BY CHELSEA CHIA-CHEN CHOU, PHD | IN-DEPTH PIECE
This in-depth piece analyzes the political controversy of recognition affecting the cross-strait relationship. This political issue did affect ties during the Ma administration; and it is impacting ties now during the Tsai administration. Specifically, the PRC refuses to recognize Taiwan's national title, namely the Republic of China, as well as the legitimate jurisdiction of the Republic of China, which the majority of Taiwanese people consistently support. Accordingly, if the PRC refuses to recognize the ROC and its jurisdiction, there could be little room for Taiwan’s government – represented by either the KMT or the DPP – to start any serious dialogue on political issues with the PRC.
During the former President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, particularly during the second term in office, the cross-strait relationship experienced significant breakthroughs especially in the political realm. For example, in October 2013 at the CEO summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held in Indonesia, the then chairman of the Mainland Affairs Committee (MAC) of the Republic of China (ROC), Yu-chi Wang, met with Zhijun Zhang, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was the first time that each addressed the other by his official title. Prior to this meeting, the two sides maintained their semi-government contact through the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) (ROC) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) (PRC). Furthermore, on February 11, 2014 Wang embarked on an official visit to the PRC where he met Zhang again in Nanjing. His visit marked the first high-level government-to-government contact between the two sides since 1949. When Zhang greeted Wang, following the practice of the previous meeting at APEC, he addressed Wang as “Minister Wang” and Wang addressed Zhang as “Director Zhang”. On June 25th of the same year, Zhang led a delegation to visit Taiwan. Also in 2014, to promote the cross-strait political relationship the PRC promoted the “one China framework”, which President Hu Jintao mentioned in 2012 in his report to the 18th National Party Congress. In 2015, both Presidents Ma and Xi met for the first time in an historic meeting between the two sides in Singapore.
Even with these major developments, the cross-strait relationship entered into an unpredictable phase. Taiwan’s sunflower student movement, for example, disrupted the plan to develop cross-strait political ties through the ‘One China Framework”. In addition, the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to political power in 2016 further impacted the trajectory of the cross-strait relationship. This changing dynamic is partly due to the unwillingness of President Tsai Ing-wen to verbalize the phrase 1992 Consensus, which represents an acceptance of the “One China Principle” as well as a rejection of Taiwanese independence. In their place, President Tsai’s administration wants to negotiate a new framework to guide the cross-strait relationship, particularly a framework that does not undermine the DPP’s interpretation of the status quo, which is that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. The PRC, however, wants the Tsai administration to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus and, until it does, the PRC actively opposes Taiwan’s diplomatic initiatives and international space; this includes, for example the more recent actions taken by the PRC to compel Ecuador, Dubai, Bahrain, Nigeria and now Papua New Guinea to change the name of Taiwan’s representative offices in those countries from Republic of China or Taiwan to Taipei.
Against this backdrop, this paper analyzes the political developments and controversies across the Taiwan Strait. It argues that if the PRC does not recognize Taiwan’s national title, namely the Republic of China, as well as the legitimate jurisdiction of the Republic of China, there could be little room for Taiwan’s government – represented by either the KMT or the DPP – to start any serious dialogue on political issues with the PRC.
Cross-strait Political Relations: The PRC's Viewpoint
The PRC maintains the “one China principle”. It states that there is one, undivided sovereignty of China, and the PRC is the sole legitimate representative of that sovereignty. In this sense, the PRC regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and proposes “one country, two systems” as a reunification method. This means, Taiwan will become a “Special Administration Region” after reunification. For the PRC, neither “one country on each side” nor “one China, one Taiwan” is acceptable. At the same time, the PRC does not rule out the possibility of military option, under certain occasions. The red line is when Taiwan declares independence, holds referendum on independence, changes the national title, or writes a new constitution.
In the past two decades, the PRC has gradually downplayed the use of military force. For the PRC, in fact, the main principle is peaceful reunification. In general, the PRC seeks to increase economic and human exchanges between the two sides. This is a long-term strategy not only aiming to make Taiwan more and more dependent upon the PRC but also building political ties through economic ties. While the substance of this principle has been kept since the current leader Xi Jinping came to office as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late 2012, during the Ma Ying-jeou administration Xi tended to place greater emphasis on political relations with Taiwan. For example, on February 2014, when meeting with Lien Chan, the then Honorary Chairman of ROC's ruling party Kuomintang (KMT), Xi Jinping made a number of critical statements about cross-strait political relations.
