November 28, 2017 | Judith Norton
Similar to the concept of ‘one China’, the status quo is an established concept framing relations between the U.S., PRC, and Taiwan. As my research shows that the long-standing concept of ‘one China’ has five interpretations, my research also shows that the established concept of status quo also has several interpretations. To date, however, scholars and experts have not yet parsed the different definitions of status quo, the status quo policies, as well as how the status quo is tied to the 1992 Consensus. This article fills that gap.
The article examines the three status quo definitions and the four status quo policies. First it provides the three broad definitions of status quo: the consensus status quo based on the 1992 Consensus; the dynamic status quo; and the parallel movement status quo. These definitions come from Monte R. Bullard’s e-book on cross-strait relations titled Strait Talk. Within this context, the paper outlines the status quo policy of the PRC. The PRC consistently implements a consensus status quo policy based on the “One China Principle”. The Principle aims to reunify China and Taiwan through peaceful means in accordance with the political formula of ‘one country, two systems’; however, the PRC maintains the legal right to resort to the use of force to resolve issues with Taiwan. The next section examines Taiwan. It gives a short backgrounder on the Second Republic followed by a comparison of the status quo policies of the KMT and DPP. The KMT adheres to a consensus status quo policy that differs from the PRC; the KMT wants to unify the two sides under a system of democracy, not the ‘one country, two systems’ formula. In contrast, the DPP follows a dynamic status quo policy. This policy aims to strengthen the status of the Second Republic which holds that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country; it also aims to create a New Republic which institutionalizes the standing of the Second Republic through a title change and a rewrite of the constitution. Subsequently, the article overviews the U.S.’s policy of parallel movement status quo. The paper concludes with final remarks on the current trajectory of the policies, contending their directions could drag the U.S. into a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait or undercut its regional policy.
Status Quo: Three Broad Interpretations
The current status quo situation between Taiwan and China has three broad interpretations. One definition, “Consensus”, originates from the agreement proposed by the KMT-led government in 1992 to facilitate the development of the cross-strait relationship (the 1992 Consensus). From the KMT’s perspective, the Consensus allows each side of the strait to have different interpretations of the meaning of ‘one China’ (e.g., one China with respective interpretations). Under this interpretation both sides are able to maintain the political separation. From China's perspective, the Consensus represents not only commitment to the “One China Principle” but also opposition to Taiwanese independence. The PRC wants Taiwan to accept its interpretation of the consensus status quo and reunify under the “One China Principle”. Although the KMT adheres to a consensus status quo policy, it wants the PRC to accept a different set of unification terms. The terms include unification under a system of democracy and rule of law, which require, prior to the unification, that the PRC government introduce democratic reforms on the mainland. The DPP objects to the consensus status quo policy, because it represents the unilateral imposition of the “One China Principle” on Taiwan, which the KMT also opposes, as well as because it excludes the will of the Taiwanese people from the decision-making process.
The second definition is “Dynamic Status Quo”, which leaves the political relationship across the strait unchanged. It allows the Taiwan side to evolve its national identity and political arrangements. This form of status quo could be continued forever, making independence a more likely outcome. The PRC, the KMT, and the DPP all maintain different interpretations of what occurs under this form of status quo policy. Unlike the PRC and the KMT, the DPP follows a dynamic status quo policy. Its policy aims to transform Taiwan’s political institutions and society in order to strengthen the Second Republic and possibly create a New Republic. The transformation includes revisions to or a rewrite of the constitution; the holding of national referenda to deepen democracy; and the promotion of the Taiwanese national identity over the Chinese national identity, a process referred to as Taiwanization or de-Sinification. The DPP’s policy, because it aims to maintain Taiwan’s long-standing separation from the PRC through the strengthening the Second Republic and even the creation of a New Republic, clashes with the consensus status quo policies of the PRC and the KMT, both of which aim to reunify / unify the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
The third definition is “Parallel Movement”. “Parallel Movement” means future generations on each side of the strait could reach a peaceful decision regarding the status of the relationship. The U.S., the PRC, the KMT, and the DPP all hold different positions on what happens under this form of status quo policy. For the PRC, the U.S. and Taiwan would require a statement of no use of force or threat to use force against Taiwan to resolve issues. For Taiwan, the U.S. and the PRC would require a commitment to avoid any activities that could unilaterally change their interpretation of the status quo. It cannot take action to shift Taiwan from de facto independence toward de jure independence. Their position, however, limits the autonomy and self-determination of Taiwan, which the DPP opposes by promoting the “deepening of democracy” on Taiwan. At the same time, the PRC wants the KMT and the DPP to introduce policies that actively advance the reunification of the two sides under the “one country, two systems” formula. For the PRC and Taiwan, the U.S. interprets it to mean that neither side of the strait can take action that unilaterally alters the current status of the cross-strait relationship, including resorting to the use of force (PRC) as well as declaring independence (DPP). Furthermore, it suggests the two sides negotiate a peaceful settlement to the issue that includes the “assent of the Taiwanese people”, a position that has become an integral part of the DPP’s platform. For the U.S., Taiwan wants continued support in accordance with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), whereas the PRC wants the U.S. to abandon its commitment to upholding the TRA. Most importantly, the PRC wants the U.S. to stop selling arms to Taiwan. From its standpoint, arms sales might strengthen the DPP’s political will to strengthen the standing of the Second Republic and even create a New Republic. The sales might embolden forces that want the DPP to make a formal declaration of Taiwanese independence. That said, both the PRC and the DPP view U.S. arm sales to Taiwan as a political act and not as a real defense effort.
