What is The 1992 Consensus, And Will Tsai Ing-wen Follow It?

A commentary by Hu Ping
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china-taiwan-president-tsai-ing-wen-inauguration-may20-2016.jpg Taiwan's new President Tsai Ing-wen (L) chats with Vice President Chen Chien-jen at an inauguration banquet in Taipei, May 20, 2016.

The May 20 inaugural address by Taiwan's new president Tsai Ing-wen has been a matter of concern, in particular for those interested in the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China.

A lot of people were worried that Tsai didn't explicitly refer to the 1992 consensus with Beijing, that there is only one China, in her speech.

The consensus has been strongly criticized in the ranks of her own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), particularly by those who are strongly in favor of formal independence for Taiwan.

Instead of reaffirming it, Tsai just said that the 1992 talks with Beijing were held "in a spirit of mutual understanding and with a political attitude of seeking common ground."

"[The 1992 talks] arrived at various joint acknowledgements and understandings through communication and negotiation," she said, adding: "I respect this historical fact."

Some people were afraid that there would be some earth-shattering reaction from the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office immediately issued a comment saying that Tsai hadn't given a "complete answer" to its demand that she recognize the "one China" principle.

But neither did Tsai repudiate it, leading many people to think that she was deliberately muddying the waters.

I don't think that reading is correct, however. The big bright spot in Tsai Ing-wen's inaugural speech was that she directly referred to a law governing cross-straits relations.

She said: "The new government will conduct cross-straits affairs in accordance with the Constitution of the [post-1911] Republic of China, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other relevant legislation."

According to the general provisions of that legislation, "Taiwan" refers to the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, while "the mainland" means the territory of the Republic of China outside of Taiwan.

This means that Taiwan and the mainland belong to the post-1911 legal entity called the Republic of China, which is the same as saying that the two sides belong to one China, which means Taiwan's China, not Beijing's.

So I don't believe it makes much difference that she didn't mention the 1992 consensus. The main thing is that she subscribes to the concept of a single Republic of China which consists of two areas [one controlled by her government and the other by Beijing].

Only one China

For its part, the Chinese Communist Party's core interpretation of the 1992 consensus rests on the idea that there is only one China.

It seems that in pledging to remain within the constitution of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen has already implied that she will be sticking to the one-China principle. There is just a certain ambiguity in how this is interpreted.

However, this ambiguity vanishes when she pledges to stick to the law governing relations across the Taiwan Strait, and the one China principle is clear to see.

The Act was promulgated on July 31, 1992, during Lee Teng-hui's presidency. It was intended to gain acceptance both from diehard campaigners for independence and Lee Teng-hui himself. There was no reason for Beijing to reject it, either.

The remarks of the Taiwan Affairs Office seem a little unprofessional, given that anyone who really understands their job would know the precise meaning of Tsai's reference to the Act, which enshrines the "one China" principle.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Hu Ping is the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring and is a member of the board of directors of Human Rights in China.


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