China’s pragmatic way of dealing with the Taipei-Shanghai forum, no longer making Taiwan’s acceptance of the so-called “1992 consensus” a prerequisite for letting the forum go ahead, has added some flexibility to cross-strait interaction, and this is praiseworthy.
This new model for cross-strait interaction maintains both exchanges between cities on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and China’s political bottom line. At the same time, it creates a positive force for the transformation of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) cross-strait policy and lays a foundation for a transformation of cross-strait relations following a possible win by the DPP in next year’s presidential election.
The question of whether the forum could be held this year turned on whether or not Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) recognized the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle. However, in two exclusive interviews with Chinese media, Ko accepted neither.
In the first interview, Ko said that he would respect signed cross-strait agreements and historical interaction based on the current political foundation when pushing for cross-strait city exchanges. He also said that he did not know the content of the “1992 consensus.”
In addition, Ko said that no one in today’s world thinks that there are “two Chinas,” and so “one China” was not a problem and the more important issue was to discuss what “one China” entails.
The next day, many Chinese media outlets interpreted Ko’s statements to mean that he accepts the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle.
In an interview with a Taiwanese media outlet, Ko’s straightforward response was that he had been quoted out of context by the Chinese media, and he stressed that the focus of the dispute was the content of “one China,” not what it symbolizes.
He also said that he had warned Chinese reporters that they could not quote what he said out of context. It is clear that he accepts neither the “1992 consensus” nor the “one China” principle.
Beijing’s “one China” principle consists of three parts: There is only one China in the world, Taiwan is part of China and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are indivisible.
Ko’s discourse contains only the first of these three, saying that there is global agreement on this point, including from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the DPP. The most important parts are the second and third parts: Is Taiwan a part of China? Ko’s view is the same as the DPP’s: the meaning of “one China” is the focus of cross-strait dispute.
Taking a closer look, Ko’s viewpoint has two parts. The first part is to “ respect signed cross-strait agreements and historical interaction based on the current political foundation when pushing for cross-strait city exchanges.” This allowed China to say that the “1992 consensus” was the current political foundation for the Taipei-Shanghai forum. However, Ko later told the media that he does not recognize the “1992 consensus,” thus placing China in an awkward situation.
This is why Ko, in response to Beijing’s demands, said during the second interview that he understood and respected China’s statement that the “1992 consensus” is the foundation for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.
This is how the US deals with China’s handling of the cross-strait issue, saying that it understands and respects China’s stance and avoiding openly challenging it without accepting it.
Ko is probably unlikely to challenge China’s “1992 consensus” in order to maintain the political foundation for the forum. During the second interview, Ko also said that cross-strait exchanges are different from international exchanges, and he has not defined cross-strait relations as state-to-state in nature in a show of goodwill and respect for China’s political standpoint.
The second part in Ko’s viewpoint is an expression of goodwill and a response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) Taiwan policy: to maintain the view that the two sides of the Strait are one family, and to promote exchanges and increase goodwill so that the people on both sides of the Strait can strive for a better future together.
“The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family” is Xi’s phrase, and the call to “strive for a better future together” is also a response to calls for cross-strait exchanges and cooperation.
As a reflection of this new approach to cross-strait interaction, the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party should respect each other’s political bottom line and avoid upsetting each other. They should show their goodwill and gradually build mutual trust and explore possible room for a foundation for cross-strait political interaction.
This experience also shows that China is pragmatic and that since it wants to maintain peaceful cross-strait developments, it will show Taiwan appropriate flexibility and compromise.
Tung Chen-yuan is a visiting academic at the University of California, Berkeley.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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