Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s February 26, 2016 remarks about Taiwan’s constitution was another significant message from the Chinese government since the Xi-Ma Meeting last November. It indicates a probable direction in the cross-Taiwan Strait relationship after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regained administration power.
Wang was the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China between 2008 and 2013. He is undoubtedly familiar with cross-Strait affairs. His comments on Taiwan’s constitution may have merely been a response to a question asked, but as this was his first public speech in Washington, he likely received full authorization before his trip. As such, does his “constitution-talk” include any new concepts? And if so, what is new?
In the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, it was stated in the political report that the government hoped that both sides would “jointly explore cross-Straits political relations and make reasonable arrangements for them under a special condition that the country is yet to reunified; as well as, reach a peace agreement through consultation so as to open a new horizon in advancing the peaceful growth of these relations.” On April 26, the following year, at the event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Wang-Gu Meeting, state councilor Yang Jiechi encouraged the launch of “cross-Strait civilian political dialogue” to build a consensus for future cross-Strait negotiations to resolve political differences. Before that, under the leadership of the Taiwan Affairs Office, the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Taiwan Studies, and Shanghai Fudan University established the Collaborative Innovation Center for the Peaceful Development of Cross-Strait Relations. The need to integrate these organizations on Taiwan research to explore innovative thoughts on the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations is an indication that the Chinese government has recognized that “One Country, Two Systems” would not be accepted by Taiwanese political parties. A new structure must be designed for the political arrangements after reunification of China and Taiwan; that is the objective and purpose of the push for “cross-Strait civilian political dialogue.”
On June 20, 2013, a cross-Strait relations seminar organized by the CASS Institute of Taiwan Studies, “Beijing Talks – Mutual Trust and Recognition, Exploration of Political Arrangements”, invited political figures from both the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green camps, as well as scholars from Taiwan, to participate. Participants included DPP Central Executive Committee member Hung Chi-kun and columnist Chen Sung-shan, who was also the former Chief Secretary of Chen Shui-bian’s office. On the 29 of the same month, in the name of the Taiwan Reformation Foundation, Frank Hsieh, the former premier of Chen Shui-bian’s administration and the former chairman of the DPP, co-organized a forum entitled “Development and Innovation of Cross-Strait Relations” in Hong Kong with CASS. This shows that even though the DPP has never directly recognized and accepted the “1992 Consensus”, the interaction between the individuals from both the DPP and the CCP is very much active.
On January 10, 2013, during a recorded interview with the author in Taipei, Frank Hsieh revealed that China had mentioned that if the “1992 Consensus” was not accepted, an alternative within the framework of one China policy may be proposed. Hsieh believed that his “Constitutions with different interpretations” (or “one China Constitution”) was an alternative. He said:
“The Hong Kong meeting (between SEF and ARATS) in 1992 allowed both parties to declare their identities, and defined their relationships according to their constitutions. Who am I? I am the Republic of China. What is our relationship? One China. They (CCP) didn’t criticize me openly when I said that. As I’ve said before, if China doesn’t recognize the Constitution of the Republic of China and negate the Constitution of the Republic of China entirely, Taiwan would need a new constitution. The capacity of the new constitution would be enormous, the concussion would be immense; it is bad for Taiwan, and bad for us (DPP). I think this would give the Republic of China more space, international space, or its status. Mainland China knows that, too. They said, ‘We won’t accept that, but we also won’t repudiate you entirely.’”
According to polls conducted by the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University, from 1992 to June 2015, the support for reunification among Taiwanese people has dropped to 9.1 percent.
The same year, when APEC was held in Bali in October, Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of PRC, and Wang Yu-chi, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan, conducted their first meeting; both addressed each other with their official titles. Some Taiwanese scholars believed that this signified the first time that Beijing recognized the political rule of the Republic of China in Taiwan. During the Xi-Ma Meeting held in Singapore last November, Ma Ying-jeou was no longer chairman of Kuomintang; his only title was the president of the Republic of China. The fact that Xi was still willing to meet Ma under such circumstances was a tacit admission to the objective existence of the Republic of China. According to the above-mentioned time frame and background, even though Wang Yi did not directly mention the constitution of the ROC, his “constitution-talk” was, like the Xi-Ma Meeting, the carrot and the stick approach of the Chinese government to prevent Tsai Ing-wen from encasing the essential significance of “one country on each side” and “one China, one Taiwan” with “maintaining the status quo … in accordance with the constitutional system of the Republic of China.”
According to polls conducted by the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University, from 1992 to June 2015, the support for reunification among Taiwanese people has dropped to 9.1 percent, only 3.3 percent identified themselves as Chinese, as many as 59 percent identified themselves as Taiwanese, while 33.7 percent considered themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese. Those who were pro-independence and supported independence as soon as possible added up to 21.1 percent. Tsai Ing-wen achieved a landslide victory in the presidential election over the KMT’s candidate Eric Zhu by 3.8 million votes, and the DPP also secured a majority in the Legislative Yuan. After their defeat, the KMT has yet to display any force of resurgence, while hope that the party might regain power in the next four to eight years are impalpable. As such, the pressing challenge and task now for Beijing is to prevent Tsai’s government from taking the path of “jurisprudential independence”. Before Tsai’s inaugural address on May 20, Mainland officials continue to exert pressure on Tsai by stressing the importance of the “1992 Consensus” as the common political foundation of cross-Strait relations through public opinion. Meanwhile, utilizing the situation, the first mention of “constitution-talk” was also an amiable response to Tsai’s statement “to maintain cross-Strait peace and stability in accordance to the existing constitutional system of the Republic of China.”
This article focuses on the political reality that most Taiwanese reject the identity of “Chinese.” Especially judging from the eruption of the Sunflower Movement and the performance of “New Power Party” — a new political party that emerged from the movement — in this year’s parliamentary election, more and more people in the younger generation disapprove of China. Despite localized education during Lee Teng-hui’s administration, and the “desinicized” history textbooks proposed by Chen Shui-bian’s government, the concept of an independent Taiwan among the younger generations born after 1992 is not as hostile as that of the independence fundamentalists, who are hostile to the “Republic of China” and are eager to replace the state name as Republic of Taiwan. To most of them, the “Republic of China” is Taiwan; and the blue, white, red tri-color flag is the “national flag.”
The Chinese government also realizes the trend of the idea of “desinicization” among the younger population in Taiwan, and has proposed the importance of reconstructing a “community of common destiny” between the youth in recent years; instead of creating a political symbolism more powerful than that of the Republic of China which was established in 1912. As long as Beijing asserts its policy of “peaceful reunification,” future cross-Strait political negotiations will continue to dwell on the positioning of the Republic of China. From the Xi-Ma Meeting to “constitution-talk,” as Beijing deliberates the next stage of reunification strategy, it is obviously heading toward the direction of acknowledging the Republic of China tacitly, and feeling its way across the river.