Against this backdrop, the following section provides an analysis of the four competing status quo policies. These different status quo policies create the potential for instability in the U.S.-PRC-Taiwan trilateral relationship, particularly now as the dynamics in the relationship are undergoing changes that consist of emerging battlegrounds between the PRC and the DPP-led government and the KMT and the DPP.
China's Interpretation of the Status Quo
China adheres to a consensus status quo policy represented by the “One China Principle” （一个中国的原则). The “One China Principle” (the Chinese Principle) is the government’s long-standing national reunification strategy toward Taiwan. The Chinese Principle is based on the official position that the ‘government of the PRC is the sole legitimate government of China and there is only one China and Taiwan is part of China’. The Principle contains the process of reunification and the post-reunification structure, which are expressed in the political formula of “peaceful reunification; one country, two systems” (和平统一， 一国两制). This model designates that Taiwan will become a special administration region (SAR) of the PRC, like Hong Kong and Macau now. Furthermore, the Taiwan national authorities will be demoted to local authorities under the CPC national authorities. The Chinese Principle represents the government’s consensus status quo policy and, to date, the terms and conditions are non-negotiable.
The Chinese Principle also designates how reunification can be achieved: through means of peace or force, with an emphasis on the former. The leadership’s commitment to a peaceful settlement is evidenced by its restraint to not liberate Taiwan by the use of force for decades. China has a commitment to peaceful unification as demonstrated in China’s approach to Hong Kong. Make no mistake, China could have taken Hong Kong at any time after 1949; instead, China got it peacefully some 40 years later. It takes the same approach to Taiwan.
The PRC leadership, in fact, has committed to the peaceful reunification in public. In 1979 the leadership voiced its commitment to the peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship. Similarly, in 2005, the National People’s Congress (NPC) approved the Anti-Secession Law that, from the viewpoint of the PRC, reinforced its commitment to the peaceful resolution of the ‘Taiwan Issue’. But Taiwan and the U.S. interpret the passage of the law differently. From their viewpoint the law creates the legal framework to use force to resolve issues with Taiwan. In the law, the PRC reaffirmed the importance of the Chinese Principle as the formula for reunification, while establishing the conditions under which it would authorize the PLA to use force to resolve matters with Taiwan. For example, Article 5 asserts the “One China Principle” is the basis of peaceful national reunification while Article 8 reaffirms the legal right of the PRC to use force to resolve issues. Article 8 is vague but provides some parameters regarding the activities of Taiwanese independence forces:
In the event that the "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The PRC passed the anti-secession law when Chen Shui-bian’s administration (DPP) was in power on Taiwan. His administration actively pursued ways to strengthen the status of the Second Republic and even create a New Republic. This can be done through amending or rewriting the constitution, holding national referenda, as well as promoting the Taiwanization of Taiwan’s society. The PRC, because it consistently emphasizes the “One China Principle” represents the consensus status quo, actively responds to perceived violations, which include the DPP’s strategies to strengthen the Second Republic as well as to create a New Republic.
