On Nov. 25, just days before the nine-in-one elections, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), expressed his expectation that independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) would recognize the so-called “1992 consensus” if he should win. Ko responded with a question long evaded by governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: “What are the details of the consensus?”
He went on to explain that he had paid frequent visits to China and knew China and Chinese people well.
“Taiwan has to engage with China whether we like it or not,” he said. “But the point is Taiwan has to preserve her self-determination.”
Ko then proposed his “four mutuals:” mutual awareness, mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual cooperation.
“At least for the moment, the Republic of China is my bottom line,” he said.
When the same critical question was raised by a Reuters journalist at the post-election press conference, it was confirmed that the mayoral election was not a purely local event. Ko has in effect emerged as a new leader who could potentially make a difference in the diplomatic realm.
On May 7, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) met People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) in Beijing. Xi read his note word by word to reiterate China’s policy toward Taiwan, which is known as the “four noes” principle: China will not alter its pursuit of peace in cross-strait relations; it will not give up its pragmatic approach to seeking mutual benefit; nothing will shake its passion to push for the unity of the peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Strait; it will never waver in its determination to prevent Taiwan’s independence.
Soong responded with his “four understandings:” Understanding Taiwan’s consciousness, which is not equivalent to Taiwan independence; understanding Taiwan’s civic autonomy with the fundamental differences in political and social systems between Taiwan and China; understanding Taiwan’s pluralistic society in a democracy; understanding Taiwan’s independent and pluralistic economy — consisting of many small and medium enterprises.
Xi and Soong seemed to be striving to deal with the so-called “one China” policy without referring to conflicting underlying concepts.
On the contrary, former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), the man who contrived the “1992 consensus,” seems to deconstruct the consensus in his new book 20 years of Vacillations in Cross-Strait Relations (兩岸波濤二 十年紀實), published less than one month before the vote.
Su mentions in the first chapter that there is no single signed document called the “1992 consensus,” yet the numerous exchange of notes and mail discussing the so-called “one China” principle are enough to validate the term “consensus.” Here, Su interprets the consensus as a legal item.
Nevertheless, Su revealed in the fourth chapter that his purpose when creating the consensus was to mediate Beijing’s attitude of “Yes” and the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) “No” with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “Yes, but.” Su admitted that the consensus, in this context, is nothing more than political wrapping paper trying to cover a dispute.
In fact, it could be deemed a scaffold that should be disassembled when construction is completed.
Now Ko, as the mayor-elect of Taipei, has become the second political figure to the president in Taiwan. His “four mutuals” will weigh heavily on cross-strait policy, countering Xi’s “four noes” and Soong’s “four understandings.”
Indeed, it is about time to review and retire the 15-year-old “1992 consensus,” which was created out of thin air.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
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