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Home Editorials of Interest Jerome F. Keating's writings Biden debunks the ‘1992 consensus’

Biden debunks the ‘1992 consensus’

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine compounding the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, most world leaders are not in an optimistic mood, as they face days of turmoil and economic stress.

Amid these challenges, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), in his annual report to the Chinese National People’s Congress on March 5, said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aims for “stability” in its relations with Taiwan and the world. Surprisingly perhaps, Li mentioned “stability” 81 times.

Li’s focus raised a few eyebrows, as China is typically a nation bent on growth. Granted, most countries seek stable economies — and few would choose “instability” — but why emphasize stability in this way?

The party’s 20th National Congress in November is surely on Li’s mind — turmoil would be the last thing the CCP would want at that time — but was there something more to his remarks?

While pundits pondered that question, a new ticking time bomb landed on the world scene. It was so sudden and subtle that many were unaware of its implications.

What is this new ticking time bomb?

Since the end of World War II, the official US position on Taiwan has been “undetermined,” an enigmatic word. Some use “strategic ambiguity” to explain the undetermined position maintained by the US over more than 75 years.

However, times have changed — and so has the US’ vocabulary. US President Joe Biden on Friday last week added new words when signing an appropriations bill into law, as it stipulated that “none of the funds made available by this act should be used to create, procure or display any map that inaccurately depicts the territory and social and economic system of Taiwan and the islands or island groups administered by Taiwan authorities.”

The words “inaccurately depicts” caught the attention of a few alert China watchers, causing them to wonder: “What meaning might be buried in ‘inaccurately’?” Questions immediately followed, such as “What had been inaccurate in the past?” and “Is the US clarifying its position on Taiwan?”

In the past, the US used ambiguity to avoid confrontation. For example, Washington often dodged Taiwan-China issues by stating that its position was covered by its “one China” policy — a policy that seems similar to Beijing’s “one China” principle, but is completely different.

What then does “inaccurately depict” portend for Taiwan? Does it not clearly state that Taiwan is not a part of China? Is the Biden administration finally drawing a clear line in the sand for the US regarding Taiwan?

The impact of “inaccurately depict” has rippled out to another phrase: the “1992 consensus.”

The “1992 consensus” — a term that former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) in 2006 admitted making up in 2000 — refers to a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.

The “1992 consensus” is a phrase that the KMT still clings to when trying to explain Taiwan-China issues, which makes this a good time to bring the sham to an end.

Uncovering this hoax involves two steps: The first is to ask why Su invented the phrase and the second is to ask how the KMT interprets “one China,” as the party continues to hide behind the phrase’s ambiguity.

Regarding step 1, although Su has been silent on the topic of why he invented the phrase, there seem to be two reasons:

First, the acceptance of democracy in Taiwan meant accepting all of the democratic choices decided by the people. In 2000, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the presidency for the first time, as James Soong (宋楚瑜), now People First Party chairman, and Lien Chan (連戰), a former vice president and former KMT chairman, split the KMT party vote. The KMT saw that in a democracy, they might lose many elections.

Second, as the DPP was known for its pro-independence stance — Taiwan’s reality since the end of World War II — in an independent, democratic Taiwan, the KMT would have to admit that it was part of a diaspora that went there after losing the Chinese Civil War.

Both points immediately present the KMT with issues. The party would need to justify why it imposed martial law and the White Terror era on Taiwanese for more than 40 years. A much easier explanation is to say that everything was done in the name of “one China.” This would absolve the KMT of the many deaths and stolen state assets.

Regarding step 2, while the CCP agrees that there is “one China,” it never seemed to allow that both sides of the Taiwan Strait could have their own interpretation of what “China” means. Beijing liked the fake consensus because it went along with its hegemonic claim that Taiwan is a part of one China.

The CCP knew that the KMT would prefer to be second-class quislings in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) than to face the consequences of living in an independent Taiwan.

Although more than two decades have passed since Su invented the “1992 consensus,” the KMT still clings to it. It is time for Taiwanese to press the KMT: “What exactly is your interpretation of ‘one China’?”

Here are some questions that can be used in confronting the KMT on this issue: Under the KMT’s interpretation of “one China,” is Mongolia a part of it? Are Tibet and Xinjiang a part of “one China”? Does the party’s interpretation consider Taiwan as simply a province of China?

Other questions naturally follow: Under the KMT’s interpretation, who is the legitimate ruler of “one China”? Is President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) the ruler of “one China”?

How does the KMT square its interpretation with the reality that the US transferred its embassy from Taipei to Beijing in 1979? The US was backing the PRC as the representative of China. Does the KMT contest that and challenge the US’ shift in diplomatic recognition?

On Oct. 25, 1971, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758, which said to “expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.”

The General Assembly did not throw all Taiwanese out of the UN. Do KMT members still see themselves as followers of Chiang or do they consider themselves Taiwanese? Do they see a difference between the two?

With the nine-in-one election taking place in November, Taiwanese would do well to finally question the KMT as to why it hides behind the bogus “1992 consensus,” and what its interpretation of “one China” is.

By signing that appropriations bill, Biden was stating that Taiwan is not part of China and that maps should never have “inaccurately” said so. Does the KMT agree with this? Or does the KMT’s interpretation side more with the CCP’s? Why do KMT members still cling to a sham?

The fake consensus can no longer be used to hide how Taiwanese need a new constitution, flag and official name that celebrate the real Taiwan.

Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2022/03/18

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