The ‘1992 Consensus’: Rather Than Asking Tsai Ing-wen, Ask Xi Jinping Instead

By Hu Ping, published: January 24, 2016

The “1992 consensus,” the outcome of a meeting between representatives of the Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), refers to the putative agreement that there is only “one China,” but that each side is able to interpret the meaning of that one China differently. For the KMT, this means that the Republic of China represents the only “one China,” whereas for the CCP, it means that the People’s Republic of China is the sole representative of the “one China.” The status of the agreement, or even its existence, has been controversial. — The Editors.

"Change of administration in Taiwan hurts the feelings of the Chinese people." Cartoon by @thomasycwong

“Change of government in Taiwan hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.” Cartoon by @thomasycwong


In May 2004 in the overseas Chinese-language magazine “Beijing Spring”(《北京之春》)  I published an essay titled “Looking at Taiwan’s plight from Taiwan’s perspective,” in which I made the following comment:

By the same principle, the so-called 1992 Consensus—that is, “one China,” each with their respective interpretations—is also not helpful for Taiwan. This is because Taiwan’s “one China” interpretation can only have the effect of Taiwan talking to itself, and shutting itself off to the world. The international community won’t accept its interpretation of one China. Moreover, to the extent that Taiwan doesn’t want to isolate itself from the international community, and wants to actively participate in international organizations and activities, it must tacitly acknowledge that the People’s Republic of China, and not the Republic of China, occupies the space of China in international events. Thus, it has no choice but to de facto (in global for a) abandon its own version of the “one China.”

Perhaps at the beginning Taiwan wasn’t clear on what the CCP’s own “one China” meant when it agreed to the consensus. Taiwan may have thought that it simply means that each side does not directly acknowledge the other, but not that each can deliberately undermine, suppress, and attack the other in the presence of third parties and in international fora. (In the overseas Chinese community, this was called the “twin problem,” where each sibling says they’re the real one, and the other is fake. When community activities were organized around the world, the organizers were never clear which was the real and which the fake China, and they didn’t want to get dragged into the dispute. So they simply invited them both. Both sides attend, acknowledge that the other has attended, but refrain from going and pressuring the host to eject the other party.)

But who knew that the CCP’s version of the one China policy is that the CCP, on every possible occasion, does all it can to reject, suppress, and ruthlessly eliminate Taiwan’s presence. Taiwan obviously cannot accept this.

This is the problem right here. If the mainland’s understanding of the 1992 consensus is that it not only doesn’t recognize Taiwan, but also in international fora deliberately tries to suppress and negate Taiwan, then of course Taiwan won’t accept it. Who would accept a so-called “consensus” in which they are agreeing to being willfully negated and attacked? The pan-Green coalition couldn’t accept it, and the pan-Blue coalition also couldn’t accept it.

In March of 2006, when then-chairman of the KMT, Ma Ying-jeou, visited the United States, he spoke on the question of Taiwanese independence. Taiwan needs to gain more recognition in international diplomacy, he said, but if the CCP doesn’t allow even this, it will force Taiwanese people to the other side—and not even those originally concerned with Taiwanese independence. “Even people like us will oppose it. It’s got nothing to do with independence or not—but you won’t even give us a bit of breathing space!”

So, given that Taiwanese can’t accept a consensus which marginalizes and suppresses them, this is why the two sides cannot have a consensus. This is why the 1992 consensus just cannot exist.

If the 1992 consensus truly does exist, then it could only be on the basis of mutual respect and equality between the two sides. In this case, while each side would not directly recognize the other, they would not try to suppress and marginalize the other in the international community. Taiwan naturally sees it this way, but the question is whether the mainland agrees. The problem isn’t with Taiwan, but with the mainland.

Rather than asking Tsai Ing-wen whether she recognizes the 1992 consensus, we are better off first asking Xi Jinping just what he believes the 1992 consensus means. If Xi Jinping’s understanding of the 1992 consensus includes not marginalizing and suppressing Taiwan in the international community, then I think Tsai Ing-wen would also accept that consensus; if Xi Jinping’s understanding is that the 1992 consensus means that the mainland can marginalize and suppress Taiwan in the international community, then I think we’ve no need to ask Tsai Ing-wen in the first place.
Hu Ping (胡平) had been for years the chief editor of Beijing Spring, a long-running New York-based Chinese democracy magazine, until his retirement in  Mr. Hu has been one of the best known Chinese liberal thinkers and commentators since early 1980s, and his essay On Freedom of Expression influenced many intellectuals and students in China in the 80s when he was a graduate student of philosophy at Peking University.


Related articles

Now You Know the Terror, by Martin Oei, January 17, 2016. 

Chiang Ching-kuo and the Democratization of Taiwan, by Chang Tieh Chi, June 3, 2013. 


Also by Hu Ping:

How the Tiananmen Massacre Changed China, and the World, June 2, 2015


中文原文與其問蔡英文,不如問習近平-九二共識之我見》,translated by China Change.



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