Taipei Times, Tuesday, April 11th, 2000

`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 stalemate. 

 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 be stable. 

 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 trap. 


Lo Chih-cheng is an associate professor of political science at Soochow University. 

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