By David Kan Ting, Special to The China Post
Taiwan’s presidential election last Saturday was widely regarded by observers and analysts as a de facto referendum on the “1992 Consensus” — a contentious issue that is at the core of the current cross-strait rapprochement.
Although the controversial consensus was not on the ballot of Taiwan’s quadrennial vote which pitted incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) against rival Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), when the race entered the final week, all other campaign issues were eclipsed by the “1992 Consensus” as the only focus. “Without the ‘1992 Consensus,’ Taiwan will be doomed,” warned Chang Yung-fa, the global shipping tycoon who is the founder and chairman of the Evergreen Group, a transportation empire that owns the world’s second largest container fleet and Eva Airways. “I support ‘1992 Consensus’ because it helps ensure (cross-strait) peace and stability needed for business development,” declared Cher Wang, Taiwan’s wealthiest person by Forbes ranking and chairwoman of HTC, the global smartphone giant that competes with Apple and Samsung. Both claimed themselves to be “thoroughbred Taiwanese.” Why did they and a string of other industrial heavyweights come forward to take a stand and lend their support to that decisive issue championed by Ma Ying-jeou on the eve of a crucial election which Ma and Tsai were running neck and neck?
Here is a little background. The consensus was reached 20 years ago in Hong Kong by quasi-official delegates from Beijing and Taipei who took pains to agree on an idea of “one China” without agreeing on the definition of that sensitive term. It was a compromise meant to shelve controversy in order to jump start cross-strait dialogue which broke off after Taiwan and the mainland separated in 1949. With that tacit agreement (or understanding, or spirit, or fig leaf) which was later referred to conveniently as the “1992 Consensus,” a historic dialogue took place in 1993 in Singapore. The landmark consensus has since become the sine qua non for cross-strait dealings and agreements. When Ma Ying-jeou won the 2008 election from the DPP on a promise to improve cross-strait relations based on the “1992 Consensus,” which the DPP has refused to recognize, he presided over a period of blossoming and warming ties across the Strait. Trade and investment boomed with the signing of a de facto free trade pact, tourism flourished, thanks to direct flights and shipping. A million or so Taiwanese businessmen work and live on the mainland, now the world’s second largest economy and Taiwan’s biggest trading partner.