The PRC perceives the DPP in particular tends to violate its interpretation of the consensus status quo. Violations include the failure to acknowledge the concept of ‘one China’ and its attendant concepts, namely the ‘1992 Consensus’. The PRC equates the refusal to verbalize the 1992 Consensus with the rejection of the Chinese Principle and the acceptance of Taiwanese independence. The PRC opposes constitutional reforms and national referendums because they represent the advancement of Taiwanese independence forces, which are many, on the island. The PRC objects to constitutional reforms because they not only perpetuate the continued separation of Taiwan and the mainland but also strengthen the standing of the Second Republic while promoting the creation of a New Republic. These constitutional reforms can include resolving the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty by changing the area of the territory. Likewise, from the PRC’s viewpoint, holding any referendum is cause for concern because it establishes the precedent to hold a referendum on sensitive issues, such as changing the national title (e.g., to the Republic of Taiwan); the future unification of the two sides of the strait; whether Taiwan is a part of China; or “absolute Taiwan independence” (meaning, the Taiwanese government makes a formal declaration of independence from the mainland); and changing any other national symbols (like the ROC flag). The PRC interprets the aforementioned policies as moves toward Taiwanese independence, but the DPP perceives them as ways to reconcile the existing political and social institutions with the establishment of the Second Republic. Furthermore, the DPP also sees them as pathways to establish a New Republic, possibly named the Republic of Taiwan. Finally, the PRC views the Taiwanization or the ‘de-sinicization’ of the Taiwanese society as an effort to advance the forces for Taiwanese independence. In contrast, the DPP views the process as a way to strengthen the standing of the Second Republic and possibly move toward a New Republic.
The PRC perceives the above activities as contraventions of the consensus status quo. From its viewpoint, the activities advance “two Chinas”, “one China, one Taiwan”, “one country, two governments” or “absolute Taiwan independence”. The PRC actively responds to perceived moves toward a state of permanent separation as well as formal independence; mostly by constraining the development of the cross-strait relationship, especially in the economic realm. The PRC also blocks the diplomatic initiatives and international activities of Taiwan in the international arena, all of which are occurring now in the cross-strait relationship. These include the battle over Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, Panama's switching of recognition from Taiwan to the PRC, the relocation of Taiwan’s representative office in Nigeria, as well as the protracted telecom fraud case that involves the deportation of Taiwanese suspects to the PRC, not Taiwan. Likewise the PRC is ratcheting up military pressure on Taiwan (see Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 7). Some experts contend these exercises are preparations for war against Taiwan. The PRC, in effect, will respond to any perceived violations of the consensus status quo using a range of measures that include economic, political, and military strategies and tactics, to enforce it.
Taiwan’s Interpretations of the Status Quo
In the 1990s, under Lee Teng-hui’s administration, the KMT-led government enacted major reforms transforming the status of the Republic of China (ROC) as well as its relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Lee’s administration introduced constitutional revisions evolving the ROC from a government representing all of China (ROC) to one representing only Taiwan and the Taiwanese ((ROC) (Taiwan)). The administration terminated the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion, which meant Lee’s administration not only relinquished the long-standing “claim to be the sole legitimate government of China” but also “recognized the Beijing authorities as a political entity ruling mainland China”. In addition, Lee’s administration officially froze the operations of the Taiwan Provincial Government, which bolstered the independent sovereign status of the ROC (Taiwan). The series of reforms established separate spheres of jurisdiction, governance, and boundaries for the ROC (Taiwan) and the PRC (Mainland) and led to the creation of the Second Republic on Taiwan.
The KMT and the DPP agree the reforms created a Second Republic. But the two main political parties maintain different interpretations of the status of the Second Republic. Their divergent positions lead to opposing domestic as well as cross-strait policies. The KMT contends the reforms established the Second Republic and therefore no additional reforms are required. In particular the KMT contends no changes are needed to the constitution. The KMT, in fact, wants to amend the Constitution in order to make way for the eventual unification with the mainland. In stark contrast, the DPP perceives that the Lee Teng-hui’s administration left issues unresolved, including the matter of Taiwan’s sovereignty. As a result, the DPP asserts additional changes are needed to the constitution. It wants to address the sovereignty issue as well as reconcile Taiwan’s institutions with the economic, political, and social realities of the Second Republic on Taiwan today.
It is clear the DPP wants to bolster the status of the Second Republic, but it is unclear whether the DPP aims to create a New Republic (e.g., Republic of Taiwan). As for strengthening the status of the Second Republic, the DPP could pursue a series of policies. These include abandoning national symbols, such as the ROC flag. It could amending the existing constitution as well as deepening democracy” by holding national referenda to realize the will of the Taiwanese people As for the creation of a New Republic, the DPP could rewrite the existing constitution so that it not only reflects the realities on Taiwan today but also addresses the outstanding issues of Taiwan’s sovereignty and title.
