Moving the concensus goalposts

By Parris Chang 張旭成  / 

Thu, Mar 12, 2015 - Page 8

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) reiterated at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference early last week that China-Taiwan relations must be based on the foundation of the so-called “1992 consensus.”

The consensus is generally regarded as a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.

If such a consensus is undermined, Xi said, “The trust between China and Taiwan will cease to exist and the cross-strait relationship will revert to a state of turbulence.”

He said that the consensus means that both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan belong to China and also berated the Taiwan separatist movement as the biggest roadblock and threat to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.

Beijing is apprehensive that on the heels of the KMT’s crushing defeat in the nine-in-one elections in November last year, the party could lose the presidential election in January next year, bringing the pro-independence Democratic Progressive party (DPP) back to power.

To brace for the worst, Xi emphatically stated that regardless of the political party in power in Taiwan, it must accept the “1992 consensus” as the defining foundation of cross-strait relations. In other words, Xi is trying to lock Taiwan into the cage of “one China.”

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), the former Strait Exchange Foundation chairman who was in charge of negotiations with China in the 1990s, denied any consensus was reached in 1992. Moreover, Lee publicly blamed Su Chi (蘇起), who headed the Mainland Affairs Council in his administration, of fabricating the term “1992 consensus” in April 2000 and Su conceded that he invented the term.

Likewise, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who headed the council during the DPP administration and was the DPP presidential candidate in 2012, reaffirmed there was no “1992 consensus.” Lee and Tsai have both refused to submit to Beijing’s ploy to confine Taiwan to the “one China” framework.

On the other hand, a few KMT politicians have, for their own reasons, readily swallowed Beijing’s bait.

In April 2005, for instance, then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who had lost the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, jumped on the bandwagon of the “1992 consensus” when he visited Beijing at the invitation of then-Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Lien also endorsed Beijing’s agenda on Taiwan, including Taiwan’s eventual unification with China.

Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected in 2008, he has subscribed to a new version of the “1992 consensus.” He claims that the essence of the consensus is “one China, separate interpretations,” that the governments in Beijing and Taipei have consented to such rendition and that, to him, China means the Republic of China (ROC).

Ma may be fooling himself, as Beijing has all along maintained that the ROC has ceased to exist and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is China’s only legitimate government and sole representative in the international community. On numerous occasions, Beijing has proclaimed that the “1992 consensus” means one China and repudiated the idea of “separate interpretations.”

During Ma’s tenure, Taiwan has signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and 21 agreements under the “one China” principle to promote cross-strait trade, investment and economic integration. Taiwan’s close association with, and growing dependence on China, has failed to help revive Taiwan’s struggling economy as Ma had expected; instead, Taiwan’s autonomy and sovereign rights have been compromised.

Furthermore, a large-scale flight of Taiwanese capital and relocation of production facilities to China have caused economic stagnation, a high jobless rate and a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. Consequently, there is massive popular discontent and resentment about Ma’s pro-China policies.

In the hope of attending the APEC summit in Beijing in November last year, and to stage a historic meeting with Xi, Ma tilted further toward China’s framework. To show his support for the “one China” framework, Ma in 2013 said that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland were regions of China and cross-strait relations were not international relations.

However, Ma’s maneuvers boomeranged. Not only did he fail to secure an invitation to Xi’s party, his pro-China policies were also repudiated by the voters in November last year. The prospect of the KMT being voted out of power and the DPP taking over the government next year looms large.

To his chagrin, Xi belatedly discovered the defects of his predecessor Hu’s strategy to “buy” Taiwan. The strategy was designed to recruit and cultivate Taiwanese business tycoons so as to use these enablers to forge ahead Taiwan’s peaceful unification.

However, the strategy has backfired badly, as most Taiwanese strongly resent these compradors, who are corrupt and have monopolized the bonuses of cross-strait economic engagement, and perceive them to be potential quislings to help Beijing annex Taiwan.

Xi and his colleagues may be too embarrassed to admit it, but they now realize that they have been poorly informed and misled by their cadres about the real situation in Taiwan.

Most of these cadres have neglected and ignored ordinary Taiwanese; instead they have been wined and dined by the rich and the powerful and, in the process, have become rich themselves. Beijing’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign should also investigate the cadres at the Taiwan Affairs Office.

It is imperative for Xi to liberate his thought and develop a new thinking; to reset Beijing’s policy on Taiwan.

The “1992 consensus” that Xi pitched to Taiwan’s pro-unifucation groups in September last year is shopworn and has no appeal to Taiwanese. The forefathers of Taiwanese were immigrants from China who left behind an old continent often ravaged by wars and oppression to seek a new and better life in this land. Their offspring have built an affluent nation — free, democratic and one which respects human rights.

In Taiwan, 60.6 percent of people identify themselves as Taiwanese, only 3.5 percent see themselves as Chinese and an overwhelming majority of the residents favor independence or the “status quo.”

Only a very small number of people aspire to living under China’s authoritarian rule. Most Singaporeans today are also the offspring of immigrants from China, and they have built a shining and prosperous independent nation, which is recognized by the Chinese.

Can Xi and his politburo associates do away with their outdated concept of sovereignty and accept another Singapore in East Asia?

Blood is thicker than water: If the Chinese leadership offers friendship and coexistence, and not to control or conquest, Taiwanese will reciprocate by doing their utmost to enhance cooperation, shared prosperity and peaceful development in cross-strait relations.

Parris Chang is professor emeritus of political science at Penn State University and president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.