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1992 Consensus: The Cornerstone for Peace, Stability, and Development of Cross-Straits Relations

Jan 25 , 2019
  • Chen Pingping

    Deputy director of the Research Center for Maritime Economy

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At the beginning of 2019, President Xi Jinping of China made an important speech at the meeting commemorating the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the “Message to Taiwan Compatriots”. The speech expounded in a comprehensive way on the five policies governing China’s efforts to promote peaceful development of cross-straits relations in the new era and achieve peaceful reunification of the motherland. The speech has since aroused enthusiastic discussions in the various circles on the two sides of the Taiwan Straits.

Seeking China’s reunification is the principal part of the 1992 Consensus

To build on the achievements in cross-straits relations over past four decades, President Xi put forth five major policy propositions for promoting China’s peaceful reunification in the new era. Namely, jointly promoting national rejuvenation and achieving peaceful reunification; exploring a Taiwan version of the concept of “one country, two systems” to enrich the practice of peaceful reunification; adhering to the One China principle to ensure the prospect of peaceful reunification; deepening an integrated development of the two sides of the straits to consolidate the foundation of peaceful reunification; and promoting the meeting of hearts and minds of compatriots on both sides to strengthen the identity with peaceful reunification. While applauding the role 1992 Consensus played in facilitating cross-straits interaction and exchanges over the years, President Xi emphasized once again that the One China principle was the common political basis for cross-straits relations. He revisited the origin of the 1992 Consensus, namely, the two sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one and same China and work jointly to seek national reunification. President Xi, this time, ushered in a new era of democratic consultation and political negotiation by inviting all social circles in Taiwan to participate, on the basis of the One China principle, in the discussions of political issues of cross-straits relations, including ways to achieve reunification.

The DPP authorities are abusing the 1992 Consensus to whip up populism

The Tsai Ing-wen administration’s reaction to President Xi’s speech was a flat rejection of the 1992 Consensus. What is more, it fabricated a bizarre linkage between the 1992 Consensus and the concept of “one country, two systems”. By equating the Taiwan version of the concept to its Hong Kong version, they took advantage of Taiwan people’s lack of understanding of the concept in the first place and made a deliberate distortion of the 1992 Consensus, all aimed at whipping up people’s resentment against it. As a matter of fact, the 1992 Consensus serves as the political basis upon which cross-straits exchanges are conducted prior to reunification, while “one country, two systems” means the institutional arrangement after reunification. They are just two different things. Not only did Tsai refuse to accept the 1992 Consensus, she even claimed it to be utterly non-existent and asked Taiwan’s political parties not to talk about it anymore. From the recent rhetoric and actions of the Taiwan authorities, we can conclude that they have long worked to get rid of the 1992 Consensus so that they can advance their “Taiwan independence” agenda at will.

In the meantime, the DPP authorities in Taiwan have looked to the United States for support in balancing China’s mainland and helping their independence. While continuing to purchase huge amounts of weapons from the US, they seem to be more willing nowadays to resist reunification with arms, including the Sky Bow missile system as they showcased recently. On the other hand, the US government, motivated by its needs for strategic competition and trade negotiations with China, demonstrates a greater penchant for playing the “Taiwan card”. Asked for comment on President Xi’s speech, the White House spokesperson said that the US will not accept any formula or threat to intimidate the people of Taiwan with arms, calling the mainland to stop pressurizing Taiwan and resume talks with the Taiwan authorities. Some US senators have behaved recklessly on the Taiwan question, threatening to resubmit the so-called “Taipei Act” when the legislature returns and assist Taiwan in expanding its so-called “international space”. We may conclude from the above that collusion between the pro-independence forces in Taiwan and the external forces headed by the United States would pose the largest barrier to China’s peaceful reunification. We can also deduce that China’s pledge of “not giving up the military option” as mentioned in President Xi’s speech is targeted precisely at such forces.

KMT’s vague approach to the 1992 Consensus faces diminishing maneuverability

After the mainland gave an explicit explanation of the 1992 Consensus, the KMT, as a direct participant in and witness to the 1992 Consensus, made a six-point statement, indicating its basic position that the party supports the 1992 Consensus with the “meaning of China defined respectively”, opposes “Taiwan independence” and agrees that the 1992 Consensus does not equate to the concept of “one country, two systems”. True, most Taiwanese people do not understand the full extent of the concept. But when the mainland has brought to light the origin of the 1992 Consensus, making it clear that seeking reunification was one of the salient points agreed upon then, and when the joining of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits together has become such an overwhelming trend of history, the KMT has remained reluctant to take a step forward. While lacking the courage to discuss reunification, it pins hopes on its vague approach as if that can ensure the party’s continued relevance. The latest failure to come up with a more constructive policy on cross-straits relations and, what is more, the lack of common understanding within the party, have left many people with insight and high aspirations greatly disappointed.

In equating the 1992 Consensus to the concept of “one country, two systems”, the DPP tried not only to justify its anti-“1992 Consensus” stance but also to prop up its election posture by keeping the KMT, well known for its pro-1992 Consensus stance, weak under a light of negative publicity. Under such circumstances, it is no longer realistic for the KMT to hide behind its vague approach to cross-straits relations. If the KMT cannot come up with a more clearly-defined and more constructive policy and instead keep toeing the DPP lines on cross-straits relations, then it will gain little trust from the Taiwan people and, in addition, risk falling into the DPP-designed trap of “Taiwan independence”, thus losing out its relevance all together.

Future cross-straits relations face an uphill journey in development

With a recalcitrant DPP in power, along with its acts of refusing the 1992 Consensus and distorting the concept of “one country, two systems”, we can conclude that future cross-straits exchanges will only decline, at least at official levels. The 1992 Consensus will continue dominating the discourse on the island. We must act strictly in accordance with the Taiwan policy outlined by President Xi Jinping. The 1992 Consensus, which embodies the One China principle and seeks China’s reunification, is the fundamental political basis for the peaceful development of cross-straits relations. Under no circumstances should there be any wavering on this. China must and shall be reunified. The broad sections of society on both sides of the straits should get involved, on the basis of One China principle, in the discussions of political issues of cross-straits relations, including ways to achieve reunification, through exchanges of views, seeking greater common understanding and facilitating political negotiation, with a view to achieving China’s reunification at the earliest possible time. 

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