternatives to the “1992 consensus” that would be palatable to both sides — perhaps a sign that Beijing realizes that a DPP return to the executive office is not altogether impossible.
Not only has Tsai said the DPP would not cancel outright the cross-strait agreements signed under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), she has made it clear that under her watch, Taiwan and China would continue to talk in an attempt to work out some modus vivendi. Her party also realizes that, for better or worse, Taiwan cannot afford to have its economic ties with China severed, and it will continue to explore means to continue the liberalization of cross-strait trade — efforts that, we must not forget, were launched well before Ma stepped into office.
However, Chiang’s pledge would nip Tsai’s efforts in the bud. In late October, Chiang’s Chinese counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), told bilateral economic talks in Tianjin, China, that the agreements signed during the past four years would be threatened if the DPP did not change its stance and agree to a “joint political basis,” which could have been no other than the “1992 consensus.”
Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Wang Yi (王毅) was even less oblique, saying cross-strait talks could only take place based on the consensus.
It is also hardly a coincidence that former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), who admitted to inventing the term “1992 consensus,” became a board member at the foundation on Friday. Su, whose wife and brother have been the object of controversy over certain business deals in China, denies “speculation” that his presence on the SEF board signifies the possibility of political negotiations, but his claims are hard to believe.
For several years, as he played musical chairs in government and academia, Su has fulfilled a behind-the-scenes role as a point man for political talks with China. Not only did US intelligence place him in Beijing sometime in March 2005 getting friendly with Chinese Communist Party officials, no sooner had he stepped down as council chairman in February last year, than he was seeking to go to China again. Only laws about former officials with access to top classified information and public disclosure of his desire to go to China prevented Su from making a visit.