The two parties’ divergent positions lead to opposing domestic policies as well as clashing status quo policies. The two parties’ status quo policies actively promote different visions of Taiwan’s future and the cross-strait relationship that conflict with not only the PRC’s consensus status quo policy but also, depending on which political party is in power on Taiwan, the U.S.’s parallel movement status quo policy. The KMT maintains a consensus status quo policy, whereas the DPP follows a dynamic status quo policy. Both their policies contain areas of similarities and differences. As for the similarities, the two political parties agree that since 1912 the Republic of China (ROC) has been a sovereign state. For this reason, the KMT and the DPP reject the Chinese Principle. The parties object to the requirement that they accept the Chinese Principle not only as the pre-condition for cross-strait negotiations but also as the model for unifying the two sides. The KMT and the DPP specifically oppose the political formula of “one country, two systems” because, in the post-reunification era, Taiwan will become a SAR of the PRC under the communist system and the Taiwanese national authorities will be demoted to the level of local authorities. Pro-unification supporters on Taiwan even reject unification under the communist system. The KMT and the DPP also protest the PRC’s long-standing position that it has the legal right to resort to the use of force to resolve issues with Taiwan. Both parties want to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.
Although the KMT and the DPP agree the ROC (Taiwan) is a Second Republic, they disagree over its status, which creates not only a major fissure in Taiwan’s internal politics but also divergent cross-strait policies. The KMT contends that no additional reforms are needed to formalize the status of Taiwan as a Second Republic. In contrast, the DPP asserts that additional revisions are needed. Specifically the DPP wants to revise or rewrite the Constitution in order to build long-term political and social institutions that accurately reflect the realties of the Second Republic on Taiwan. To reconcile this state of affairs, the DPP wants to deepen democracy on the island through constitutional reforms as well as the holding of national referendums. The two parties, because they maintain opposing perspectives on the standing of the Second Republic, promote different status quo policies that, depending on which political party holds power, create major shifts in the domestic agenda as well as the cross-strait relationship.
The KMT maintains a consensus status quo policy that promotes Taiwan’s unification with the mainland. But the party wants unification to occur under the system of democracy as well as rule of law, not under a system of communism. It wants the process of unification to advance gradually through economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. Both the KMT administrations of Lee Teng-hui and Ma Ying-jeou shared this common goal. But the two administrations pursued different consensus status quo policies, because they perceived the results of the major reforms of the 1990s differently, particularly the constitutional revisions.
Lee Teng-hui’s administration created the framework for the unification of the two sides of the strait while actively promoting the sovereign status of Taiwan. For example, the administration established the National Unification Council (NUC) and the National Unification Guidelines (NUG). The NUG outlined the process of unification, stating that it should occur gradually and in accordance with the “principles of reason, peace, parity, and reciprocity”. Lee’s administration wanted the mainland authorities to recognize the ROC (Taiwan) as a political entity. It asserted that the two sides should not deny “the other’s existence as a political entity while in the midst of effecting reciprocity”. Despite that the administration advocated for unification, it actively promoted the sovereign status of the ROC as a Second Chinese Republic.
Lee’s administration actively advanced the ‘two state theory’. The theory defined the cross-strait relationship as “a state-to-state relationship or at least a special state-to-state relationship, as opposed to an internal relationship between a legitimate government and a renegade group, or between a central government and a local government”. The ‘two state theory’ underscored the administration’s strong opposition to the PRC’s political formula of “one country, two systems” while emphasizing that ‘Taiwan was not part of China’. The latter position meant that Lee’s administration perceived that it was unnecessary to promote or formally declare Taiwanese independence, which conflicted with the DPP’s agenda to strengthen the ROC’s sovereign status as a Second Republic. Lee, as the first-born Taiwanese to hold office on Taiwan, and his administration also strengthened the standing of the ROC by promoting the “Taiwanization” of the Taiwanese society. The PRC government refers to Taiwanization as “de-sinicization”. Lee’s administration promoted the “Taiwanization” along side of the Chinese national identity. In summary, the Lee administration’s status quo consensus policy aimed to advance the cross-strait relationship through “reason, peace, parity, and reciprocity”; secure political recognition of the ROC (Taiwan) from the mainland authorities; achieve unification under a democratic system; and promote the Taiwanese national identity as well as the Chinese national identity.