In the article titled “Realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese dream together” published by the Xinhua News Agency, Xi advanced forward four principles for handling cross- strait relations:
(1) People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family, and kinship cannot be severed;
(2) Family affection will help heal past wounds and sincerity will help resolve existing problems;
(3) The peaceful development of the cross-strait relations is to the advantage of compatriots on both sides;
(4) Realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation—the prosperity of the country, the rejuvenation of the nation as well as the happiness of the people—is the long-cherished wish of the two sides.
A closer look at the four principles tells us that for Xi, nationalist links based on kinship ties is the foundation of cross- strait relations. This echoes Xi Jinping's remarks in October 2013 at the APEC summit when granting Taiwan's former vice president Vincent Siew that cross-strait political differences could not be handed down from generation to generation.
To solve the political problem, Xi proposed the “one China framework.” This formulation moves one step forward from the “1992 consensus.” The Consensus is officially accepted by the CCP and the KMT, but with regard to Xi's “one China framework,” the aforementioned four principles do not provide a concrete picture of the Framework. From my viewpoint, the only one that is directly related to the Framework is the second principle, which states the PRC “respects Taiwan's choice of social system and way of life.” This message implies the PRC does not have any intention in interfering in Taiwan's internal affairs.
Despite the implication of this principle, it does not yet provide recognition of Taiwan's legitimate jurisdiction over its own territory. While Wang Yu-chi and Zhang Zhijun each addressed the other by his official title when they met in Nanjing in 2014, Chinese media did not mention Wang's official title when broadcasting the meeting. For example, the China Central Television and the Xinhua News Agency called Wang the responsible person of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. The spokeswoman of PRC's Taiwan Affairs Office, Fan Liqing, avoided using the word “Executive Yuan” when referring to Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. These realities demonstrated that the PRC had not yet prepared to recognize the ROC government on Taiwan. Moreover, the Taiwan studies institutions in the PRC have not yet developed any mainstream discourse to face the ROC's nationhood. For the PRC, Taiwan remains a renegade province.
While not recognizing the jurisdiction of the ROC government, the PRC still hoped for political dialogue with Taiwan. During the Wang-Zhang meeting in Nanjing, in addition to improving cross-strait economic, cultural and educational exchanges based on the “1992 consensus,” the MAC and the TAO agreed to establish mechanisms to normalize the communication links. Accordingly, Zhou Zhihuai, the director of the Taiwan studies institute at China Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in the Global Times that this mechanism would be an important platform for soft landing cross-strait political disputes. In fact, in PRC's original schedule, the focus of the year 2014 was to promote cross-strait political negotiations. Relations between the two sides should be improved from those based on economic cooperation to those based on developing political dialogues. The political issue was to be on the agenda. This plan, however, was disrupted by Taiwan's March 18th student protest, namely the sunflower movement.
Cross-strait Political Relations: The ROC's Viewpoint
The ROC puts a different interpretation on the content of “one China.” To the KMT, one China refers to the ROC, founded in 1911 and with de jure sovereignty over all of China. The ROC, however, currently has jurisdiction only over Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. Taiwan is part of China, and the Chinese mainland is part of China as well. Accordingly, the current ruling party from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, namely the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP in the PRC, agree that there is only one China, while the two sides have different opinions as to the meaning of “one China.” However, Taiwan's main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), does not see both sides reaching any consensus. The DPP holds political power on Taiwan today.
For the majority of Taiwanese people, the “status quo” is preferred. For Taiwan, the status quo refers to a situation of neither unification nor independence. Most Taiwanese people, in fact, do not want to stir PRC hostility toward Taiwan, but at the same time they are hesitant about unification with China, particularly under the “one country, two systems” formula.
From my point of view, the major explanation of Taiwanese people's unwillingness to accept unification resides in the PRC's hesitation about recognizing the ROC's jurisdiction. In Lien's meeting with Xi in 2014, Lien urged the PRC to adopt a pragmatic attitude and to face the reality of the existence of the ROC. “Recognizing the ROC is to facilitate the cross- strait exchanges. It is not a liability.” However, Xi did not give any formal responses, and there was even no mention of this statement across the Chinese media.
On the other hand, the ROC has made significant process in recognizing the PRC. Although before the 1980s, the ROC adopted the three noes policy (namely, no contact, no compromise and no negotiation with the Chinese Communists), the abolition of the “Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion” in 1991 signaled the recognition of the PRC's effective rule on China. In addition, according to the ROC Constitution, the Additional Articles (Amendments) use the term “Free Area of the Republic of China” to refer to all areas under ROC's current jurisdiction. These Additional Articles also state the Amendments are to meet the requisites of the nation prior to unification and will automatically be voided when unification occurs. On several occasions the former ROC president Ma Ying-jeou publicly mentioned the ROC's principle to deal with cross-strait relations is “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual non-denial of jurisdiction.” This principle is based on the interpretation of the Additional Articles of the Constitution.
