American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt was honest when he said recently that the term “1992 consensus” was not coined until 2000 — and that he has never heard former Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits chairman Wang Daohan (汪道涵) or former Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) use the term. Burghardt’s remarks were directed at Chinese, who have limited access to information regarding cross-strait issues, and were made at a crucial moment and to a carefully chosen media outlet.
In a public manner, Burghardt’s remarks exposed the lies of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and embarrassed advocates of the fictitious “1992 consensus” by revealing how completely untrustworthy they are.
Of anyone, Burghardt is the most qualified person to debunk the so-called “1992 consensus,” because he knows that Wang and Koo — two people directly involved in cross-strait negotiations during the 1990s — never used the term, and because he himself has heard Ma reveal details about the fabrication of the term.
On Nov. 30, 2007, Ma told Burghardt that, as the “one China” principle — the idea that both sides of the Taiwan Strait accept that there is only one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means — is similar to Beijing’s “1992 consensus,” the latter can be used as a foundation for negotiating cross-strait issues. This conversation suggests that Ma was aware that he was lying to Taiwanese about the “consensus.”
As China mounts pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to accept the non-existent consensus, Burghardt, in an interview with Voice of America in Washington, drew attention to the close relationship between former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Wang, saying that “everyone in China knows the term ‘1992 consensus’ was not used by anyone until 2000.”
Burghardt’s timely remarks, published by a news outlet widely trusted by Chinese readers, was a shrewd move.
He reiterated the US’ promise not to intervene in any cross-strait negotiations and that it would not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China. While many people might have found it surprising that Burghardt did not speak about the US Congress’ recent resolution in support of the “six assurances” during his interview, he did take the opportunity to reaffirm the US’ promises to Taiwan when discussing possible ways to resolve cross-strait issues. Although his clarification of the “1992 consensus” is important, it would not have been as powerful and significant had he not also reaffirmed the US’ promises.
China has made the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle the prerequisites for allowing Taiwan to participate in international events and used this as a means to put pressure on the Tsai administration. The manner in which Beijing has threatened the government is in conflict with the Taiwan Relations Act, and it is likely to be deemed unacceptable by the US government.
Although Burghardt said that the US would not comment on the “1992 consensus” or a “1992 understanding,” as they are not related to the US, he exposed the nonexistence of the “1992 consensus.” In addition, he reassured Taiwan that the US would not pressure it to negotiate with China. In so doing, Burghardt was clearly sending out an important message to China and Chinese. For that reason, Taiwanese owe him a big thank you.