Chen, Ma meet at Taipei Guest House

MANO A MANO: The outgoing president and the president-elect sat down for 90 minutes yesterday, but failed to see eye-to-eye on the so-called '1992 consensus'

By Ko Shu-ling and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Wed, Apr 02, 2008 - Page 1

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) met president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday and the two crossed swords over the legitimacy of the "1992 consensus."

"It is a serious matter," Chen said. "It is wishful thinking to believe that China would agree that both sides have their own interpretation of `one China.'"

Chen said he would like to know whether Ma would violate his pledge of putting Taiwan first and serving the interest of Taiwanese if China did not accept "each side having its own interpretation."

Chen made the remarks during a meeting with Ma at the Taipei Guest House yesterday morning. They talked for 90 minutes, with the first hour open to the media. The two had last met on April 3, 2006, at the Presidential Office after Ma returned from a trip to the US.

Chen said yesterday that no consensus was reached during the 1992 meeting in Hong Kong, adding that China had not agreed that both sides can have their own interpretation of "one China."

"Please do not overly interpret, twist or falsify history," he said.

Three uncertainties surround the resumption of talks on the basis of the "1992 consensus" as Ma has suggested, Chen said.

First, it is uncertain whether the "1992 consensus" actually exists. Second, its contents remain uncertain and third, it is impossible to know what will happen in future.

Chen said that both former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and late Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) denied the existence of the "1992 consensus," while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) admitted that he had made up the term in 2000, before the KMT handed over power to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Chen said.

Su said he had invented the term in order to break the cross-strait deadlock and alleviate tensions, but Lee said he was unaware as to when the term was invented.

The KMT has insisted that some "consensus" had been reached between Taiwan and China during a meeting in Hong Kong in November 1992 to the effect that both sides should adhere to the "one China" principle, with each side having its own interpretation.

The DPP, however, insists that no such consensus exists.

Ma proposed resuming talks with China on the basis of the "1992 consensus" in the run-up to the election.

In a telephone conversation on March 26, US President George W. Bush urged Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to use Taiwan's presidential election to take positive actions to peacefully resolve cross-strait tensions. In response, Hu appeared to show willingness to reopen cross-strait talks on the basis of the so-called "1992 consensus."

It would be difficult to use the "1992 consensus" as the foundation for cross-strait talks, Chen said. He added, however, that he was not against the idea of giving it a try, but that extra caution should be taken.

Chen told Ma that bilateral negotiations must be conducted under four principles: sovereignty, democracy, peace and equality.

Chen said that although he recognized the preconditions Ma had set for the resumption of talks with Beijing, Ma must heed China's three-stage military preparation for war with Taiwan.

Ma has asked China to dismantle missiles targeted at Taiwan before both sides can talk.

While Ma has proposed that both sides adopt the concept of “mutual non-denial,” Chen said yesterday that Taiwan has never denied China’s existence.

“The problem lies with China, which has never recognized Taiwan and considers us to be one of its provinces or a special administrative region,” he said.

In response to Chen’s questions about the “1992 consensus,” Ma said that although both sides of the Taiwan Strait did not sign an official agreement, cross-strait telegraphs on Nov. 3, Nov. 4 and Nov. 16, 1992, could prove the existence of the consensus.

“There is also other important historical evidence of the existence of the consensus. Without it, it would have been impossible for the meeting between Koo and [Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits chairman] Wang Daohan (汪道涵) to take place in 1993,” he said.

Ma said he had emphasized since 2001 that cross-strait dialogue would not be possible unless both sides “returned to the ‘1992 consensus.’” Ma said the communiques between China and other countries also showed that many countries interpreted “one China” differently because they used different terms, such as “acknowledge,” “take notice of,” or “understand and respect,” to describe their views on China’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan.

Ma said he would not negotiate with China if the latter denied that both sides across the Taiwan Strait can have different interpretations of what “one China” means.

“It’s our turn to run the government. We will continue to take a ‘Taiwan-centric’ approach. We will not change our view of the nation’s status,” he said.

Ma assured Chen that he would not “ruin” the administration Chen hands over to him.

“It is impossible for me to sell out Taiwan. I do not love Taiwan any less than you do,” Ma said.

“We will not give up the sovereignty we have defended for so many years. We will safeguard our sovereignty and I believe we can make it,” he said.

“If you still do not believe what I just said, I’ll send you a book and mark the paragraph [that mentions the consensus],” he said.

Ma also vowed to downplay “politically sensitive issues” and make it a priority to improve people’s living standards and the economy.

Chen also told Ma there would be no surprises before he hands over power on May 20.

He said that some people have expressed concern that he would say or do something dramatic before he leaves office, but he promised he would not do so.

Chen said he had promised the US and the international community that as long as China did not intend to use military force against Taiwan, he would not declare independence, hold referendums on the nation’s statehood, seek constitutional change, or change national symbols. Abolishing the National Unification Council and Unification Guidelines would also not be on the agenda.

He did not violate the promises he made over the past eight years and would not do so before he leaves office on May 20, he said.

“I am as good as my word,” he said.

Chen asked the public to refrain from reading too much into the timing of yesterday’s meeting, which fell on April Fool’s Day. He would be happy to meet Ma again at the president-elect’s convenience should Ma need any help, he said.

Chen said that with the end of his term, he hoped the infighting between those supporting and opposing him would come to an end. He hoped history would not repeat itself and that forces supporting and opposing Ma would not appear in future.

Ma in turn assured the president that he would allow majority rule, respect the opinion of the minority and tolerate different voices.

Ma said he would fulfill his promises by seeking dialogue with people who disagree with his ideas, adding that he hoped to build public consensus on such issues.

He said he would incorporate part of DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) platform, such as “reconciliation and co-existence,” into his policies.

He said the presidential election was “impressive” and constituted “a very significant achievement” in Taiwan’s democratic development.

“This was the result of the contributions of all Taiwanese people, not a specific individual or a political party,” he said.

“Taiwanese people’s choosing the KMT in this election did not mean they completely reject the DPP,” he said.

Ma said the DPP continued to play an important role in Taiwanese democracy.

“We are very willing to compete with the DPP freely and fairly,” he said. “Perennial opposition is not something we hope for.”

Ma also promised not to make hasty decisions regarding policies that the public still disagrees on, including cross-strait matters.

Ma vowed to create polices that are “Taiwan-centered” and serve the interests of the people.

He also assured Chen that he would serve with humility.

“I’ve woken up very early [since the election] at the thought of the great responsibilities on my shoulder,” he said.

“Particularly, I know everyone is mortal and sometimes one may not be able to resist the temptation to abuse authority when one is in power,” he said, adding that this was the reason why he reminded himself and others that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Asked for comment after the additional confidential meeting, Ma spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said Ma and Chen had got along well.

Lo said the two men had discussed issues such as national defense, diplomacy and national security, but details of the meeting were kept confidential.

Lo said that so far Ma’s office did not have plans for another meeting with the president.