During a visit to Beijing last month, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) proposed the concept of “one country, two areas (一國兩區).” This immediately drew a lot of criticism from the public and opposition parties, who accused him of selling out Taiwan. However, many academics and even some members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have said the statement is a correct and pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution. How can there be such vastly varying interpretations of one term?
Article 11 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC), which states that “rights and obligations between the people of the Chinese mainland area and those of the free area, and the disposition of other related affairs may be specified by law,” and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), which is based on the additional constitutional articles, do indeed advocate a “one country, two areas” formula.
When the government lifted Martial Law in 1987 and ended the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion in 1991, it stopped treating “the mainland area” as enemy territory and allowed members of the public to travel there freely. The additional articles were passed through a constitutional amendment to provide a legal basis for exchanges between the people of the “free area” — Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu — and the people of “the mainland area,” which is currently not under Taiwan’s jurisdiction, although it is defined as national territory in the Constitution.
In the Constitution, “one country” refers to the ROC and “two areas” to the “Taiwan area” and “the mainland area.” There is no question: It is precisely as the government says.
The problem is, who does not question this definition? It is not a question in Taiwan or among the Taiwanese public. But Wu made the remarks in Beijing. For those living in “the mainland area” or the international community, does “one country” refer to the ROC? The regrettable fact is that their understanding of “one country” or “one China” is that it refers to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is represented by the government in Beijing.
The KMT and some DPP politicians claim that the concept is correct in light of the Constitution and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area. However, they have made a mistake in thinking theirs is the only interpretation: They have applied the domestic interpretation of the law to the international community, which has a different interpretation of the meaning of “one country.”
Many Taiwanese who understand the international reality believe the government’s use of “one country, two areas” could cause a misunderstanding internationally and therefore object to it.
Wu said he was carrying out a task entrusted to him by someone else, thus indirectly saying that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was behind the concept. Indeed, Ma had already proposed the concept during an interview with the Mexican newspaper El Sol de Mexico in 2008.
At the time, this author said it was inappropriate and argued that although the “one country, two areas” formula is a Taiwanese claim based on the constitutional amendments of 1991, Ma should have remembered that he was not giving a lecture on the ROC Constitution or explaining the Constitution to the Taiwanese public; he was explaining Taiwan’s China policy to the international community. That is a political rather than a legal, and an international rather than a domestic, explanation.
Taiwan and China differ vastly in size, and after the government in Beijing replaced the government in Taipei as the sole representative of China at the UN in 1971, the international community has interpreted “one country” or “one China” to mean the PRC. As the government tries to promote the interests of 23 million Taiwanese by working against this trend, it must not for a moment forget that this is what it is doing. That is why it should not talk about “one country, two areas” outside of Taiwan.
Maybe Ma has proposed the concept to test the waters because he is in a hurry to create new ground for cross-strait relations. However, the president would do well to remember that he and his representatives should speak cautiously, because their statements represent the country’s stance. Moreover, they must not ignore the major impact that the context of a statement has on how that statement is interpreted. They must think very carefully about what they say or do not say, depending on the context.
Negotiation is key in foreign affairs, and negotiations should strive to satisfy both parties at the lowest possible cost. Both sides of the Taiwan Strait want peaceful exchanges. With its statements, the government should not only try to obtain China’s understanding and agreement, it should also protect Taiwan’s interests.
Since Wu could not say that “one country means the ROC” in Beijing, he should have avoided making such a statement. In terms of the legal basis for cross-strait exchanges, he could have said that Taiwan is pushing for cross-strait exchanges based on to the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, with the “two areas” concept as the legal basis. The “two areas” concept is a correct interpretation of the Constitution, and as it does not contradict the “one China” principle that Beijing insists on, it should be a good compromise.
Cho Hui-wan is a professor in the Graduate Institute of International Politics at National Chung Hsing University.
Translated by Eddy Chang