The coexistence of two Chinas

By Hsiao Yatan 蕭亞譚  / 

Tue, Jun 07, 2011 - Page 8

On May 20, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush talked about the possibility of treating the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as “two Chinas” at a seminar held by the Brookings Institution in Washington to celebrate the centenary of China’s 1911 Revolution. Given the status of the speaker and the venue where the speech was made, this is a message to which the Taiwanese government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) should give further thought.

In response to the proposal, Presidential Office spokesman Fang Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) on May 22 reiterated the government’s stance that Taiwan recognizes the principle of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation,” while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remained silent. Given the passive attitude of both political parties, we need to look at the pros and cons of Taiwan promoting the concept of “two Chinas.”

Various proposals addressing the cross-strait status have emerged over the years, including “one country, two systems,” “one China, two constitutions,” “one China, one Taiwan,” and even the view that Taiwan should become part of the US or revert to Japan. Unfortunately, none of the political groups in Taiwan have ever adopted the concept of “two Chinas” — although that is the description of the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait that would be easiest for the public to understand.

What does “two Chinas” mean? The Republic of China (ROC) was founded in 1912, and an independence movement led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) successfully founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Despite the vast difference in the population and territory that these two entities control, two countries calling themselves “China” have coexisted ever since.

Opinion polls conducted over the years on Taiwan’s status have consistently shown a majority to favor maintaining the “status quo.” But what is this “status quo” that the public hopes to maintain? Perhaps maintaining the “status quo” means recognizing that the PRC is a sovereign and independent country and a rising emerging economy, while Taiwan is a sovereign state called the ROC. Isn’t that the same thing as “two Chinas”?

Whether we are talking about Chinese unification with the PRC as its core, or the traditional independence view that there is one China and one Taiwan, neither exists in reality nor is it currently an option. The situation today is that there are two Chinas ruled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the CCP.

Perhaps the “two Chinas” concept would enable the three parties on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to find common ground for dialogue and negotiation. What does the so-called “1992 consensus” between the KMT and CCP mean? It is their shared hope that they will live together in one country named China in the future. What does the “Taiwan consensus” between the KMT and DPP mean? It is an agreement to compete for political power within the ROC framework. The consensus between the DPP and the CCP would be that by gaining power, they can share the experience of defeating the KMT, either by military force or via the ballot box.

The “two Chinas” concept has no enemies. For the KMT, the concept recognizes the legitimacy of its rule over Taiwan. For the DPP, it can be seen as paving the way for the emergence of “one China, one Taiwan.” As for the CCP, it could be viewed as an initial stage in pursuit of peaceful unification. This concept provides all three parties with the support and interpretations they need.

With regards to the US as a factor in the cross-strait relationship, the “two Chinas” concept was once part of US foreign policy. If MOFA chooses to use it when lobbying, the “two Chinas” concept is likely to be given a better reception than talk about independence or Taiwan becoming a US territory, because a “two Chinas” policy would simply mean a resumption of Washington’s old China policy.

The Presidential Office could have been more flexible in its response to the “two Chinas” concept, possibly by saying that as long as it were in Taiwan’s interests, it would welcome a passionate and in-depth debate by all sides on how to implement “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.” With such flexibility, the government would truly be practicing the “flexible diplomacy” it has long touted.

Hsiao Yatan is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica.

TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG