BY JUDITH NORTON | IN-DEPTH PIECE
The Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the U.S. House of Representatives on Foreign Affairs held a hearing titled “Reinforcing the U.S.-Taiwan Relationship”. U.S. Representatives and several expert witnesses discussed the current geopolitical situation facing Taiwan. The expert witnesses included Mark Stokes, the Executive Director of the Project 2049 Institute, Julian Ku, a Professor of Constitutional Law at the Maurice A. Dean School of Law, and Tiffany Ma, Senior Director of Bower Group Asia. The expert witnesses’ statements were incisive but contained a few misrepresentations of important concepts that, without clarification, could negatively affect U.S. policy going forward. This article points out and clarifies a few of the errors made in the statements. Part I addresses a few puzzling statements in the testimony of Mark Stokes.
THE DPP ON ‘PRECONDITIONS’ AND ‘ONE CHINA’
In his statement to the Subcommittee, Mark Stokes addresses important issues affecting the cross-strait relationship, offers a worthy overview on the “Schools of Thought in U.S. Cross-Strait Policy”, as well as provides solid reasons to review the U.S.’s Taiwan policy in “Rationales for a Fundamental Review of U.S. Cross-Strait Policy” while proposing an array of potential policies for the U.S. to pursue.
But the testimony contains several confusing observations that could adversely affect U.S. Foreign Policy. For example (underline added):
“In a break from past policies, the Tsai administration has expressed willingness to engage counterparts in cross-Strait political dialogue without preconditions.”
“In a break from past policies” is a misstatement.
The Tsai administration follows the DPP’s established policy which opposes the PRC’s imposition of political preconditions before any meaningful dialogue can be held. The policy reaches as far back to the first time the DPP held political power under the Chen Shui-bian administration (2000-2008). For example, in 2008 President Chen Shui-bian gave an interview to the Associated Press, stating that ‘the normalization of the cross-strait relationship cannot occur if preconditions are imposed’.
The Tsai administration’s policy is a clear continuation of the Chen administration’s. This is in part illustrated by its refusal to publicly state the exact phrase “1992 Consensus”, which, in no uncertain terms, automatically imposes preconditions on negotiations (e.g., acceptance of the PRC’s “One China Principle” and the "one country, two systems" formula). To date, the Tsai administration’s policy represents no break from past policies, and, as of this writing, there are no indicators suggesting the administration would break with these policies, unless there is more to this statement than indicated in the testimony, which, given the past work of Project 2049 in Taiwan, could be a likely possibility.
Another statement that is equally misleading is (underline added):
“Since 2016, it is Beijing that now has a precondition, namely that Taiwan must concede to a One China principle often associated with the so-called 1992 Consensus.”
In this case, I am not certain why “2016” is cited, the word “now” is used, and the “One China Principle” is classified as something that is “often associated” with the “1992 Consensus”.
The PRC has a long-standing position that Taiwan must concede to the “One China Principle” as a precondition to engage in cross-strait negotiations. The PRC started monitoring Taiwan’s adherence to the concept of ‘one China’ as far back as the mid-1990s following Lee Teng-hui's visit to Cornell University where he gave a commencement address (and mentioned the ROC 15 times).
At that time, the PRC negated the 1992 Consensus and conditioned the development of cross-strait relations on Taiwan’s adherence to the “One China Principle”. The PRC perceives violations of the “One China Principle” as movement toward Taiwanese independence, which it would not tolerate and even consider resorting to the use of force to prevent.
For the PRC, the “1992 Consensus” is not associated with the “One China Principle”; it “embodies the One China Principle”. The PRC wants Taiwan’s ruling political party to publicly state the specific phrase “1992 Consensus” to signal its acceptance of the “One China Principle”, which also signifies opposition to Taiwanese independence.
This explains why the DPP has been unwilling to publicly state the exact phrase “1992 Consensus” and why, to date, the Tsai administration has rejected making such a public statement. In 2000, the Chen Shui-bian administration recognized the 1992 Consensus, including Tsai Ing-wen who was the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister. Five years later, however, the Chen administration abandoned its acceptance of the exact phrase "1992 Consensus" because it represented the PRC's "One China Principle". In line with this policy, Tsai’s administration has provided an interpretation of the 1992 Consensus, specifically that she “respects the historical fact of the 1992 talks, but the PRC rejects the interpretation because it does not clearly show acceptance of the “One China Principle”.