Ma Ying-jeou’s administration also pursued a consensus status quo policy that contained areas of similarities and differences to the Lee administration’s policy. For example, Ma’s administration maintained the policy of the Three Noes: no unification, no independence, and no use of force (不同， 不独， 不武). It also used the ROC Constitution to frame the cross-strait relationship but asserted that the constitution does not allow for “two Chinas”, “one China, one Taiwan” or “Taiwan independence”. Accordingly, Ma’s administration abandoned Lee’s administration ‘two state theory’. The administration attempted to marginalize the sensitive issues of sovereignty, jurisdiction, and government legitimacy by advocating that the two sides agree to the “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual non-denial of governing authority” (yet the administration played with this position). Furthermore, it tried to constrain the evolution of the Taiwanese national identity while promoting the Chinese national identity by emphasizing that Taiwan has “created a Chinese culture with a unique Taiwanese character”. Within this context Ma’s administration advanced the concept of ‘One ROC, two areas’, which represented the administration’s interpretation of ‘one China’ as well as the 1992 Consensus. The concept expressed the administration’s commitment to the future unification of the two sides under a system of democracy. But it reverted to the original position (prior to the major reforms of Lee’s administration) that the ROC is the “sole legitimate government of China”. At the same time, it signaled that the Taiwan area and the mainland area were separated in terms of jurisdiction and boundaries, but the two sides were on equal political footing. In summary, Ma’s administration supported a consensus status quo policy that was based on the Three Noes “under the framework of the ROC Constitution and 1992 Consensus”.
Separate from the KMT-led government policies, the KMT as a political party has a short history of promoting ties with the CPC through the party-to-party platform. In April-May 2005 the KMT and the CPC engage in the first but unofficial party-to-party exchange. The former General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Hu Jintao met with the then KMT Chairman Lien Chan as well as the former Chairman of the People First Party (PFP) Soong Chu-yu. The three political parties met to alleviate the tensions in the cross-strait relationship resulting from the policies of the Chen administration as well as to establish the foundation for official party-to-party talks. The two sides of the strait reached a consensus: they opposed “Taiwan independence” and insisted the 1992 Consensus” represents the framework for the development of the cross-strait relationship. On this basis, the KMT and the CPC established formal, annual party-to-party exchanges. The election of the new KMT Chairman indicates the KMT will continue the party-to-party exchanges as well as maintain a cross-strait policy promoting unification under a system of democracy. The KMT party, in effect, most likely will continue the Ma administration's policy.
As for the DPP, Chen Shui-bian’s administration followed a dynamic status quo policy that combined elements from the DPP’s 1999 “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” and the Lee administration’s consensus status quo policy. In the Resolution, the DPP stated that, “Taiwan is a sovereign independent country”. Its jurisdiction covers “Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, its affiliated islands and waters”, which means that Taiwan is “not subject to the jurisdiction of the PRC”. Furthermore, according to the Resolution the “unilateral” promotion of the “One China Principle and the “One Country Two Systems” were “fundamentally inappropriate for Taiwan”. Any changes to the “independent status quo must be decided by all residents of Taiwan by means of plebiscite”; and the government should “complete the task of incorporating plebiscite into law in order to realize the people’s rights”. Additionally, the government “should renounce the “One China” position to avoid international confusion”. The Chen administration based the dynamic status quo policy not on the DPP’s Charter, which called for the creation of a “Republic of Taiwan”, but on the DPP’s Resolution. In fact according to Chen the Resolution, not the Charter, was ‘the top guideline for the DPP in managing cross-strait ties’, which represented a major policy shift that went largely unnoticed.
