In the run-up to this year’s National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) paid a visit to committee members from the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League and the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang — two of the eight legally recognized minor political parties in the People’s Republic of China that are participating in the conference.
Xi gave a speech on Taiwan, in which he reiterated the importance of upholding the so-called “1992 consensus,” saying that if the common political basis between the two sides were to break down, cross-strait relations would return to a period of turmoil and instability. Xi also stated that China would continue to resolutely oppose “Taiwanese secessionist forces and independence movements.”
Xi’s speech has been widely interpreted by foreign observers to be an early warning shot across the bow of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), is the favorite for next year’s presidential election in Taiwan. The DPP immediately responded, saying any advancement in cross-strait relations would be contingent on it benefitting Taiwan in three areas: National independence and democratic progress; regional peace and stability; and mutually beneficial relations between the two sides.
The DPP also said that it would insist on government policy being transparent and democratic; that communication between the two sides should be multilateral and on an equal footing; and the result of any dialogue must be both in the public interest and beneficial to society.
Former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal went even further, saying he believes Xi is worried that if the DPP gains power, it will change the “status quo”; hence, Xi is marking out a red line in advance.
The DPP does not recognize the so-called “1992 consensus.” Therefore, when Xi said that upholding the “1992 consensus” was “the basic condition for interaction with Taiwan’s governing officials and political parties,” he was clearly telling the DPP that China’s position has changed since 2012. The space that was then made available to discuss an alternative political consensus, separate from the “1992 consensus,” no longer exists. Xi wants the DPP to publicly accept the “1992 consensus”; nothing else will suffice.
However, when Xi’s words are examined in more detail, it can be seen that Paal and others’ reading of his speech as being mainly directed toward the DPP is incomplete and incorrect.
Xi did not simply speak of upholding the “1992 consensus,” he also said the core of the “consensus” is the recognition that China and Taiwan belong to “one China.” This differs substantially from the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) definition of the consensus as “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”
Despite both definitions containing the phrase “one China,” Beijing cannot accept the Republic of China (ROC) as representative of “one China.” Therefore, when Ma’s administration refers to “one China” as meaning the ROC — taken together with Ma’s “three noes” pledge: no unification, no independence and no use of force — Beijing sees this as tantamount to crossing into the realm of “two Chinas,” hence, its strong opposition.
Beijing has openly told the Ma administration that China is willing to accept both sides of the Taiwan Strait advocating “one China,” but it unequivocally does not agree to use of the phrase “the ROC as one China.” This is why, during the 2013 meeting between Xi and former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), when Wu responded to Xi’s phrase “‘one China’ framework” (一中架構) with the same phrase — although substituting one character of the word “framework” with a synonym (一中框架) — Beijing continues to doubt the sincerity of Ma’s government.
Riding the wave of the Sunflower movement, the DPP enjoyed success in last year’s nine-in-one elections. Not only is Ma a lame duck, constant infighting within the KMT means it is highly likely that the party will relinquish power in next year’s elections and might even lose its majority in the legislature.
Though the changing situation has put the kibosh on Beijing’s policy of “allying the two countries to overpower Taiwan,” it has nevertheless given Beijing a chance to re-evaluate the KMT’s failure to successfully promote unification, despite the favors China has bestowed upon the party.
Besides talk of upholding the “1992 consensus,” Xi clearly stated that the core of the “consensus” is the recognition that Taiwan is a part of China and that there is no space for “each side to give its own interpretation.” This clear and unequivocal definition of the “consensus” is directed at the KMT, intended to cut away at Ma’s position of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”
Whether a meeting will take place between Xi and New Taipei City Mayor and KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) or Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and others, is not clear. What is certain though is that these politicians must have their own thoughts about Xi’s messages.
Put simply, Xi’s talk of upholding the “1992 consensus” is aimed at the DPP, while his exposition of the core meaning of the “consensus” is directed at the KMT. Xi’s “three shared goals” slogan calls for “compatriots” on either side of the Taiwan Strait to collaborate in “moving forward and upholding peaceful development together.” Xi is sending another signal to the KMT that it should fulfill its responsibility to work toward the eventual unification of the two sides.
Furthermore, Xi’s definition of the “consensus” now rejects the two sides of the Taiwan Strait advocating their own version of “one China” — which Beijing equates with outright Taiwanese independence. Even if the DPP does not declare independence or freeze the independence clause in its charter, in Xi’s eyes, the DPP’s position is still tantamount to Taiwanese independence.
Xi has also expanded the definition of Taiwanese independence, which is no longer limited to an act that “threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” so that it now includes any act that “provokes antagonism between citizens on either side of the Strait” and “severs the spiritual bonds between compatriots on either side of the Taiwan Strait,” implying that the above-stated “acts” amount to Taiwanese independence activities, which he views as not only the greatest obstacle to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, but also “the greatest threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Beijing’s position that Taiwanese independence activities would damage the relationship between the two sides is nothing new. However, in augmenting China’s position with the phrase “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Xi is sending a clear message to the US, who has an strong interest in maintaining peace in the region.
Beijing hopes the US will assist China in its opposition of Taiwanese independence and help to oppose “Taiwanese secessionist forces.”
One can see from these examples — Xi’s redefining of the so-called “1992 consensus,” his propaganda directed at the DPP, a post-Ma KMT and the US — Beijing is redeploying its forces for a new offensive against Taiwan. Now that a refusal to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of China is — according to Beijing — a change to the “status quo,” which threatens peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, the weakness of the so-called “1992 consensus” has been laid bare for all to see.
Must Taiwan continue to make the same mistake?
Lai I-chung is the vice chief executive officer of Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Edward Jones
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