For the U.S., the “1992 Consensus” represents a battleground between the Tsai administration and the PRC and between the DPP and the KMT that could conceivably cause more deterioration in cross-strait ties. The U.S. should expect to see the PRC taking advantage of these conflicts by establishing favorable policies for Taiwanese businesses and society that bypass the Tsai administration, while blocking Taiwan's diplomatic activities and international space.
Another questionable statement (underline added):
On the other hand, the DPP traditionally has regarded "One China" as an issue to be negotiated, rather than unilaterally conceded or inherited.
The DPP has no ‘one China’ policy now. At the outset of his first presidential term, former DPP President Chen Shui-bian (2000-2008) signaled a willingness to discuss the concept. But, subsequently, his administration abandoned it. The DPP officially abandoned ‘one China’ when the Chen administration scrapped the 1990 National Unification Council (NUC) and the 1991 National Unification Guidelines (NUG) in 2006.
In contrast, Taiwan’s KMT regards the concept of ‘one China’ as an issue to be negotiated. It wants the PRC to institute democratic reforms now so the two sides can unite later as ‘one China’ under a system of democracy and rule of law.
To be very clear, the PRC perceives that ‘one China’ exists now. It is defined as: there is ‘one China’, Taiwan is a part of China, and the PRC government is the sole legitimate representative of China in the world.
In stark contrast, Taiwan’s KMT perceives that ‘one China’ has yet to be formed. The KMT wants to negotiate with the PRC to find a formula for unification and not unify in accordance with the PRC's "one country, two systems" formula.
These differences have hindered KMT-PRC political talks on reunification / unification.
The U.S. Congress needs to be aware that there are different five interpretations of the concept of ‘one China’ and, as a result, needs to actively promote the U.S.’s interpretation which is the “One China Policy”.
Within this context, the U.S. needs to pay close attention to the Tsai administration’s activities because it does not adhere to the concept of 'one China' and instead makes attempts to strengthen Taiwan’s sovereign independent status (it follows a "Dynamic" status quo policy), which the PRC could interpret as moves toward Taiwanese independence and take action to deter it. Consequently there could be an outbreak of hostilities between the PRC and Taiwan, which, by law, requires the U.S. to enter hostilities on Taiwan’s side to deter PRC aggression.
Another misstatement (underline added):
However, during her inauguration speech in May 2016, President Tsai conceded that “the new government will conduct cross-Strait affairs in accordance with the Republic of China Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other relevant legislation.”
The word “conceded” is not right. The Tsai administration is not making a concession in following the ROC constitutional framework. In general, the DPP supports the constitutional framework. Chen Shui-bian’s administration used the ROC Constitution to deal with the PRC’s “One China Principle”. Likewise, the Tsai administration is doing the same. The Tsai administration intended to use this constitutional framework to frame cross-strait ties from the outset, while attempting to promote an alternative framework to guide ties; more than likely it wants a framework that recognizes Taiwan as a separate legal entity.
The constitutional framework favors the DPP’s long-term political agenda. Its agenda aims to actively promote a “Dynamic” status quo, which tries to achieve several goals: (1) advance Taiwan’s status as a sovereign independent country; (2) maintain political separation from the PRC indefinitely; and (3) promote peaceful cross-strait relations. In this context, the constitutional framework partly supports its agenda, because it states that Taiwan is not subject to the jurisdiction of the PRC, among other things.
In this case, the U.S. needs to monitor creeping changes made to the constitutional framework, including the ROC Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area, as well as the Referendum Law. The PRC will certainly be monitoring those changes and if they reach a point at which it perceives there is a declaration of independence (though a formal declaration through a name change, for example, is unlikely) they will interpret in the process, possibly resorting to the use of force.
Furthermore, there are other pillars of the Tsai administration’s cross-strait policy that are not included in the testimony, including the ‘principle of democracy and the will of the Taiwanese people’.
