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.