Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) this week embarked, with renewed focus, on the process of party reform.
His first obstacle concerns what the KMT is to do about the so-called “1992 consensus.” The “consensus” says that there is only “one China” and that the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) each has their interpretation of how China is to be defined.
On Friday last week, the party’s Reform Committee called a meeting to discuss recommendations for a revamped cross-strait policy.
These included a proposed “four pillars,” the first of which was the consolidation of ROC sovereignty. It was agreed that the “consensus” had been demonized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for too long, and that its image must be reclaimed, but that it should now be regarded as a “historical fact.”
Chiang highlighted the “contribution in the past” it had made to the possibility of cross-strait dialogue.
This was widely interpreted by major party figures, either present at the meeting or otherwise — including former president and KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — as the beginnings of a move to ditch the “consensus.”
KMT Central Standing Committee member Liu Ta-bei (劉大貝) said the proposals risked turning the KMT into a “DPP-lite.”
Another legislator said the idea of regarding the “consensus” as a historical fact was so close to President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stance that “after the KMT has ditched the ‘1992 consensus,’ how is the blue camp to differentiate itself from the green?”
Former KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) posted on Facebook that night that the KMT should hold fast to its principles and not be allowed to be buffeted by the winds of public opinion.
Ma, as well as Chiang’s direct predecessor as KMT chairman, Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), immediately announced that they would not attend a meeting with Chiang scheduled for Tuesday, a move interpreted as their refusal to endorse the reform recommendations.
Former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), another former KMT chairman, on Monday said that the very idea of expunging the “consensus” from history was repugnant and unacceptable.
Chiang on Monday visited Ma to explain that the recommendations were only the beginning of a long period of party-wide consultation. Still, Ma did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Chiang now faces several obstacles.
First, many influential figures within the party’s old guard hold the “consensus” in high regard and value what they see as its potential for improving cross-strait relations.
However, it has also become a symbol of a relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that the younger generation of Taiwanese, including those who are KMT members, now rejects.
Second, the first “pillar,” demanding recognition of ROC sovereignty, sounds perfectly reasonable, but is something the CCP will never accept as compatible with the “consensus,” despite the “each side having its own interpretation” clause, which negates the concept of a “consensus” in the first place.
Third, the very idea of the existence of the “1992 consensus” relies on a suspension of belief in an inherently ludicrous and ahistorical idea. It is one that the CCP agrees to in principle when negotiating with the KMT — not the elected government of the ROC — but acts as if it does not exist when referring to Taiwan — “an inalienable part of China’s territory” — in international settings.
That means, there is no actual consensus anywhere on the “consensus.”
It is not just that Chiang has begun the reform process rather clumsily, or that he faces a huge uphill battle in uniting representatives of the party’s past and future, it is that he risks his reform agenda becoming mired in an essentially unresolvable dispute.
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