In addition to the Resolution, Chen administration’s dynamic status quo policy contained areas of similarities and differences to the Lee administration’s consensus status quo policy. For example, the Chen administration also promoted the sovereign independent status of Taiwan, though the DPP perceived that Lee’s administration left the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty unresolved from an institutional standpoint. It classified the cross-strait relationship as one country on each side (一邊一國 / 一边一国). It also wanted to negotiate with the mainland under the “principles of democracy, equity, and peace” while pursuing an “active opening” policy toward the mainland. Concomitantly, the Chen administration strengthened the Taiwanese national identity through various initiatives, including the introduction of Taiwan-centric educational guidelines. In contrast to Lee’s policy, but in line with the DPP’s 1999 Resolution, Chen’s administration wanted to bolster the independent standing of Taiwan through the ‘deepening of democracy’. It advocated for additional reforms to the ROC Constitution so that it would reflect the realities of the Second Republic; also, it promoted holding national referendums in order to include the will of the Taiwanese people on issues affecting Taiwan’s national interests. In a complete break from Lee’s policy, Chen’s administration formally abandoned the idea of ‘one China’ by declaring the NUC “ceases to function” and the NUG “cease to apply”. From its standpoint, Lee’s administration created these two institutions without considering the will of the Taiwanese people in the cross-strait process. The Chen administration’s dynamic status quo policy, in effect, incorporated elements from Lee’s consensus status quo policy but included aspects from the DPP’s 1999 Resolution.
The Chen administration’s dynamic status quo policy could be encapsulated in the concept of “one principle, three insistences and five oppositions”. The “one principle” aimed to maintain the sovereignty of Taiwan while negotiating with the mainland in accordance with the “principles of democracy, equity and peace”. According to Chen, "Taiwan is willing to talk to China in a government-to-government mode and requires that all disputes must be settled by peaceful means. Armed force is forbidden”. The “three insistences” stressed the administration’s commitment to advancing democratic reforms, protecting the national interests of Taiwan, and pursuing the transformation of Taiwan “into a great and progressive country”. The “five oppositions” were the administration’s rejection of: 1) the “One China Principle”; 2) the political formula of “one country, two systems”; 3) the ‘1992 Consensus being placed within the context of ‘one China’ or ‘one country two systems’; 4) proposals that were based on unification; and, 5) the 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which the administration interpreted as unilaterally altering the status quo (see Article 1 and Article 2). The Chen administration’s main conflict with the KMT and the PRC was his administration’s dynamic status quo policy. It bolstered the existing status quo of an independent Taiwan (e.g., the Second Republic), while even attempted to lay the foundation for a New Republic through rewriting the constitution. The KMT and the PRC perceived that his dynamic status quo policy unilaterally changed the consensus status quo. The KMT and the PRC actively developed the consensus status quo within a government framework while the KMT was in power as well as through the party-to-party platform while the KMT was out of power.
President Tsai’s three major speeches – the victory speech, the augural address, and the National Day speech – indicate her administration will continue to follow a dynamic status quo policy. This approach bolsters the status of the Second Republic and presents pathways to create a New Republic. In a similar vein to Chen’s administration, the administration will continue to promote the DPP’s interpretation the status quo, which is that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. This will be done by actively engaging in the Taiwanization of Taiwan through various measures, including changing the educational guidelines from Sino-centric to a Taiwan-centric as well as advancing the idea of a multiethnic society by promoting the role of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples in society and politics. It will strengthen the standing of the Second Republic through the deepening of democracy. For example, the administration might try to deepen democracy by holding national referendums to realize the will of the Taiwanese people, especially in the cross-strait relationship. It could move to create a New Republic by attempting to change the constitution. In particular the administration could try to change Taiwan’s territory or even its official title.
The Tsai administration will work to create a new framework in the cross-strait relationship. It will avoid agreeing to concepts representing the Chinese Principle such as the 1992 Consensus which represents the PRC’s interpretation of ‘one China’. It could continue to evade publicly promoting policies that could trigger a total breakdown in cross-strait relations. For example the administration might eschew endorsing the Chen administration’s concept of “one country on each side” and the Lee administration’s “two state theory”, which Tsai helped to design. Instead the Tsai administration most likely will attempt to create alternative cross-strait guidelines. The administration, for example, might introduce two frameworks to guide the cross-strait relationship as well as Taiwan’s overall cross-strait policy. As for the former, Tsai’s administration could re-introduce an alternative framework to manage cross-strait ties, namely a peace and stability framework that was first proposed during Chen’s administration. This framework could advance the cross-strait relationship outside of the concepts representing the “One China Principle”. As for the latter, the administration might propose a version of the Taiwan Consensus that could institutionalize the island’s mainland policy, regardless of which party holds political power. During her 2011 presidential campaign, in fact, Tsai supported the creation of a Taiwan Consensus for this purpose. The administration, in effect, will propose new methods and approaches to frame the cross-strait relationship.
