China repackaging stale demands

By Lo Chih-cheng羅致政

Friday, Feb 18, 2005,Page 8

With the development of the recent non-stop flights to and from China for the Lunar New Year period, as well as the arrival in Taiwan of a Chinese delegation, including deputy director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Sun Yafu ( 孫亞夫 ) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Secretary-General Li Yafei ( 李亞飛 ), it would seem that cross-strait relations are at last starting to thaw.

During a meeting held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Jiang Zemin's ( 江澤民 ) eight-point proposal on the Taiwan question ( 江八點 ), the chairman of China's People's Political Consultative Conference, Jia Qinglin ( 賈慶林 ), pointed out that cross-strait dialogue could be resumed immediately should Taiwan clearly indicate its acceptance of the 1992 consensus, which recognized the "one China" principle. Later on, during a press conference, TAO Vice-Minister Wang Zaixi ( 王在希 ) specifically talked of the "creative thinking" represented by Jia's speech. It appears that all Taiwan need do is accept the 1992 consensus, and talks will resume. But is this actually the truth of the matter?

From the way the rhetoric on the Chinese side has evolved, it would seem that the authorities in Beijing understand that it would be very difficult to get Taiwan to accept the "one China" principle. For this reason, they have decided to bundle it together with the 1992 consensus and present it as a prerequisite for the resumption of cross-strait talks.

This so-called "creative thinking"or "new approach" is just a repackaging of the old demands in new language. Even more crucial is the matter of what exactly is the 1992 consensus? And why exactly are the Chinese leaders choosing to hold the 1992 consensus aloft at this stage?

A key issue is whether there actually was a "1992 consensus." It has been subject to diverse interpretations, and even now the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party all have different understandings of the consensus.

Beijing still insists that it means that "both sides of the Strait agree on the `one China' principle." But the KMT understands this consensus as being "one China, with each side having its own interpretation," while the DPP advocates "pragmatic negotiation, setting aside disputes." Four years ago I wrote an article concluding that the whole situation can only be seen as "one consensus, different interpretations."

Even more deserving of our attention is the fact that prior to 1995, China never mentioned the "1992 consensus between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and ARATS" or anything similar. It was not until June 1995 during then president Lee Teng-hui's ( 李登輝 ) visit to the US that China started to emphasize that the 1992 consensus was a verbal agreement by both sides of the Strait to uphold the "one China" principle.

In November 1996, China went further in explicitly rejecting the "one China, with each side having its own interpretation" understanding of the "1992 consensus." In 2000, when the DPP took power, the "1992 consensus" became a major topic of discussion, and China skillfully shifted the meaning of the "1992 consensus" by replacing the pan-blue camp's "`one China,' with each side having its own interpretation" with the "one China" principle as the interpretation of the "1992 consensus."

Generally speaking, some people in Taiwan have a rosy interpretation of the "1992 consensus," which is very different from China's proposition. Beijing categorically rejects the idea of "`one China,' with each side making its own interpretation." Therefore, in talking about the "1992 consensus," Taiwan is simply accepting the "one China" principle, for there is no way back to "`one China,' with each side making its own interpretation."

Recently China has expressed confidence over "internationalizing the Taiwan issue," and has asked countries around the world to endorse its "one China" principle and to act accordingly. Taiwan doesn't even have the opportunity to offer its "own interpretation." Therefore, the consequence of recognizing and accepting the "1992 consensus" will simply be to confirm the "one China" principle.

Regrettably, the cross-strait situation has changed a lot over the past 10 years, but China's leadership and some people in Taiwan are still bound by the old ideas in dealing with it.

In fact, the recent non-stop charter flights for the Lunar New Year holidays proved that even if we avoid talking about the "one China" principle and the "1992 consensus," there are still a lot of possibilities for positive developments in cross-strait relations. What counts is whether Beijing can adopt a pragmatic approach and get rid of the constraints that it imposes on itself and is trying to impose on Taiwan.

If the charter flights symbolize a milestone in the interaction between both sides, then the truly "creative thinking" or "new approach" would be to establish a "spirit of 2005" and actively move forward by putting aside controversies.


Lo Chih-cheng is an associate professor in the politics department of Soochow University and executive director of the Institute for National Policy Research.