On March 17, The Economist published an article entitled “China’s bottom line” that examined three high-ranking Chinese officials’ viewpoints on Taiwan as expressed in talks they gave at the annual session of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) early in March. The three are Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) and top political adviser and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲).
The CCP’s intention to annex Taiwan is obvious to all. However, the article reiterated Beijing’s threats and emphasized that China expects a response response from Taiwan, especially from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and is expected to win next year’s presidential election.
“Bottom line” means the bottom line in a negotiation and implies an ultimatum — once this line is crossed, a price must be paid. Basically, China’s bottom lines are all old tricks. They are used interchangeably and the priority of their usage depends on the necessity of the situation, but they are all negotiation tactics. Their purpose is to confuse indecisive or pro-China Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politicians and to threaten DPP politicians — who might be sitting at the negotiation table in the next round of cross-strait talks.
The slogans that China frequently uses to intimidate Taiwan include “one country, two systems” and “one China” — also called the “one China framework” — as well as the so-called “1992 consensus.” For KMT members who are pro-China, fearful of China or want to appease China, the aforementioned three formulas seem to be viewed as different. However, in my view, there is no difference between them. All three slogans are aimed at annexing Taiwan. This is by no means the bottom line that Taiwan wants.
The CCP and the KMT have been quite close over the past few years, and they have been playing around with the meaning of these three formulas. When China mentions “one country, two systems” or the “one China” framework, the KMT responds with its mantra of “one China, different interpretations.” The different interpretations are naturally ignored by the CCP, which only focuses on the “one China” part.
The KMT thought it was very clever to use the “1992 consensus,” which refers to a tacit understanding between the KMT and the Chinese government that both sides of the Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
However, the CCP has in recent years occasionally accepted the “1992 consensus” because it assumed that the KMT accepted, or had even forced it to accept, the “one China” principle. As for the latter half of it, which says that both sides can have different interpretations of what “one China” means, China simply could not care less about it.
The reason is that Beijing knows full well that as long as Taiwan accepts the “one China” framework, foundation, rooftop — or whatever one prefers to call it — unification with China becomes Taiwan’s only option. The “China” in the “one China” is, of course, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and not the Republic of China (ROC) as interpreted by Taiwan.
The international community has no understanding of what “different interpretations” means or how “one China” could also be interpreted as the “Republic of China” by Taiwan. In other words, only the “one China” part is left in the “1992 consensus,” while the part that talks about “different interpretations” is entirely left out.