But the Tsai administration’s dynamic status quo policy could prompt the PRC to take action against Taiwan in order to enforce the consensus status quo. In August, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) published an annual report on China’s military power. In the report, the MND identified 7 scenarios that could prompt the PRC to resort to the use of force against Taiwan. They are: ‘a declaration of independence; an unambiguous move toward independence; domestic unrest; acquisition of nuclear weapons; delays in cross-strait dialogue on peaceful unification; foreign intervening in Taiwan’s internal affairs; and foreign military presence in Taiwan’. Presently, three of the seven scenarios are emerging namely the reluctance of the Tsai administration to engage in cross-strait dialogue, the incremental shift toward strengthening the division between China and Taiwan, as well as the U.S. Congress growing support for closer ties to Taiwan (see Article 1, Article 2, and Article 3), while one scenario has the potential to emerge, namely the presence of U.S. military personnel on the ground in Taiwan. These changing dynamics could drag the U.S. into a potential conflict tin the Taiwan Strait.
The United States and the Status Quo
The U.S. most closely follows a parallel movement status quo policy. It maintains different status quo policies for the PRC and Taiwan. For the PRC, the status quo means no use of or no threat to use force against Taiwan. For Taiwan, it means no initiatives including statements and actions that could change the current status of de facto independence. The initiatives can include referendums that attempt to alter the status quo; a formal declaration of independence; a name change to the title of ROC (Taiwan) or government; as well as reforms to the ROC Constitution that could promote a “state-to-state” theory. The status quo policy of the U.S. is derived from its ‘One China Policy’.
The U.S.’s ‘One China Policy’ consists of a “communiqués framework” and the “second framework”. The “communiqués framework” guides U.S. relations with the PRC, while the “communiqués framework” and the “second framework” direct U.S.-Taiwan relations. The “communiqués framework” consists of the:
The “second framework” consists of:
The communiqués framework, particularly the 1979 Normalization Communiqué, supports the PRC’s “One China Principle” that there is one China and Taiwan is part of it. In contrast, the second framework favors the position of Taiwan, especially the DPP’s position, because it requires policymakers to include the assent of the Taiwanese people when making decisions on Taiwan’s future. The 1982 Six Assurances reinforce the commitment made by the U.S. Congress in the TRA to provide Taiwan with not only defense arms and services but also a deterrence guarantee in order to help the ruling administration on Taiwan to meet its self-defense requirements.
The U.S.’s status quo policy tends to shift along a continuum that has the communiqué framework on one end and the second framework on the other. The primary drivers of the shift from one end to the other are the actions and statements of the two sides of the strait. For Taiwan, when the government introduces a policy proposal (e.g., reforming the constitution or holding national referendums) or makes a statement that has the potential to alter unilaterally the status quo, the U.S. supports more actively the communiqués framework. For the PRC, the same logic applies. When it introduces a policy, makes a statement, or takes an action that could alter unilaterally the status quo, the U.S. favors the second framework.
Presently, there are emerging battlegrounds in the cross-strait relationship that could drag the U.S. into a potential conflict. The PRC, for example, actively seeks to disrupt Taiwan’s economic system, which in turn could impact both the political and social systems. To date although the U.S. Congress has taken some action to respond to the changing dynamics, (see Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, and Article 4 ), its overall response has been limited. Going forward, the PRC will keep pressing Taiwan to accept the consensus status quo while Taiwan will keep adhering to the dynamic status quo. The major challenge for the U.S. will be to maintain a parallel movement status quo policy that supports both sides of the strait in the rapidly changing cross-strait relationship, while advancing national interests in areas where the PRC wields expanding influence, such as in the East and South China Seas, on the Korean peninsula, as well as in the Middle East with major players like Iran.
