Is One China, Different Interpretations a Panacea?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 2, 2008
During yesterday's meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian, the focus of the debate was the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations. Each side had its own position. Just exactly what does the so-called 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations entail? Will the unpleasant cross-strait problems we have endured over the past eight years vanish because Ma Ying-jeou has been elected and agrees to One China, Different Interpretations? Will cross-strait interactions and exchanges return to normal?
Following Ma's election, many cross-strait problems have apparently been solved. One China, Different Interpretations is something Washington, Beijing, and Taipei all find acceptable. Generally speaking, with Ma Ying-jeou's election, one can expect that Washington, Beijing, Taipei relations will become more relaxed. For the past eight years the Chen Shui-bian administration has forced Washington and Beijing to draw lines in the sand, and seek a modus vivendi in the space in between. Whatever Chen's motives might have been, his real world impact was to bring Washington, Beijing, and Taipei relations to a new low. Therefore, as long as Ma Ying-jeou does not repeat Chen Shui-bian's mistakes upon assuming office, Ma's inauguration will allow Washington, Beijing, Taipei relations to enter a new phase. On this basis, it is reasonable to expect an improvement in cross-strait relations.
But is the situation really so rosy? Can all cross-strait disputes be resolved within the framework of the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations?
Let's take a look at the historical record. In 1992, Koo Chen-fu and Wang Daohan met in Hong Kong. The two sides reached a non-controversial agreement to "shelve the dispute over sovereignty" and attend to "business matters." Based on the 1992 Consensus, Koo and Wang met again in 1993, this time in Singapore. They reached an agreement on cross-strait certification of academic credentials, cross-strait registered letter enquiries, and a mechanism for liason and talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). These channels could be opened because the two sides were able to shelve the dispute over sovereignty.
In fact, "shelving the dispute over sovereignty" is another way of saying "One China, Different Interpretations." One China, Different Interpretations means that each side has a different interpretation of One China. One China, Different Interpretations allows the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China to express their own views on the sovereignty issue. It allows the two sides to find a consensus amid their differences.
In all fairness, the words "1992 Consensus" did not actually appear during the 1992 Hong Kong talks. But the two sides did in fact reach a consensus on a wide range of issues. Therefore the result has come to be known as the "1992 consensus." For the past eight years, Chen Shui-bian, based on the flimsy pretext that the words "1992 Consensus" did not appear, has refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations. When Chen repudiated Koo's commitment, he undermined all the time and effort Koo and Wang invested and brought cross-strait relations to a new low.
Ma Ying-jeou now says he is willing to return to the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations. He is willing to consult with the mainland regarding such issues as direct cross-strait flights and allowing mainland tourists to come to Taiwan. Although Washington, Beijing, and Taipei can all accept the premise of One China, Different Interpretations, problems remain.
First, the two sides' interpretations of One China, Different Interpretations vary. According to mainland scholars, Beijing stresses One China while Taipei stresses Different Interpretations. Although the two sides' understanding of the consensus overlaps, the degree of overlap depends upon the prevailing atmosphere and the issues at hand.
In terms of atmosphere, once Chen Shui-bian steps down and Ma Ying-jeou steps up, Beijing may harbor illusions about opposition to independence and promotion of reunification. It may conclude that the outcome of the presidential election shows that the public on Taiwan opposes independence and supports reunification. If Beijing believes this, then it has not studied the presidential election closely enough. Reunification vs. independence was not the core issue. Economic issues were the core issue. If Beijing indulges in wishful thinking before coming to the negotiating table, then it has misjudged the situation.
In terms of issues, a consensus was reached in 1992 and 1993 over "business matters." But the issues that Ma Ying-jeou must deal with include freedom of navigation. Any international negotiations over freedom of navigation invariably involve sovereignty.
Can the two sides really shelve the cross-strait sovereignty issue and talk about freedom of navigation issues? Are Hongqiao to Sungshan flights, or Pudong to Taoyuan flights "domestic" or "international" flights. How should any disputes be resolved?
Furthermore, navigational rights and allowing mainland tourists to come to Taiwan are all policies Taipei is willing to implement. On these Beijing must be in step and demonstrate goodwill. These are not things that can be achieved unilaterally. If the atmosphere is unfavorable, if common ground cannot be found, if the other side is unwilling, then it is entirely possible the door to consultations could again close.
As long as Ma Ying-jeou avoids crossing the red line after he assumes office, cross-strait relations can return to normal. But to assume that One China, Different Interpretations will automatically lead to cross-strait harmony is too optimistic.