1992 Consensus: Seeking Common Ground Requires One China, Different Interpretations
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 11, 2011
Since the beginning of this year, Beijing officials in charge of Taiwan affairs have repeatedly stressed the 1992 Consensus. They have done so on every occasion pertaining to cross-Strait relations. They have made subtle but highly significant alterations to the meaning of the 1992 Consensus. Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi, for example, said that "The essence of the 1992 Consensus is the search for common ground."
The 1992 Consensus enables both Taipei and Beijing to assert their own position. Taipei speaks of "One China, Different Interpretations." Beijing speaks of "Different Interpretations of One China." Beijing stresses "seeking common ground." Taipei stresses "honoring the differences." Over the past three years, when referring to 1992 Consensus, the Beijing authorities have often emphasized the One China Principle. They have mentioned the 1992 Consensus in connection with "seeking common ground, while honoring the differences." But until recently they have never said that "The essence of the 1992 Consensus is the search for common ground." Now however, they are. Now Beijing is saying that "The essence of the 1992 Consensus is the search for common ground." Since Taipei has long maintained that the 1992 Consensus means One China, Different Interpretations, the two sides have narrowed the the gap separating them considerably.
Beijing's move has important implications. If the DPP wins the presidential election, it may well repudiate the 1992 Consensus. Beijing might be making a preemptive move. On the other hand, Beijing might be fine-tuning its position. It might be making a subtle shift, from "seeking common ground," to "honoring the differences." It might be making a subtle shift, from the One China Principle, to One China, Different Interpretations. Beijing's shift might make the 1992 Consensus more balanced and stable. It might make the 1992 Consensus more acceptable to the majority on Taiwan. This in turn, might establish a more secure framework for the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, one that the Democratic Progressive Party would find more difficult to overturn.
On January 13 of this year, ARATS chairman Chen Yunlin said, "If one day opposition to Taiwan independence evaporates, if the 1992 Consensus evaporates, we might have to rethink everything." This was the first time Beijing handed the DPP an ultimatum. Chen Yunlin's remarks have since become the central theme of Beijing's Taiwan policy. On March 25, Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi said "Relations between the two sides are good. This is a reflection of the One China Principle within the 1992 Consensus. The two sides may have different interpretations of the meaning of One China. Nevertheless we can seek common common ground. This is the essence of the 1992 Consensus." At one time, Beijing maintained that the essence of the 1992 Consensus was the One China Principle. Today, Beijing maintains that the essence of the 1992 Consensus is "the search for common ground." This shift may be subtle, but it is highly significant.
Wang Yi's remarks were published on March 26, the third anniversary of the Bush/Hu hotline conversation in 2008. Five days after Ma Ying-jeou was elected president, President Hu Jintao called President George W. Bush on the hotline. Hu said that "Mainland China and Taiwan will resume negotiations on the basis of the 1992 Consensus. This means that both sides will acknowledge that there is only one China. But they will agree to define it their own way." In fact, Hu's remarks constituted an example of "seeking common ground." They constituted an example of "One China, Different Interpretations." At at the time, they appeared only in the Xinhua News Agency's English language edition, and not the Chinese language edition. Today, Wang Yi is merely restating Hu Jintao's position during the Bush/Hu hotline conversation. In effect, the Chinese language edition has been published after a three year delay.
At a deeper level, Wang Yi's remarks tell us that Beijing has already accepted Taipei's take on the 1992 Consensus. Beijing has already accepted Taipei's One China, Different Interpretations position. Many years ago, Taipei maintained that "The two sides of the Strait adhere to the principle of One China. But they differ on the meaning of that One China." This was the meaning of One China, Different Interpretations. Beijing said it "adhered to the One China Principle" and "refrained from discussing the political meaning of One China." This was the meaning of Different Interpretations of One China. Wang Yi's remarks on March 25 show that Beijing has already accepted Taipei's take on the 1992 Consensus, which the Ma administration adheres to even today. Wang Yi's remarks stress "the seeking of common ground." The subtext is "One China, Different Interpretations." Wang Yi spoke on March 25. Since then, high-ranking officials in Beijing have addressed the 1992 Consensus on several occasions. They have all mentioned "seeking common ground." The most recent example was Chairman Jia Qinglin of the CPPCC National Committee. During the KMT/CCP Forum he said that as long as we have "opposition to Taiwan independence," and the "1992 Consensus" as a political base, can we shelve disputes and seek common ground.
When cross-Strait relations reach a certain stage, the two sides must "honor the differences." Otherwise they cannot "seek common ground." In the past, Beijing repudiated the Republic of China. This made it impossible for the two sides to "honor the differences." But if the Republic of China cannot be upheld and affirmed even on Taiwan, how can we expect the public on Taiwan and the Mainland to "seek common ground?" If this editorial has anything to contribute, it is the following. The Beijing authorities have already shifted from the One China Principle to "seeking common ground." They have already shifted from "seeking common ground" to "One China, Different Interpretations." They have done so because they must honor the differences implied by One China, Different Interpretations. Unless they do so, they cannot seek the common ground implied by the One China Principle. Unless they do so, it will be difficult to improve cross-Strait relations by reasonable means. In conclusion, we would like to reiterate this newspaper's "glass theory."
The glass theory states that the Republic of China is a glass. Taiwan is the water within the glass. As long as the glass remains intact, the water can go nowhere. Once the glass is shattered, the water will be scattered everywhere.