Although the status quo is a long-standing concept framing relations between the U.S., PRC, and Taiwan, it complicates the triangular relationship because there are several interpretations. The different interpretations promote opposing approaches to as well as outcomes for the cross-strait relationship. With the DPP in power on Taiwan now, these areas of differences are more pronounced, which could draw the U.S. into a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
As for Taiwan, the Tsai administration will continue to promote a dynamic status quo policy to bolster the independent and sovereign status of the Second Republic. To strengthen the standing of the Second Republic, it will continue to engage in the Taiwanization of the Taiwanese society. Eventually the administration could hold national referendums or pursue constitutional reforms, or both. As for former, the administration wants to “deepen democracy” which means recognizing the will of the Taiwanese people, especially regarding sensitive national issues such as the future of Taiwan and the cross-strait relationship. Thus it could hold national referendums on the population’s view of independence or unification or of the “One China Principle” versus the “One China Policy”. Regarding constitutional reform, the administration might consider making changes to the national title as well as to the area of the territory. Holding national referendums and introducing constitutional reforms will strengthen the Second Republic while establishing the foundation for the creation of a New Republic. If the administration tries to rewrite the constitution, it will serve as a clear path to the creation of a New Republic. The administration’s dynamic status quo policy will have a powerful impact on the cross-strait relationship. It will continue to reject concepts that undermine Taiwan’s Second Republic status as sovereign and independent state. These concepts include the “One China Principle” and the 1992 Consensus. More than likely, the Tsai administration's dynamic status quo policy will aim to bolster the status of the Second Republic as well as establish the conditions for a New Republic.
The Tsai administration’s dynamic status quo undermines the PRC’s consensus status quo as well as the KMT’s and thus creates emerging battlegrounds between all sides. The KMT and the PRC contend the Tsai administration’s activities aim to not ‘deepen democracy’ but strengthen the forces for “absolute Taiwanese independence”. From their viewpoint, the administration’s dynamic status quo policy actively supports the continued separation of Taiwan and China and even promotes an independent Taiwan, with an aim to strengthen the Second Republic and to create a New Republic. As a result, the KMT will continue to cooperate with the PRC, specifically the CPC, through the party-to-party platform to promote the consensus status quo. In the domestic arena, the KMT will try to prevent the Tsai administration’s dynamic status quo policy from undercutting the consensus status quo policy. But the KMT faces an uphill battle. The KMT’s infighting as well as the significant loss of assets could hamper the party’s efforts to counter effectively the Tsai administration’s increasingly aggressive dynamic status quo policy.
But the PRC will continue to react strongly to the Tsai administration’s dynamic status quo policy. It will limit cross-strait ties, especially in the economic realm, in order to squeeze Taiwan’s economy. It will block the diplomatic initiatives and international activities of Taiwan in the international arena. For example, it will continue to lobby to keep Taiwan from participating in any regional and international forums, particularly those that require statehood. Furthermore, it will disrupt the ties that Taiwan has with foreign governments. In addition, the PRC will continue to use psychological warfare to intimidate Taiwan, including the use of military exercises in and around Taiwan. The overall goal of the PRC is to compel the Tsai administration to accept the consensus status quo. In particular, the PRC wants President Tsai to verbalize the phrase “1992 Consensus”, which would signal her commitment to the “One China Principle” and her opposition to Taiwanese independence. If the Tsai administration continues to reject the PRC’s consensus status quo, the PRC will increase pressure on Taiwan. The PRC will seek to harm the island’s economy, marginalize it in the international arena, constrain its diplomatic activities, rupture the remaining government-to-government ties all in order to compel Tsai to concede to its demands or to influence the next election cycle against her administration, or both.
If the competing status quo policies continue to evolve along the current trajectory, the U.S. could get drawn into the emerging battleground. The U.S. will need to strike a careful balance between the communiqué framework and the second framework. The U.S. needs to find this balance in order to demonstrate its political will to uphold the 1979 TRA, avoid getting dragged into a potential conflict, as well as prevent China from countering U.S. national interests in the region and beyond. In particular the President and Congress will need to proceed cautiously in their active promotion of U.S.-Taiwan ties, specifically in the military realm. The Tsai administration could perceive these policies as a show of support for its dynamic status quo policy. The promotion of closer U.S.-Taiwan ties, particularly in the military realm, will trigger a powerful reaction from the PRC. Indeed, the PRC will continue to engage in and even escalate economic, military, and psychological warfare against Taiwan in order to undermine stability there; moreover it could aim to block U.S.’s initiatives in the region and farther afield, such as in the Middle East. At the same time, the U.S. needs to signal its commitment to the TRA, especially by strengthening economic ties with Taiwan through investment in the island's emerging industries. Bolstering Taiwan's economy can ensure greater stability in the political and social systems, making Taiwan less vulnerable to the PRC's strategies and tactics and striking a more balanced approach to the changing dynamics in the cross-strait relationship.
Author's Note: This paper was part of a larger research paper which was supported by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) (2016)
Citation: Norton, Judith. "U.S.-China-Taiwan Relations and the "Status Quo"." The East Asia Peace and Security Initiative. November 2017.
See our policies on republication, attribution, and derivatives here.