`One China' holds too few solutions
By Lo Chih-Cheng
In response to President-elect Chen's urging for the resumption of talks
between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, China has thus far taken a
"wait and see" policy. Beijing has stated clearly that the door for cross-strait
talks will remain closed unless Taiwan returns to the so-called "one China"
principle. How to tackle Beijing's explicit preconditions for re-connecting
will surely be the most important challenge for Chen's new administration.
Many in Taiwan have asserted that the nation should unilaterally
shift its stance back to the consensus of "one China," wherein both sides
are allowed to interpret for themselves what "one China" means -- as was
agreed to in 1992 in order to move cross-strait relations forward. In fact,
retreating in the face of pressure and criticism resulting from the "special
state-to-state relationship" President Lee announced last July, the Mainland
Affairs Council (MAC) has tried to do just that.
Even after Beijing's "One China Principle and the Taiwan Question"
white paper unmistakably tightened its definition of "one China" and expanded
its threat of invading the island, the MAC continues to promote "one China
with different interpretations" as the solution to break the cross-strait
It appears to many Taiwanese that such a consensus is some kind
of panacea. However, whether the strategy of retreating from "special state-to-state"
to "one China, different interpretations" is contributive to peace and
stability in the region as well as national security deserves careful examination.
Two core issues are related to the so-called "Hong Kong consensus"
reached in 1992. First, was there indeed a consensus of "one China and
both sides being allowed to have their own interpretation"? Second, does
such a cross-strait agreement serve Taiwan's national interests?
For the first question, the answer now appears to be "one consensus
with different interpretations." From Taipei's perspective, what was agreed
to was that both sides concur that there is indeed only one China and each
side of the Taiwan Strait is free to define the exact nature of and content
of that "one China."
Beijing, however, has a quite different understanding. China stated
clearly in its white paper that "in November 1992, both sides reached the
consensus and stated orally their insistence on the one China principle."
In other words, both sides agreed with the "one China" principle, but both
sides have not agreed or even discussed the content of "one China" yet.
Put more plainly, according to Beijing there is a consensus on
"one China" but there is no agreement that "both sides shall be entitled
to define the content of one China respectively." Clearly, there is a significant
disagreement between Taipei's and Beijing's respective understanding of
the "consensus" reached in Hong Kong. Moreover, Beijing has stated in its
white paper that the 1992 consensus can only be applied to cross-strait
talks on practical and not political issues.
That being the case, the fallacy of arguing to step back to the
1992 consensus is obvious. Only when both sides agree on the content of
the Hong Kong consensus shall the basis for positive interaction and dialogue
To be sure, some may assert that "creative ambiguity" may help
bridge the political canyon between the two sides. That ambiguity, however,
could bear high costs for Taiwan.
First of all, the historical and international setting against
which the Hong Kong consensus was reached has undergone significant changes.
Among them, the announcement of the "three nos" by the US and other major
powers, stated under pressure from the PRC, has given substance to the
content of "one China" by defining "what `one China' is not." This has
certainly hampered Taipei's ability to define "one China."
"One China with different interpretations" implies that neither
side should oppose the other's definition of one China. However, with its
existing international status and rising power, Beijing has the advantage
of having its definition of "one China" be more frequently heard and more
readily accepted. As a consequence of such comparative disadvantage, Taiwan's
interpretation of "one China," no matter how clever, will eventually become
nothing but murmuring.
In fact, China has relentlessly opposed Taiwan's right to define
its international status. All the creative interpretations put forth by
Taiwan (such as "one China, two regions," "one China, two administrations,"
"one divided China," etc.) are categorically rejected in the "one China
principle" white paper. This has revealed the cruel fact that the so-called
"one China with different interpretations" remains Taipei's wishful thinking.
In any event, it would serve both sides' interests to bypass any
preconditions or principles and to initiate immediate positive dialogue
and mutually beneficial exchanges. Nonetheless, even if coming back to
the 1992 consensus is deemed a necessity, the content of that consensus
must first beclarified. "One consensus with different interpretations"
is no consensus at all and will never become a solid basis for resuming
political negotiations. Worse, it could lead Taiwan into a very dangerous
Lo Chih-cheng is an associate professor of political
science at Soochow University.