By Peter Kien-hong Yu

The 1992 Consensus: Where do China and Taiwan Go From Here?

Dec. 20, 2016  |     |  0 comments

The 1992 consensus is a term in Chinese political language which has its roots in the One China principle. It refers to the outcome of a closed-door meeting in November 1992 between the representatives of Taiwan and their counterpart from the Chinese mainland.

This term was unofficially used in the political arena before April 2000 to describe and explain the complex and complicated relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The term surfaced in writing in April 2000 for the very first time by Su Chi, an important figure in the then ruling party of Taiwan, Kuomintang (KMT).

Su had to use such a term because in May 2000, Chen Shui-bian became the new president of Taiwan. Chen’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is in favor of separating Taiwan from mainland China.

Beijing adheres to Deng Xiaoping’s formulation of “One Country, Two Systems,” which applies to the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, or “One Country, Three Systems,” which might be applied to Taiwan. Hence it was very reluctant, before April 2000, to accept the term because it perceived that the pro-reunification KMT would be able to hold on to its ruling power status for a long period of time. The Chinese mainland was also constrained by the fact that it wanted to pursue a peaceful and harmonious reunification of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Hence, the 1992 consensus was just a temporary arrangement between Taipei and Beijing under the One China principle. Needless to say, Beijing preferred to implement the “One Country, Two or Three Systems.” However, it also realized that many, if not most, people in Taiwan did not favor or even resisted Deng’s formulation.

After becoming president, Chen in June 2000 briefly accepted the term when he received William P. Fuller, who headed the Washington, D.C.-based Asia Foundation. Soon after, he changed his mind at the advice of pro-Taiwan independence activists.

In May 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, who was also DPP chairperson, became the new president of Taiwan. She has since refused to fully accept the term. In her inaugural speech, she only mentioned “the November 1992 meeting.”

Beijing leaders, such as Xi Jinping, were not comfortable with the January 2016 presidential election in Taiwan and they threatened to punish the Tsai administration. For example, news about the Vatican’s possible switch of diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing was often reported, further making Taiwan a state within a state. After May 2016, most observers agreed that Beijing would wholly stick to the 1992 consensus in handling Taiwan.

The 1992 consensus refers to the outcome of a closed-door meeting in November 1992 between the representatives of Taiwan and their counterpart from the Chinese mainland.

However, on November 30, at an academic meeting held in Guangxi, China, Zhou Zhihuai, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Beijing was not against establishing a new consensus to replace the “1992 consensus” while at the same time reflecting or embodying the One China principle. Although what Zhou said may not fully reflect the official policy of the Beijing government, he must had been authorized or endorsed by certain important high-level officials.

Beijing since May 2016 has repeatedly insisted that Taipei must adhere to the 1992 consensus. How do we rationalize the seeming contradiction, if one’s thinking is linear? To be sure, a non-dialectician would remind us, saying the 1992 consensus is the 1992 consensus is the 1992 consensus.

Dialectically, what Zhou said is not contradictory at all. Let me apply my one-dot theory — the Taiji Diagram (Diagram of Cosmological Scheme) at this juncture.

The Taiji square can be seen in the middle, which is the biggest diagram. It is a dot. We can parse this diagram in terms of four smaller models, each of which is but a dot. The first one is on the upper left-hand side. We see a blank circle. The second model is on the upper right-hand side. Another way of saying it is Yin and Yang. The third one is at the lower right-hand side. Its emphasis is on that small dot, meaning the Confucian middle road. And the last model is at the lower left-hand side. It is a version of the third model on the lower right-hand side. The name for this model is called the crab and frog motion model. 12345 is the safe zone spectrum, and ABCDE, the danger zone spectrum. A dialectician would refrain from entering the latter zone.

The 1992 consensus is equivalent to that blank circle on the upper left-hand side. Since it is not the only thing in our world since Adam and Eve, if not earlier, we have to shift to apply the second model, which is on the upper right-hand side. This means that we have to dialectically think of the existence of the 1992 consensus and the non-1992 consensus.

The 1992 consensus refers to what the Chinese mainland has been insisting since May 2016. However, if there is a deadlock for a long period of time, a dialectician may think about taking the Confucian middle road. Here, he or she is looking at the third model.

The 1992 consensus and the non-1992 consensus model can be at odds. If so, the 100% 1992 consensus would be put at 1 in the safe zone, while the 100% non-1992 consensus, E, in the danger zone.

However, a dialectician can reconcile the 1992 consensus and the non-1992 consensus. He or she can put the former at 1 and the latter or the non-1992 consensus at 5.

What I said in the last paragraph is exactly what Zhou proposed in the meeting in November 2016. Philosophically, he is in the safe zone, hoping that Taipei can advance something new, which could be equivalent to 2, 3, 4, or 5. Once done, both sides of the Taiwan Strait would renew their interactions.

Beijing can tolerate up to 5, which is still rooted in the One China principle. It is the first step. Once Tsai responses positively, Xi will urge Tsai to move to 3, and he will also go to 3. If both Taipei and Beijing are at 3, which is a hybrid of 1 and 5, the former’s New Southward policy can be integrated into the latter’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy, resulting in a win-win.

In a nutshell, after testing more than 100 cases, big or small, a dialectical/crab and frog motion remark is just the opposite of a non-dialectical/crab and frog motion (usually deductive, linear, or cause and effect) remark, or, at best, they must meet half-way.

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