Life beyond the 1992 consensus?

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水  / 

Mon, Sep 05, 2011 - Page 8

After Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected president in 2000, progress on the three direct links came to a standstill. Former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) invented the so-called “1992 consensus” — which entailed “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” — to be used as a way of smoothing interaction between Taiwan and China.

Ever since, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has used the “1992 consensus” as its main weapon in political disputes with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has attacked the “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” dictum, saying it implies that there are two Chinas and thus having no interest in the “1992 consensus.”

It was not until 2005 that both sides recognized the “1992 consensus,” which was written into the press communique issued by former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) when Lien visited China that year to join hands with the communists in the fight against Taiwanese independence. During the visit, Lien abandoned the view that there is “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” and accepted China’s view that the “1992 consensus” defines the “one China” principle.

When the CCP gained the power to define the “1992 consensus,” they insisted it be used as the basis for cross-strait interaction. At the same time, they never stopped attacking the view that there is “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”

DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) recently released her party’s 10-year policy platform guidelines, which state that the “1992 consensus” does not exist. The KMT and the CCP responded with a strong rebuke, saying that if the DPP presidential candidate were elected, existing cross-strait relations would take a huge step backward.

The DPP’s rejection of the “1992 consensus” is also troubling to Chen. In January, he said that if the “1992 consensus” was rejected, it would be impossible to continue many of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait policies, such as the three links and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. In July, he reiterated this concern.

Last month, the former director of Chen Shui-bian’s office, Chen Sung-shan (陳淞山), said rejection of the “1992 consensus” would make cross-strait talks meaningless. Late last month, he said with unprecedented severity that by rejecting the “1992 consensus,” the DPP’s 10-year policy guidelines would result in an escalation of cross-strait hostilities.

However, just as the situation was about to explode, political commentator Nan Fang Shuo (南方朔) wrote a surprising article which said that the broadcasting of a pre-recorded program on China Network Television, in which New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) ripped into People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), was stopped after its first airing. The same happened to a program in which China’s Taiwan Affairs Office strongly criticized Tsai and the DPP’s 10-year policy- -guidelines and the refusal to acknowledge the “1992 consensus.” Nan said these incidents indicated a new “pragmatic trend” in Beijing’s Taiwan policies.

Nan’s article should make Ma feel embarrassed, but the fact is that Beijing’s pragmatism is not all that new.

In their criticism of Tsai, Chen Shui-bian and Chen Sung-shan said the smart way to deal with what they call the “unavoidable 1992 consensus” would be to take the same approach as the former president did: blur the issue by talking about the “1992 spirit.”

The “1992 spirit” is indeed one of the few of Chen Shui-bian’s cross-strait strategies worth talking about. However, the question remains whether the strategy is useful.

When he came up with the “1992 spirit,” Beijing still had not accepted the “1992 consensus.” What really pleased Beijing then was Chen Shui-bian’s “four noes,” one of which was “not declaring Taiwanese independence.” However, that did not mean that Beijing liked him, but it would have to listen to what he said. At the time, the three direct links were far from a concrete concept, but surprisingly, initial progress was quick.

Chartered direct flights were initiated in 2003, after Chen Shui-bian had rejected the “1992 consensus” and made his “one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait” dictum. Stranger still, between 2007 and 2008, when his approach to independence became even more radical, negotiations on chartered flights went even smoother. Even the issue of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan was successfully negotiated, which was highly appreciated by Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), who was preparing to take over as chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

This strange situation cannot be explained by saying that cross-strait relations become smoother the ruder Taiwan is to Beijing. However, it does show that while the rulers in Beijing ignore human rights domestically, they still basically adhere to the principle of international politics whereby states are rational in their dealings with the international community, including Taiwan.

China’s sovereignty claims on Taiwan are not rational, but even as they sometimes behave boorishly to try to achieve their goals, the checks and balances provided by the international political situation often ensure that Beijing adopts relatively rational means.

China is indeed a real headache of a country, but the rulers in Beijing are not completely irrational. However, many Taiwanese think they are, and that is why they believe war will break out if Taiwan rejects the make-believe “1992 consensus.” This view is built on the same propaganda that radical Taiwan independence advocates use: The assumption that the Chinese have a wicked side that is especially difficult to overcome. That leaves only two stark options: Surrender all the way or resist to the end.

Regardless of whether this view arises from being bullied by Beijing or from thinking frightening the public will make them oppose the DPP or from some other reason, it is unhealthy. If it is used as a basis from which to make policy decisions, this will without a doubt be detrimental to the stable development of cross-strait relations.

Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.