There is something of a mystique surrounding the so-called “1992 consensus,” the idea that representatives of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) in 1992 met in Hong Kong and agreed to disagree on what “China” means.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insists that it is used as a prerequisite for talks between Taiwan and China, and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a real problem letting it go.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) appears obsessed with it. Former KMT chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) tried to retire it two years ago, but the attempt ultimately cost him his job. KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) went big, trying to jettison it in Washington during his recent US trip, calling it a “non-consensus consensus.”
Chu’s move was an audacious, and likely intentional, public flogging of the concept meant to impress not the US, but Taiwanese politicians and the electorate back home, just before the upcoming nine-in-one elections.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) acknowledges it as a “historical fact,” albeit with hazy details.
The “1992 consensus” — in Taiwan used to refer to the idea that there is only “one China,” with each side of the Taiwan Strait having its own interpretation of what that means — has a habit of cropping up around elections.
In 2000, the KMT suffered the catastrophic blow of losing the presidential election, quite literally the first time it had ever lost power in an election to another political entity. Former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) invented the term “1992 consensus” just after that election, presumably to remind the electorate what they were missing.
The “consensus” was the mainstay of Ma’s pro-China stance, and the context for the KMT’s rout in the 2014 nine-in-one elections.
It reared its ugly head again in 2015, when Ma was exiting center stage and it was quite apparent that Chu was to lose the 2016 presidential election to Tsai, with Ma insisting on meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore before he left office.
The pro-localization media in Taiwan lambasted Ma for only mentioning “one China” and not adding the phrase “with each side having its interpretation of what that means.” Criticism was also levied at Xi, as it was suspected that he had cynically dropped the second part and prevented Ma from saying it.
The media should have cut Xi some slack: One little detail that seems to have been lost in the creation of the “consensus” mystique is that the Chinese side never, ever agreed to the addition of each side having its own interpretation of what “one China” means, not even expressed verbally, and certainly not in written form.
The Chinese side would not need to, as it was always sure what it meant by “one China,” and did not have time for any other interpretation. As far as it was concerned, “one China” meant the PRC and that Taiwan was part of that “one China.”
At the 1992 Hong Kong talks, in which the “consensus” was supposedly arrived at, the Chinese delegation would not even allow the ROC year numbering — which begins at 1912, the year the republic was founded — to appear on any document that it signed, as that would imply the existence of the ROC, which would run counter to the very principle it was trying to establish.
People who are still confused about what the “1992 consensus” is should not blame the CCP, but those who made Taiwanese believe that a “consensus” ever existed, namely Ma and his coconspirator, Su.
Now Chu has decided to do what Chiang failed to do, and bid the “non-consensus consensus” farewell, sacrificing it in the run-up to the nine-in-one elections.
Good luck with that.
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