The “so-called 1992 consensus” (as it is often called) has a prominent place in Taiwan’s politics, although it is subject to lots of doubt and debate. I take my place among the disbelievers and think that the “1992 consensus” is little more than a popular myth, in which the idea of “different interpretations” of what a country embraces is a mistake.
Rather than this fluctuating approach, we must view nations as singular entities, with their own histories, identities, constitutions, ethics and philosophies, and not subject to any other varying interpretations.
I conclude that what Taiwan really needs is a “new consensus” that encompasses its own view on nationhood, stemming from the Taiwanese. This consensual understanding, in other words, should be based on Taiwan’s own views, its own disposition, its own past and its own chronicle and identity.
At its heart, we are looking at what Taiwanese think of themselves — although the idea of a “consensus” suggests that others will be involved, which I think will be true in various ways.
One study of Taiwanese character by Liao Li-wei (廖立偉) in 2008 found that Taiwanese are utilitarian, superstitious, practical and enjoy conflict.
Let us focus on the utilitarian and practical, although we will find that Taiwanese will get their share of conflict in the issues we are inspecting — and some would refer to the “1992 consensus” as little more than superstition.
The heart of the issue I am looking at is complicated by other factors, and the extent to which this includes a sense of “Chinese-ness,” or identification with China as a people and a nation, but let us focus on the central idea: What Taiwanese think of their own country, nation and populace.
I have lived in Taiwan for many years and I should probably have an inkling of what exactly is involved here, but to aid me, I asked a Canadian-Taiwanese student at the National Taipei University of Business for his views.
To be sure, consulting young people has grown in importance in Taiwan, and they are no longer seen as the static receptacles they were once thought to be. (Think of the Sunflower movement.)
The young person I spoke to expressed strong, coherent views on these subjects.
“My heart has always been with Taiwan, but I feel we are shifting. It does not matter that we do not have this [national] title if we come together and have passion, creativeness. I really think that the people of Taiwan are so strong, we can stand together,” he told me.
This student summed up views onto what the concord we are considering might add up to.
Taiwanese certainly seem to be troubled by the questions that have arisen here. I suspect this is one reason that they have embraced a series of canards like “de facto independence,” “one country on each side,” the “status quo” and “special state-to-state” model of relations, none of which go far in actually determining Taiwan’s position and role in world affairs.
In a word, Taiwanese are not always sure what they constitute as a people and a nation. This is troubling.
To step back, evidence has shown that “Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago,” and migration from Taiwan “played a major role in the spread of people throughout the world” (Science Daily, Jan. 27, 2009).
In other words, the great Pacific migrations of yesteryear might have originated in Taiwan, and Taiwan might be the source of the great Austronesian exodus, with its many peoples and languages, to say nothing of the important technological and social developments that originated here.
These facts give Taiwan a view onto itself as an important global player, a cultural beacon, a technological hub (which is well enough known in the present day) and a source of human development.
These are all conditions and qualities to be proud of, and I sense that they could play a role in the development of a “new consensus” surrounding the nation’s circumstances and status. The inclusion of Taiwan’s Aborigines in this debate would be essential in these respects.
I am not an expert in this area, but I know enough about Native American peoples — and the incredible embellishments that they have contributed to US life and culture — to know that this is a positive reality.
Like it or not, China has an important role to play in all we are discussing, and yes, this might be at the heart of any new consensus.
If we see Taiwan and China as strongly related and linked, this will open new doors, although it will also present problems to be dealt with.
However, this might not be a huge difficulty. In the end, maybe Taiwan and China will unite into a joint venture and combined world view at the center of a proposed new “Asian union.” This could be thought-provoking and would indeed offer a new consensus, potentially an accommodating and profitable one.
“China is not a really a threat,” the student I spoke to said. “People want to come together, we are human beings. We help each other with kindness, grace, pull together, we support each other as Asians. So we should stand strong, as Taiwan, we are a country. We can do well, if we respect each other, value each other, honor each other.”
Once again, this student has pretty much said it all.
We might view this issue in terms of human, and particularly adolescent, development. That is, at this important transitional stage in life, people are deciding exactly who they are, what values they condone, their own mentality and psychology, and their roles among their associates. It seem that Taiwan is in a similar position.
This is possibly a result of Taiwan being something of an “adolescent” democracy in the world, and this raises another issue.
To be sure, Taiwan’s arrival at its democratic position was the result of a thorough reassessment of its national character and potential place in the world from the 1970s to the 1990s. That this nation was able to make this transition indicates a deep well of maturity and good judgement that could be employed in terms of the issues we are discussing.
As an emergent and established democracy, Taiwan has stated its new position and rank in the world. This is a “consensus” that few other countries could disagree with or part from — yet again, China complicates matters.
However, there will come a time when China will have no choice but to recognize the reality that is Taiwanese democracy.
I have looked at various views in this essay. Combine these, and we might see our way to a new accord (if not a “consensus”) of what Taiwan once was, has become and what it might be.
We might see a concordance of what Taiwan is now, a new view that can be consensually embraced worldwide. With luck, China might see this as a positive, an effective recognition of just how great Taiwan is and how great China could be.
However Taiwanese reach these decisions, in the end I hope that the solidarity they fashion is their own, stemming from their resolve and purpose, expressed onto a transnational stage.
So I will say it again: Speak up, Taiwan, and let us all know your interpretation of who and what you are in the world today, your relationship to others and your hope that you will be welcomed again into world affairs in the most accommodating and operational ways.
David Pendery is an associate professor at National Taipei University of Business.
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