Herein lies the challenge to U.S. policy.
The Tsai administration aims to "deepen democracy" on Taiwan, which, for the DPP can mean the holding of a national referendum. Any referendum that changes the status quo as defined by the PRC (e.g., adherence to the “One China Principle”) could be perceived by the PRC as a move toward Taiwan independence. This could prompt a response from the PRC in accordance with the 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which could cause an outbreak of hostilities that also could drag the U.S. in.
THE ONE CHINA FRAMEWORK: ANOTHER MISUNDERSTOOD CONCEPT
Another statement raises a concern:,
… during her inauguration speech in May 2016, President Tsai conceded that “the new government will conduct cross-Strait affairs in accordance with the Republic of China Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other relevant legislation.” Such a statement implies intent to conduct relations within a One China framework.
It is not apparent what is meant by the phrase One China framework.
The One China framework is another term that requires clarification and should be treated prudently by experts, officials, and journalists, just like the concept of 'one China'.
Prior to launching into a treatment of the “One China Framework”, some background information is required.
The PRC and Taiwan’s KMT adhere to the concept of ‘one China’. As we discuss in the e-book, Strait Talk, a definition of ‘one China’ came out after negotiators from the two sides met in Hong Kong in 1992 and reached a non-written agreement that “there is only one China with each side of the Strait defining the term as it sees fit”. This became known as the “1992 Consensus”. It was not very precise for either side. For the PRC, the “1992 Consensus” represents the “One China Principle”, whereas for Taiwan’s KMT it represents “One China ROC”.
The critical point is: the “1992 Consensus” is the “common political foundation” in which both sides (the PRC and Taiwan’s KMT) acknowledge that there is ‘one China’. It represents the institutionalization of cross-strait communication and dialogue on issues.
During Ma Ying-jeou’s administration (2008-2016), the PRC and Ma’s administration used the “1992 Consensus” as a framework to establish a wide range of cross-strait relations, which focused exclusively on economics, culture, education, etc. But, no developments occurred in the political domain.
The PRC wanted to expand the “1992 Consensus” to include a framework that builds political trust. According to official Chinese work reports, the PRC introduced the “One China Framework” (quotations added by this author to highlight that it represents a different concept) in Hu Jintao's report to the 17th and 18th Party Congresses.
The concept of the "one China framework" pops up in speeches given by different PRC officials. For example, on March 22 2012 former KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and PRC President Hu Jintao met at the annual KMT-CPC forum. Hu Jintao stated: "although the two sides are not yet unified, the territory and sovereignty of China has not been divided and the fact that both the Mainland and Taiwan belong to one China is unchanged. The two sides should be able to acknowledge that such fact is consistent with existing provisions on the two sides. Maintaining this one-China framework is beneficial to enhancing political mutual trust between the two sides and to the stable development of cross-strait relations".
On July 28 2012, Chairman Jia Qinglin of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference stated at the opening ceremony of the "Eighth Cross-Strait Economic, Trade and Cultural Forum",
...to consolidate political foundation and keep up momentum of peaceful developments. To enhance political mutual trust at this time is to maintain and consolidate the One China framework. The core concept of the One China framework indicates that the Mainland and Taiwan both belong to one country and the relationship across the Strait is not one of state-to-state.
On September 4, 2012 a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China Jia Qinglin met with Taiwanese exchange delegation led by Yao Eng-chi, Chairman of the Cross-Strait Public Opinion Exchange Foundation, stating: ...consolidate the foundation and maintain the accurate course of cross-strait relations, whereby both sides deepen political mutual trust, and uphold and consolidate the one China framework.
There is a clear link between political trust and the one China framework, which, indicates to me that the concept of 'one China framework' represents an effort by the PRC and the KMT to find a framework in which to build political ties.
In 2013 the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Taiwan’s KMT (they were engaged in party-to-party exchanges) officially adopted the “One China Framework”. The then KMT Honorary Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung stated the two parties “defined the cross-strait relationship within the “one-China framework” not as a country-to-country relationship”. The meeting represented the first time a KMT leader acknowledged the CPC’s proposal to implement the “One China Framework”.
