During an interview last week, president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called on China to express more goodwill toward her incoming government.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) responded at the Boao Forum for Asia, saying that “the 1992 consensus is not only the principle, but also the goodwill.”
This is clearly China’s bottom line for the incoming government’s cross-strait policy.
Taiwan’s opinion on the so-called “1992 consensus” has long been controlled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), while the Chinese government has also capitalized on it. In addition, there is a constant rivalry between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with the two parties habitually opposing each other and the “1992 consensus” is naturally rejected by the pan-green camp. Moreover, there is scarcely any mutual trust between the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), let alone a channel of direct communication between them.
That is why Tsai has had difficulty dealing with the “1992 consensus.” She has had to vaguely say that she respects and understands the historical fact that the 1992 meeting took place and that she will maintain the “status quo,” handling cross-strait relations on the basis of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution to avoid directly making a proclamation on the “1992 consensus.” So far, her opinions do not seem to sufficiently form an alternative discourse for the “1992 consensus” and they are unacceptable to Beijing.
At the joint meeting of the Chinese National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) emphasized their unwavering stance on the “1992 consensus” and the “one China principle,” and used culture, ancestry and practical economic benefits in a speech about Chinese nationalism based on the opinion that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “one family.” This uncompromising rhetoric contains a softer emotional aspect, leaving some room for Tsai to deliver an alternative discourse on the “1992 consensus.”
Indeed, since Taiwan’s nine-in-one elections in 2014, Beijing has made no direct criticism of Tsai. Similarly, DPP spokespeople and Tsai have not chastised China’s leaders. This is, as Tsai said, a process of building mutual trust. In the words of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘), China is “awaiting glad tidings.”
At the Boao forum, Zhang sent a message to the DPP, talking about cherishing what has been achieved so far, preserving the foundation, seizing opportunities and co-creating the future. In fact, focusing on individuals is unnecessary when it comes to the cross-strait relationship, which is the result of joint efforts made by the KMT, the DPP and the CCP.
Are not the results of the parties working against each other — including, among other things, the historical fact that the 1992 meeting did happen and even the “1992 consensus” about which all parties disagree — precisely what Tsai means when she repeatedly talks about “cherishing the results that have been achieved over the past two decades” as well as the basis for maintaining the “status quo”?
A positive take on the situation is that Tsai says she will handle cross-strait relations on the basis of the ROC Constitution, of which Article 4 states that the territory of the ROC according to its existing national boundaries shall not be altered except by a resolution of the National Assembly, as well as changes to the Constitution and the preamble of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例). These also uphold the “one China” spirit that Beijing is so concerned about and only differ from the “1992 consensus” in their wording.
Furthermore, Tsai has continuously stressed that she will adopt a non-partisan stance when handling cross-strait relations. It is clear that her stance will be based on the ROC Constitution instead of the DPP charter’s Taiwan independence clause, and her rejection of a legislative proposal to call the act governing cross-strait agreements “the act governing oversight of agreements between Taiwan and China,” and her approval of the “act governing the oversight of cross-strait agreements” makes it clear that the relationship is a “cross-strait” relationship.
From a legal constitutional perspective, Taiwanese independence is also not feasible. Hence, this is a gesture of goodwill to China on Tsai’s part and it sends an even clearer message than the consensus-less “1992 consensus.”
The “1992 consensus” has had a historical significance and function in the peaceful development of cross-strait relations. However, it seems to have been overused and given almost mythical status. After all, to say the words is easy, but to take action is where difficulties arise.
During the terms of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), China downplayed Taiwan’s goodwill and therefore missed a historical opportunity for cross-strait peace. Even if Tsai presents an alternative to the “1992 consensus,” who can guarantee that the relationship will be smooth from then on? If these doubts cannot be cleared up, what would Tsai do? Perhaps that is why she called on China to express more goodwill in the first place.
Shu Chin-chiang is a former Taiwan Solidarity Union chairman.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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