“The 1992 Consensus”: One Formula, Too Many Interpretations

By Jerome A. Cohen

Here is a sobering essay, Taiwan’s wooing of Asean is pointless. It should just accept China and the 1992 consensus again, by a Taiwan scholar who seems to assume that Beijing will be satisfied if Tsai returns to Ma Ying-jeou’s understanding of “One China”, with “differing interpretations”, instead of acquiescing in Beijing’s version of “One China,” which does not recognize Taiwan’s “differing interpretations.” He also doesn’t evaluate the domestic Taiwan forces that block Tsai from even accepting Ma’s view, apparently seeking to persuade Deep Green supporters of the hopelessness of their position.

For an analysis of the “1992 Consensus,” this article I’ve just published with Yu-Jie Chen on China-Taiwan Relations Re-Examined: The '1992 Consensus' and Cross-Strait Agreements would be of interest. We point out that there was never a genuine consensus. The Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party have different understandings of what the “1992 Consensus” means. In the Kuomintang’s view, it means “One China, Respective Interpretations” (Yige Zhongguo Gezi Biaoshu 一個中國,各自表述, OCRI). This formulation at best can be understood as a formula to implicitly agree that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is part of that “China” but to disagree about which government is the legitimate, exclusive representative of that “China.” In the interpretation of the KMT’s ROC Government, “one China” of course means the ROC, not the PRC.

Yet, in Beijing’s current narrative, the “1992 Consensus” embodies its own “One China Principle,” which emphasizes the PRC as the only legitimate government that represents the whole of China, including Taiwan, without acknowledging that the Taiwan side may have a different interpretation. In the PRC’s view, the phrase “respective interpretations” in the OCRI formula should not exist. How’s that for a supposed “consensus”?

China-Taiwan Relations Re-examined: The '1992 Consensus' and Cross-strait Agreements

By Jerome A. Cohen

Given the recent dueling speeches of Xi Jinping and Tsai Ing-wen, readers might be interested in my forthcoming article co-authored with Yu-Jie Chen on the “1992 Consensus” and cross-strait agreements (Our assessment of the “1992 Consensus” can be found in Section I).

This article was completed in December 2018, but the New Year speeches of Xi and Tsai only vindicate our analysis about the divergent views of the “1992 Consensus.” Their speeches, together with the response from the Kuomintang (KMT) rejecting Xi’s proposal of “One Country, Two Systems,” make it ever clearer that there was no genuine “consensus” about sovereignty issues disputed by the PRC and ROC governments. Notably, Xi Jinping’s remarks, linking “One Country, Two System” with the “1992 Consensus,” depart from China’s previous implicit practice not to publicly challenge the KMT’s position of “One China, Respective Interpretations.”

Donald Trump's telephone call with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen

China plainly cannot be happy with this direct telephone contact between Taiwan’s President Tsai and President-elect Trump. Of course, Trump is not yet president, so the contact can be regarded as unofficial. Yet it suggests the possibility that the Trump administration may to some extent alter the long-standing policy of the U.S. Government of not maintaining official contact with the Taiwan government.

Photo credit: Reuters, ABC News

Photo credit: Reuters, ABC News

Pressures have been building during the Obama era to abandon the strict US policy of not permitting the president and vice president of Taiwan to do more than transit the U.S. Indeed, I have advocated allowing them free access to every place in America except Washington, D.C., especially since the current rule restricts my freedoms of speech, information and association unnecessarily and undesirably. A similar rule has prevented the highest American officials from visiting Taiwan, again an inappropriate restriction, especially when the security of Taiwan will soon become a major issue in Sino-American relations once again.

Of course, administrations often change course in light of events. In April 2001 I recall watching George W. Bush, as part of what appeared to be a pugnacious stance toward China, declare on TV at the outset of his administration that he would do ”whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan. Once 9/11 occurred, his administration moved much closer to the People’s Republic and began to avoid provocative statements.