Bear in mind, two years later, in 2015, Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping met in Singapore.
The evolution of building political trust between the PRC and Taiwan’s KMT within the “One China Framework” is highly unlikely to be continued by the Tsai administration, though some other framework, or in the words of the administration, “new patterns of engagement” may be possible.
It is more likely the Tsai administration will attempt to continue the Chen administration’s policy of promoting a peace and stability framework, which eliminates references to the concept ‘one China’, or another framework that marginalizes the ‘one China’ concept and re-interprets the PRC's "One China Principle" (e.g., the "Broad One China Framework).
There are several indicators suggesting the above could be the case.
In a 2008 New Year’s Press Conference, the then Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) (Chen Shui-bian administration (2000-2008)) promoted the idea of a “peace and stability framework” to guide the cross-strait relationship. But the PRC rejected it.
In 2014, the former MAC Minister Chen Ming-tong along with several retired KMT officials proposed a second framework called the “Broad One China Framework”. They proposed this framework to counter the PRC’s and the KMT’s “One China Framework”. The “Broad One China Framework” consisted of five principles and aimed to establish two international legal entities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, which, the ROC constitutional framework could support with amendments.
Most notably, Chen Ming-tong is now the Tsai administration’s newly inaugurated MAC Minister. He recently encouraged the Taiwanese public to focus less on the “so-called” “1992 Consensus” and instead focus on certain laws as the framework for cross-strait ties.
His statement implies that he wants to use a DPP interpretation of the constitutional framework as the basis for cross-strait ties. This is in line with Tsai Ing-wen’s Inaugural Address, as well as what came out of my 2016 interview with Mr. Chen Ming-tong.
This means the Tsai administration will continue to avoid publicly stating the specific phrase “1992 Consensus”, to promote its interpretation of the phrase, and to seek alternative frameworks to frame cross-strait ties such as a “peace and stability framework” or maybe even a “Broad One China Framework”.
The U.S. needs to ensure the Tsai administration’s policy stays within the confines of the U.S.’s status quo policy, which specifically maintains that Taiwan cannot take action to shift from de facto independence toward de jure independence.
THERE ARE DIFFERENT STATUS QUO POLICIES
One statement to the Subcommittee discusses U.S. Policy and the status quo school. It indicates that (underlines added):
Authorities in Beijing are fundamentally opposed to the status quo.
Indeed, the PRC is opposed to the parts of the U.S.’s status quo policy. The PRC actively opposes the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and even crafted an interpretation of the U.S.’s “One China Policy” that excludes the TRA, which it often promotes with some success.
But, the PRC maintains its own status quo policy that actually contains a few areas of convergence with the U.S. policy. The PRC for example adheres to a “1992 Consensus” status quo policy, whereas the U.S. maintains a “Parallel Movement” status quo policy. Both policies oppose a declaration of independence by Taiwan.
The U.S. needs to better promote and explain the “Parallel Movement” status quo policy. This policy advances the idea that future generations on each side of the strait could reach a peaceful resolution of the status of the cross-strait relationship. Likewise, the U.S. should continue to adhere to the “One China Policy”, which contains two frameworks allowing the U.S. significant policy flexibility but ensures that no actor takes actions that could lead to military action.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS
In his testimony, Mark Stokes offered a solid overview on ways to reinforce the U.S.-Taiwan Relationship, but his statement contains some mistakes on complex definitions that could negatively impact U.S. policy. This article covers a few of them, including the DPP’s position on ‘One China’, the “One China Framework”, as well as the status quo.
The U.S. government and Congress in particular can support relations with Taiwan by doing a better job of advancing and explaining the “Parallel Movement” status quo policy, as well as actively promoting the “One China Policy” which contains two frameworks that provide the U.S. with significant policy flexibility within fixed parameters. Taking this approach should not result in actions that could trigger an outbreak of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait which could bring two major nuclear powers into a confrontation over Taiwan. Reinterpreting the “One China Policy”, as the U.S. appears to be doing now, however, increases that risk.