BY JUDITH NORTON | PRESS ITEM
Recently, the newly inaugurated Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) encouraged the Taiwanese public to focus less on the “so-called” “1992 Consensus” that served as the framework for cross-strait relations during the Ma Ying-jeou administration and to focus more on certain laws as the framework for cross-strait ties. His statement is not a major shift in the Tsai administration’s position on the 1992 Consensus. But it highlights the direction of the administration’s cross-strait policies, which aim to continue to move away from the established concepts that represent China’s “One China Principle” and toward concepts that, at the very least, present Taiwan as not a part of the ‘one China’ political formula but as a separate entity. His statement indicates the 1992 Consensus remains a major battleground in the cross-strait relationship.
In 2016, prior to formally taking political power, the DPP signaled its position on the 1992 Consensus. The former premier and current DPP official Frank Hsieh observed that, “the DPP does not recognize the existence of the so-called “1992 Consensus”. It “recognizes that there was a meeting between Taiwan and China in 1992, although the term “1992 consensus” was only created in later years”. Furthermore, Hsieh stated, “Taipei and Beijing never reached a consensus that allows for respective interpretations on the meaning of “one China”.
Against this backdrop, the newly elected President Tsai Ing-wen subsequently delivered her inaugural address. In her address, President Tsai avoided providing an outline of the administration’s cross-strait policies and, perhaps more importantly, avoided saying the phrase “1992 Consensus”. From that time onward, President Tsai has evaded verbalizing the phrase in all of her major speeches, which China closely observes in order to derive the direction of the ruling Taiwan authorities’ mainland policies. Likewise, her administration has eschewed using the term in the public arena.
From the time when the Tsai administration took office, it has encouraged both sides of the strait to identify new frameworks to guide the cross-strait relationship. One framework includes the peace and stability framework, a framework proposed by the former DPP President Chen Shui-bian when he held office (2000-2008). But, to date, China has rejected any new proposals that even hint at a departure from the established terms used in the past to represent commitment to the concept of ‘one China', especially the "1992 Consensus".
For China the “1992 Consensus” is the political foundation of the cross-strait relationship. It represents the “One China Principle” which means one China with two systems as now exists with Hong Kong and Macao. Furthermore, the refusal of any Taiwanese authorities to verbalize the phrase “1992 Consensus” represents a rejection of the concept of ‘one China’ while signaling support for Taiwanese independence. Accordingly, China's leaders tend to perceive that the Tsai administration is rejecting the concept of 'one China' while supporting forces for Taiwanese independence. In response to the Tsai administration’s refusal to verbalize the phrase “1992 Consensus”, China has actively blocked and will continue to block the Tsai administration's diplomatic and international activities while constraining formal economic and cultural ties, though it promotes these ties through the 31 Measures which circumvent the Tsai administration.
The MAC Minister Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) wants the two sides to base relations on the ROC Constitution and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例). The MAC Minister only underscores what President Tsai mentioned in her inaugural address. The President stated her administration’s cross-strait policy will be based upon the ‘existing constitutional order of the ROC’, which consists of the “Republic of China Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other relevant legislation”.
Based upon the reforms implemented by former KMT President Lee Teng-hui in the early 1990s, the Constitution and the Act established the legal basis for the national boundaries of the policy of “One China ROC” and, more saliently in this case, the threshold to alter those boundaries. Furthermore, the two legal documents provided the legal foundation to separate Taiwan from China, as well as to create two separate areas. In this context, the Tsai administration, like the attempts of the former DPP administration of Chen Shui-bian, could aim to gradually formalize the legal status of Taiwan as a separate political entity from China.
As I mentioned in my article published on The Diplomat in July 2016, the changing chemistry in the cross-strait relationship indicates the emergence of central battlegrounds. In the article, I contended the emerging battlegrounds for China and the DPP-led government would be in the economic and political realms. The MAC Minister Chen Ming-tong’s statement indicates that the "1992 Consensus" could emerge as a major battleground in the political arena between the two sides with Taiwan's sovereignty as the central issue.