While former president Ma's two mutual noes principle has not yet been fully accepted by the Taiwanese society, the people of Taiwan have gradually reached a consensus about the status of ROC and most of them believe that they are citizens of ROC. For many years, some observers of cross strait relations argue that identity crisis is prevalent among Taiwanese people and this is the source of instability of the status quo. In addition, the PRC government has long been skeptical about the DPP's willingness to keep the status quo. When the DPP took the office in 2000, the PRC was afraid that Taiwan would be moving toward independence and announced the Anti-secession Law in 2005 to deter independence forces.
However, from my point of view, when former president Chen from the DPP was sworn in to office in 2000 under the national flag of ROC, there was no doubt that the DPP had accepted the legitimacy of the ROC and the nation's title was “Republic of China” (and not “Republic of Taiwan” or something else.) This same logic applies to the current President Tsai Ing-wen who was also sworn in to office under the national flag of the ROC in 2016.
Furthermore, the Taiwanese society is changing. During the Ma era, more than fifty percent of Taiwanese people support the status quo. Sixty percent of the population identify themselves as Taiwanese, and more than thirty percent consider themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese (see Figure 2 below). Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 indicate that for the sixty percent who identify themselves as Taiwanese only, they do not necessarily support independence. In fact, many of them equate being Taiwanese as being a citizen of the ROC, and hence want to maintain the status quo and do not ask for any changes of the nation's title. Figure 1 and Figure 2 also highlight the emerging reality that a consensus has gradually developed about these issues in the Taiwanese society.
In a similar vein, despite the changing dynamics in the cross-strait relationship due to the election of the DPP to political power, trends among the Taiwanese society remain steady. For example, the majority of the population still supports maintaining the status quo (see Figure 3). Furthermore, the Taiwanese still identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese or Taiwanese (see Figure 4). The greatest change occurs regarding Party Identification with a growing number of Taiwanese identifying less with the two main political parties of DPP and KMT while identifying more as independents (See Appendix 1 and Appendix 2). This indicates that while power politics continue to change the dynamic of the cross-strait relations within the government plane, the Taiwan society remains firm that it wants to maintain the status quo, which means no changes to the national title. Both Figure 3 and 4 demonstrate that a consensus has taken hold in the Taiwanese society and cuts across political party lines.
Scholars may have different interpretation about this consensus. But the legitimacy of the national name “Republic of China” is widely accepted. Although few polls in Taiwan have asked the question of whether you identify yourself as ROC citizens, judging from the Figures, the rate of support could be more than fifty percent or higher. Accordingly, if the PRC ignores this opinion and opposes the legitimacy of the ROC, there is little, if any, room for the Taiwanese government to move toward more engagement with the PRC. Moreover, it will be very difficult to start substantial political dialogues with the PRC. Therefore, there is a need for the PRC to find out a way to recognize the ROC's jurisdiction and to think about how to recognize the legitimacy of the ROC. While the current cross-strait relation does not deviate from the path of peaceful development, in order to deal with more deep-seated controversies including political relations and identity issues, the remaining key issue is how the PRC views the legitimacy of the Republic of China.
Presently, the cross-strait relationship is at a crossroads. The current DPP administration refuses to verbalize the phrase 1992 Consensus which represents an acceptance of the “One China Principle” as well as a rejection of Taiwanese independence. The PRC wants to compel the administration to verbalize the phrase, whereas Taiwan wants the PRC to consider a different framework to guide cross-strait relations. Neither side wants to compromise on this issue. Consequently, the progress made during the previous Ma administration has stalled, resulting in fewer and fewer exchanges between the two sides. Despite this change, the primary issue affecting the cross-strait relationship regardless of which party holds political power on Taiwan remains the same: the PRC continues to not recognize Taiwan’s national title, namely the Republic of China, as well as the legitimate jurisdiction of the Republic of China which the majority of Taiwanese people consistently support. Without such recognition there could be little room for the Tsai administration to start any dialogue on political issues with the PRC.
The Figures are provided by the Election Study Center, National Chengchi University (NCCU).
Figure 1: Taiwan Independence vs. Unification with the Mainland, Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1992/06~2015/06)
Figure 2: Taiwanese / Chinese Identification Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1992/06~2015/06)
Figure 3: Taiwan Independence vs. Unification with the Mainland, Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1994~2017/12)
Figure 4: Taiwanese / Chinese Identity Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1992-2017/12)
Figure 5: Party Preferences Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1992/06~2015/06)
Figure 6: Party Preferences Trend Distribution in Taiwan (1992/~2017/12)