Sat, May 14, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Soong's `consensus' wordsmithing doesn't mean much

NEW TERMINOLOGY `Two sides of the Strait, one China' is yet another phrase used to underscore the fact that Taipei and Beijing don't agree on what `one China' really means


The coining of a new phrase, "two sides of the Taiwan Strait, One China," to describe an old debate begs the question of whether the already term-laden cross-strait relations might truly benefit from this latest addition.

Coined in a communique forged by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and People First Part (PFP) leader James Soong (宋楚瑜) on Thursday, the new phrase was added in parenthese after a reference to the so-called "1992 consensus."

But while the PFP billed the communique as a constructive redefinition of the "1992 consensus," it is not immediately clear what new ideas the term brings to the discussion.

While further explanation can be expected in the coming weeks, remarks by PFP representatives so far seem to suggest that despite the novel terminology, the "two sides of the Taiwan Strait, One China" notion does not stray ideologically far from its previous stance on the "1992 consensus."

In other words, both sides of the Taiwan Strait will adhere to the "one China" principle, but each is entitled to interpret "one China" as it sees fit.

The "1992 consensus" originates from verbal descriptions of the political situation between Taiwan and China following a meeting in Hong Kong in 1992 between negotiators from the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). The exchange was retroactively dubbed the "1992 consensus" by former Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Su Chi (蘇起) in 2000, but the current administration contests the existence of such an agreement on the notion of "one China."

While the communique is essentially Hu's nod of approval to the "two sides of the Taiwan Strait, One China" description of cross-strait ties, it remains to be seen what Beijing's interpretation of this term might be and whether any substantial agreement was reached between Soong and Hu.

It is appropriate to note, however, that just before heading in to the closed-door meeting during which the communique was inked, Hu remarked that "adherence to the `one China' principle embodying `1992 consensus' and opposition to Taiwanese independence are the political foundations for negotiations."

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said Thursday night that the communique added nothing new to China's ideology.

"What has changed in Beijing's stance? It looks like nothing has changed," Chen said during an interview Thursday, indicating that the "1992 consensus" was tantamount to the "one China" principle to Beijing.

The deadlock thus seems unaltered, but for the addition of new semantic input on describing what happened in 1992. Alexander Huang (黃介正), a professor of strategic studies at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of American Studies, said that the communique's documentation of the views expressed in 1992 was noteworthy.

"Actually, the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] just reiterated long-held positions and interpretations of what happened in 1992," Huang said.

"The difference [marked by this] meeting is that both sides decided to reiterate in black and white, state again, and put it into a communique between the two parties. If there's anything new, it's that they put it in the communique to remind people that we have some kind of tacit agreement to disagree," Huang said.

The first point of the communique puts to paper the views which had been verbally expressed in 1992. It states that the SEF put forth at the time that "in the process of realizing national unification by joint efforts across the Strait, both sides are entitled to interpret the meaning of `one China' as they see fit, even though both sides insist on the `one China' principle."

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