Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) said on Thursday last week that negotiations between Taipei and Beijing are possible on the basis of two political preconditions: opposition to Taiwanese independence and recognition of the “1992 consensus.”
He said it was not simply a matter of carrying on the policies of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) claimed the DPP would do if it returned to power, especially if the DPP continues to reject the so-called “1992 consensus.”
While the DPP denies the existence of the “1992 consensus,” (which a former KMT official said was coined in 2000) the KMT has insisted that Taipei and Beijing came to an agreement in 1992 that there is only “one China” with each side retaining its own interpretation as to what “one China” means.
Chen’s remark came in the wake of the DPP’s decision to start exchanges with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the think tank level.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had previously asked: How does the DPP intend to make cross-strait ties possible should it return to power?
The DPP has yet to come up with an acceptable answer, as it is still working on its “10-year policy plan.”
However, some DPP heavyweights seemingly can’t wait to push their own pet theories. Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) has been promoting what she calls the “1996 consensus,” in which she says that Taiwan became an independent sovereign state on March 23, 1996, when the Taiwanese popularly elected their first president.
Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) recently proposed what he called an “overlapping consensus” on the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. As part of this approach, he urged all political parties to embrace the ROC Constitution as common political ground.
If such an agreement were reached, Taiwan would be able to replace the “one China with individual interpretations” with what Hsieh called the “constitution with respective definitions,” whereby each side offers its own interpretation of the Constitution.
Hsieh also urged independence supporters to unite with those supporting the “status quo,” thereby forming a unsurmountable majority in opposition to their pro--unification counterparts.
However, Hsieh’s theory was roundly condemned by many of his own colleagues who claimed that it undermined Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Beijing is of course not happy with such semantics and urged the DPP to accept “1992 consensus,” which it said formed a basis for cross-strait talks.
Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), a research fellow at Taiwan Brain Trust, said the DPP must refrain from falling into the “political trap” set by Ma and Chen, who aim to create divisions within the party and press DPP presidential aspirants to accept the “1992 consensus.”
Liu said it was clear that Lu and Hsieh had chosen now to put forward their China policies so as to get a head start, before other potential candidates for the 2012 presidential election throw their hats into the ring, or at the very least, to gain media exposure for their ideas.
Both Lu and Hsieh favor party members voting in the party primaries because they are currently less popular than Tsai and former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and positive media coverage could boost their prospects.
In the event that the DPP decides today during its provisional national convention to select its presidential candidate through public opinion polls, Liu said they might try to persuade the party to organize a series of debates through which they could sell their proposals to the public, especially moderate voters.
“The party’s selection method will dictate potential candidates’ China policy,” Liu said. “If the candidates are selected through opinion polls, they will tend to be more moderate and pragmatic in their China policy in a bid to win the support of centrist voters.”
Liu urged potential DPP presidential candidates to come up with an alternative political basis for cross-strait talks. Citing the example of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), to whom he was once an aide, Liu said that Chen introduced the “1992 spirit” after winning re--election in 2004 and successfully pushed for Lunar New Year charter flights.
“The DPP, especially its potential presidential candidates, should call on China and the party to adopt a more positive attitude toward dialogue between the DPP and CCP,” Liu said. “The DPP should also be patient when developing a ‘Taiwan consensus’ that will best serve the interests of the DPP and Taiwan as a whole.”
Beijing will definitely take the DPP presidential candidate more seriously if the party mounts a serious challenge in 2012, Liu said.
As to the opposition of fundamentalists, Liu said he saw such disagreements as part and parcel of a diverse vibrant democracy. Although the radicals might have overwhelming sway during the primary process, he believed they would eventually fall into line after the party candidates are nominated, calculating that there is no way to get what they want if the DPP is not in power.
Leou Chia-feng (柳嘉峰), director of the research department at Taiwan Thinktank, said he recognized the effort of Hsieh and Lu and said that criticism directed at them was “too early and too fast.”
“Whether their theories will work is one thing, but I don’t think anybody should doubt their fundamental concepts,” he said.
Leou said Hsieh was inspired by John Rawls, a US philosopher whose ideas have received wide attention. They include justice as fairness and overlapping consensus. Although the DPP was in power for eight years, it still has a “contradiction complex” toward the ROC Constitution, the ultimate goal of which is unification, he said.
Describing Hsieh’s theory as an alternative form of “one China with different interpretations” only less direct, Leou said he suspected it would have only a limited effect.
“Cross-strait ties have never been the DPP’s forte,” Leou said. “Whatever the party can do, former president Chen already tried, but it is just very hard for the DPP to score political points in this area.”
While the DPP will address the cross-strait issue in its “10-year policy plan,” Leou said it is clear that the party’s bottom line is the “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” passed in 1999. He did not think the “10-year policy plan” would offer any new cross-strait discourse. As such, he said it was likely the party would delay it as long as possible.
Instead of spending so much time and effort developing cross-strait discourse and trying to woo China-based Taiwanese businesspeople, soldiers, teachers and civil servants, who are traditional KMT supporters, Leou said the DPP should focus more on domestic issues, such as improving the wealth gap and taking care of wage earners, the middle class, small and medium-size businesses and people living in central and southern Taiwan, where resources are scarce compared to their northern counterparts.
While cross-strait issues will be paramount in national elections, Leou said the safest approach for the DPP is to adopt a more moderate rhetoric: respect people’s decisions on the future of Taiwan, follow due democratic process and promise that any cross-strait agreement will be transparent and subject to legislative supervision.
However, Chen Yu-june (陳毓鈞), a researcher at Beijing’s Tsing-hua University, said that in order to negotiate with Beijing, the DPP must recognize the “1992 consensus” and put Taiwan independence on the backburner.
“If the DPP ever returns to power, cross-strait relations are bound to take a turn for the worse,” he said. “As China has made clear its stance, it will be very difficult for the DPP to continue the momentum of improving cross-strait ties if it ever takes over the presidency, but continues to reject the ‘1992 consensus.’”
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