By Philip Y. M. Yang, Minister, Government Information Office
Changes in the cross-strait relationship directly affect peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. As a responsible stakeholder in the international community, Taiwan must deal with this key issue. In fact, through the ups and downs of this relationship after exchanges resumed in 1987, the Republic of China government steadfastly asserted its sovereignty and made no concessions in this regard. It was only during a cross-strait meeting in 1992 that a consensus was reached by the two sides that “there is one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that means.” Since then, this “1992 consensus” has served as the framework and foundation for cross-strait interaction and has been favorably received by the majority of people in Taiwan. It has become a principle that Taiwan and the mainland should not avoid when facing cross-strait issues. But as differing views have been voiced recently about this consensus, it is worthwhile at this time to once again clarify matters.
Significance of 1992 Consensus: Abiding by the Constitutional Definition of the ROC
At the heart of the 1992 consensus is the concept of “one China, respective interpretations.” It is clear that as far as we are concerned, “one China” is the Republic of China stipulated in the ROC Constitution, and we have never wavered on this definition. As President Ma Ying-jeou said, while the ROC Constitution has been revised seven times through the amendment of additional articles, under four presidents in the past 20 years, the provisions on national territory, sovereignty and the cross-strait status have never been changed. This represents the collective decision of the populace regardless of political affiliation.
In other words, there has never been any “ambiguity” or “concession of sovereignty” regarding the concept of “one China” in the 1992 consensus. To support the 1992 consensus is to support the Republic of China, and to support the ROC Constitution.
Cornerstone for Peace in the Taiwan Strait and East Asia
Indeed, any national security policy should be based on identification with the ROC and its Constitution, which make up the largest common denominator acceptable to the people of Taiwan. Any actions deviating from or intentionally obfuscating this denominator would create unnecessary uncertainty and risk in domestic politics, cross-strait relations and regional peace in East Asia.
As Taiwan sits at the nexus of East Asia and plays a central role in regional peace, neighboring countries naturally would like to see sustained peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The United States, Japan and the European Union have also expressed hopes for stable progress in cross-strait relations. At home and abroad, the mainstream opinion on our cross-strait policies is that denying the 1992 consensus and advocating the idea that the ROC is a “government in exile” would not be in the interest of Taiwan and may once again jeopardize regional peace.
Looking back to the years before 2008, the ROC faced a litany of diplomatic troubles. The administration’s position on cross-strait affairs was unclear, and its foreign policies were cutting Taiwan off from the world. Those policies — including denying the 1992 consensus, espousing the “one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait]” concept and promoting “scorched earth diplomacy” — escalated cross-strait tension, caused great anxiety among the people of Taiwan, and further isolated Taiwan from the international community.
From Cross-Strait Impasse to Win-Win Situation
Developments over the past three years show that pursuing cross-strait negotiations on the basis of the 1992 consensus and maintaining peace and stability under the principles of “no unification, no independence and no use of military force” have received widespread support domestically and internationally. Surveys conducted in Taiwan in the first half of this year indicate that over 70 percent of the public supports the promotion of institutionalized negotiations on this basis. This cross-strait policy, so oriented in the present environment, has brought considerable benefits to Taiwan’s overall development.
In cross-strait exchanges, ever since the two sides restarted institutionalized talks after a 10-year hiatus, several breakthroughs — including 15 agreements on trade and a variety of other issues — have been achieved through six rounds of talks between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and the mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. The success of these negotiations has come in the form of concrete exchange and cooperation between the two sides, as well as stronger links between Taiwan and the global market. With the implementation of the early harvest list of the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, the value of Taiwan’s exports to the mainland grew 10.5 percent year-on-year in the first seven months of this year. Exports to six of the 10 ASEAN members (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) also increased 26.2 percent in the same time period.
In terms of foreign relations, our cross-strait policy based on the 1992 consensus has spurred greater international support for Taiwan’s pragmatic participation in global affairs. This is evidenced in the ROC’s solid relations with its 23 diplomatic allies, resumption of high-level mutual trust with the U.S. and other major countries, visa-free and visa-on-arrival privileges in 117 countries and territories, accession to the Government Procurement Agreement after six years of denial, and invitation to participate in the World Health Assembly three years in a row.
Forging Ahead While Grounded in Peace
Policies on national security and cross-strait relations should be based on principles that support the nation’s interests without compromise to sovereignty, security or dignity. The 1992 consensus on the concept of “one China, respective interpretations” was reached by Taiwan and the mainland after several rounds of negotiations. The purpose of building such a consensus was to address sensitive cross-strait issues and shelve disputes in a pragmatic way to maximize benefits to Taiwan. It was on this basis that the 1993 Koo-Wang Talks were held and a new era in cross-strait negotiations dawned. The many positive developments that followed also indicate that this consensus is indeed the cornerstone to peaceful developments between Taiwan and mainland China.
Compared with the situation in 1992, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have made large strides toward a period of peaceful and stable interaction not seen in six decades. But as we have only taken the first steps toward cross-strait peace, we must continue to abide by the framework of the ROC Constitution and the 1992 consensus to create a peaceful environment for the next generation.
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