With the unofficial campaign for next year’s presidential election in full swing and news from Hong Kong stoking fear over China’s intentions toward Taiwan, potential candidates across the political spectrum have been seeking to reassure voters by proclaiming opposition to Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula.
If the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) hopefuls are to be believed, then the expectation of “warm” ties under the KMT and “cool” ties under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might no longer apply, as Beijing keeps shifting the bar for what would take for Taiwan to have a friendly relationship with it.
In his “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” on Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) clearly outlined his vision of cross-strait relations. The so-called “1992 consensus” remains the basis for any dialogue, but Xi pushed it a step further by inserting the “goal of unification,” which the KMT’s intentionally vague “consensus” does not include.
Xi also announced Beijing’s intention to explore the “one country, two systems” framework for Taiwan as a model for unification, in effect linking the “consensus” with the same system that has been failing spectacularly in Hong Kong.
As Beijing has cited President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) failure to recognize the “consensus” as justification for chilling ties, if Beijing inserts “two systems” into any potential agreement, it would mean that failing to agree to that would jeopardize ties.
This would put the KMT into a tight situation, as all of its presidential hopefuls have come out strongly opposed to the framework.
Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) has been particularly vehement, telling the Kaohsiung City Council on April 1: “I will say this again with my hand on my heart — I support the ROC [Republic of China] and oppose ‘one country, two systems,’” and on Saturday last week saying that the system could never be implemented, as “Taiwanese can never accept it, unless it is over my dead body.”
On Wednesday last week, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘) said that the system has failed in Hong Kong, especially among young people, while former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) said the “arrangement has never been an option for Taiwan and Taiwanese will not accept it.”
However, the KMT has been unswerving in its commitment to the “1992 consensus,” developing it into a shorthand to express its supposedly level-headed approach to cross-strait relations as opposed to the DPP’s rash refusal to accept it.
What happens when Beijing continues to shift the narrative by inserting the “one country, two systems” model into the “consensus”? Xi’s move was not an errant choice; Beijing does not backtrack on its positions, and will continue to push this line until Taiwanese politicians are forced to accept or deny “two systems” as a prerequisite to relations.
If a KMT president rejects this addendum, then they would face the same kind of chilly ties for which the party has criticized Tsai, but if they agree in pursuit of “warm” ties, then they would be reneging on their promise and turning their back on the Taiwanese they purport to represent.
Taiwanese have spent years debating nuances of policies such as the “1992 consensus,” then once the lines are drawn, Beijing adds another element that politicians scramble to interpret. With each addition, the baseline shifts in Beijing’s favor, as it forces moderate China-leaning politicians to support Beijing’s version of moderation.
Just as the “consensus” now seems like an appropriate middle path to many KMT supporters, with time the “one country, two systems” framework might seem like a reasonable proposal.
In the face of Beijing’s shifting lines, KMT politicians — and others — must stand by their principles and resist playing into its strategy or its requirements for warmer ties.
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