Early last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) each gave speeches that set off debate as to whether there really is such a thing as the so-called “1992 consensus.”
In 1995, then-Straits Exchange Foundation vice chairman Chiao Jen-ho (焦仁和) used the phrase “one China, different interpretations” as he summarized the 1992 meeting in Hong Kong between Taiwan and China.
However, in 1997, Tang Shu-bei (唐樹備), then-director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, took a tougher stance, saying that “there is one China, and there is no need to discuss anything else.”
The consensus is that “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait insist on the ‘one China’ principle” and that there is no such thing as “one China, different interpretations,” he said.
On July 9, 1999, in response to Chinese threats, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) proposed the “two state theory” according to which relations between Taiwan and China constituted a “special state-to-state relationship.”
Soon after that, then-Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) proposed political talks on an equal basis between the two sides and the signing of an “interim agreement” in an attempt to pull the situation back into the “one China” framework and promote peaceful coexistence between the two opponents. This was strongly rejected by China.
The “interim agreement” concept was an attempt to emulate the unification of West and East Germany. The difference is that Germany was a single state before World War II and was divided by the Allies following the end of the war. Three Western powers established West Germany, while the Soviet Union established East Germany.
According to the political principles which were laid down in the Potsdam Agreement on Aug. 2, 1945, Germany would be constructed on the foundation of federal states, or Bundeslaender, to facilitate future unification.
Just as did North and South Korea, East and West Germany joined the UN on the same day, suggesting that they were two “half states” and would only become a full state once they were joined again. The concept of a “half state” was not new, and it was modeled on the “half cantons” which already existed in Switzerland.
On Sept. 12, 1990, the Allies approved the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, and East Germany was dissolved into five states that joined West Germany in October of that year.
The Grundgesetz — the German Basic Law — was thus applied to the eastern part of unified Germany without having to draw up a new constitution and so Germany became a single sovereign state again.
Taiwan’s situation is totally different from that of Germany. Taiwan and China have been different states since 1895, long before the end of World War II in 1945.
They were not one country, which means that “unification” would be a change to the “status quo.”
The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “one China” is a matter of “Chinese independence” and assumes that the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China can be separate de jure actors in the international community, which is both practically and theoretically impossible.
If that were to happen, what would the country be, and which of the two governments would represent it?
No matter what the truth is, the term “1992 consensus” is believed to have been introduced by Su in 2000, a month before he stepped down.
It was an attempt at “creative ambiguity,” a diplomatic and political measure aimed at effectively dealing with difficult disputes.
The point is that the parties concerned should not try to define the dispute and the term.
China has been more assertive and aggressive on territorial issues in the past few years by offering a clearer definition. Even Su has admitted that he no longer recognizes the “1992 consensus.”
The latest definition of the “1992 consensus” that Xi gave was that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait, which belong to one China, must work together to seek unification under the ‘one China’ principle.”
Indeed, Xi did not specify that the “1992 consensus” means “one country, two systems,” although the “one country, two systems” policy is implied within the context.
Xi concluded that the two sides must “take advantage of the development of the Taiwan Strait relations... The principles of ‘peaceful unification’ and ‘one country, two systems’ are the best approaches to realizing national reunification.”
If Taiwanese accept Xi’s latest definition of the “1992 consensus,” they will be caught in the “one country, two systems” trap, just like the people of Hong Kong.
Tsai is absolutely right to ask that no one ever mention the outdated “1992 consensus” again.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
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