Image credit: 前總統李登輝出席「李前副總統元簇先生追思祝福會」，並致詞 by Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan)/Flickr, license CC BY 2.0
“History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.” ―Malcolm X
A political consensus is a generally held opinion or idea which everyone in a specific group agrees and fully accepts. The details of a consensus are usually consistent with what the parties involved agreed upon, and there is seldom much dispute about the legitimacy of the process by which that specific consensus was created.
In the case of Taiwanese politics, the so-called “1992 Consensus” does not fit the criteria of a consensus. It is not a consensus between Taiwan and China, but merely a political agreement between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). These two parties rely heavily on this agreement to ensure that the 23.5 million people of Taiwan surrender their sovereignty and democratic way of life.
The 1992 Consensus is supposedly a tacit agreement reached by representatives of the KMT and the CCP at a meeting in Hong Kong in 1992. However, no consensus was reached at this meeting, as news reports from the time and later KMT presentations make clear.
Su-Chi, the director of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council under then President Lee Teng-Hui claimed in 2006 that he completely invented the term “1992 Consensus” before Chen Shui-Bian was elected in 2000. Su has said the term “1992 Consensus” is nothing more than a political term and symbolic rather than a substantive ideology.
Each of the parties has its own view of the “consensus”, a clear sign that in reality, there is no consensus. The KMT defines the 1992 Consensus as “One China, with respective interpretations,” where “China” is the Republic of China on Taiwan. Thus, for the KMT the 1992 Consensus says that there is only “one China” and each side has the discretion to interpret what that means.
The CCP insists the consensus means both sides adhere to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) version of the “One China” principle. The CCP has never accepted the KMT’s “One China with different interpretations”, as recognising the ROC’s existence would mean completely deviating from the CCP’s “One China principle” position and accepting a “Two China” theory. Indeed, in 2016 the Chinese government issued directives to the media specifically banning mention of the “two interpretations”.
The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has never recognised the existence of the consensus. The DPP argues no agreement was ever reached in 1992 and therefore no consensus exists. In 1992 neither state was a democracy and the representatives who met in Singapore were unelected appointees of authoritarian parties. The Taipei Times reported Lee Teng-hui has emphatically denied that any consensus was reached and stated Ma Ying-jeou’s claim to the contrary was “simply talking nonsense.”
What is the purpose of this false consensus? The KMT itself stated:
In April 2000, then MAC Chairman Su Chi was concerned that the incoming DPP administration might not accept “one China” in the cross-Strait consensus, so he suggested using the “1992 Consensus” to describe the exchange of letters by fax in 1992.
Thus, the real function of the 1992 Consensus is not to enable the ROC and PRC to relate to each other, but to cage any party that might seek to reframe the PRC-Taiwan relationship. This strategy seeks to enable Chinese nationalists of all political stripes to annex Taiwan to China.
In January of 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping in his “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan”, defined the 1992 Consensus as “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China and work together to advance national unification.” Xi further linked this definition to an implementation of the “One Country, Two Systems” model in Taiwan. Xi’s definition utterly refutes the KMT’s claim of “different interpretations” by specifically disallowing any ambiguity about the consensus and aligning it firmly with CCP ideology. Xi’s speech led President Tsai Ing-wen to reaffirm that the Taiwanese government and people will never accept the consensus defined by the CCP as the “One China, Two Systems” formula to which 75.4% of Taiwanese are strictly opposed.
There’s also confusion among the Taiwanese public as to what the 1992 Consensus actually means. According to the Global Taiwan Institute, one-third of the Taiwanese population believes the consensus implies both sides of the Taiwan Strait are separate countries. After newly elected KMT Mayors Han Kuo-Yu and Lu Shiow-yen affirmed their support for the 1992 Consensus, searches about the consensus from both Kaohsiung and Taichung voters on Google skyrocketed.
The CCP has unilaterally caused tension in the Taiwan Strait by using the 1992 Consensus as a political weapon to pressure the Tsai administration into accepting the One China Principle. The CCP has used its political and economic clout to deny Taiwanese delegations from entering UN-affiliated organisations, plundered ROC diplomatic allies and conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. The CCP has attempted to split the Taiwanese public by circumventing Taiwan’s central government to establish communication channels with pan-blue counties and municipalities who recognise the consensus. The CCP has then attempted to cultivate economic exchanges for political influence, such as allowing Chinese tourists to visit cities favourable to Beijing’s agenda.
The ruling elite in Beijing need to wake up from their own ultra-nationalist dreams of expansion portrayed as “national rejuvenation”. If Beijing had political wisdom, it would respect the will of the Taiwanese public by resuming semi-official communications with the Tsai administration and negotiating a new consensus to bring peace across the Taiwan Strait. A new consensus should be formed to reflect equality, mutual respect, reality and approval from the Taiwanese public.
Najee J Woods (葉忠正), a graduate of Wright State University with two bachelor’s degree’s in Political Science and Chinese Studies. He’s currently a writer for American Citizen’s For Taiwan and a member of Formosan Association for Public Affairs.