TAIPEI (CNA) – Beijing will continue to pressure Taiwan after the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 19th Party Congress, a visiting expert on Chinese politics said in Taipei on Saturday, urging Taiwan to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” to maintain its “autonomy.”
John Burns, honorary professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, was invited by the Lung Ing-tai Cultural Foundation to give a speech titled “Xi Jinping and the Reinvention of the CPC” at the Taipei Salon, attracting a group of foreign dignitaries.
In answering questions from the audience, including Israeli representative Asher Yarden, on what message Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was sending to Taiwan in his report at the congress on Oct. 18, Burns said Xi emphasized “continuity” of policy towards Taiwan.
In other words, Beijing will continue to press the current government of Taiwan, which has rejected the “1992 consensus,” and isolate Taiwan, Burns said.
Although the report indicates that softer approaches involving student exchange and other elements are also possible, “I think that the pressure will be very strong,” he added. “This is something that those of us interested in the autonomy of Taiwan should pay close attention to,” he said.
Burns said he understands that some people in Taiwan argue against the existence of the “1992 consensus,” but the mainland’s view is that there is a consensus on “one China” even though “you can judge what that means.” The “1992 consensus” refers to the understanding between the CPC and Taiwan’s then Kuomintang (KMT) government that both sides accept there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
The KMT argues the consensus was forged after working-level talks in Hong Kong in 1992 in preparation for a historical cross-strait meeting in Singapore in 1993.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party respects the “historical facts” of the 1992 talks, but denies a consensus was ever reached after the talks broke down.
Given China’s view, Burns suggested the Tsai administration “publicly and officially” acknowledge the “1992 consensus” to break the cross-strait impasse.
Asked by CNA if he would still maintain that the “1992 consensus” is a necessary prerequisite for cross-strait talks if a majority in Taiwan does not support it, Burns said “so far I am not convinced” the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people are uninterested in the “1992 consensus.”
Burns said the 2016 presidential election was mainly about the failure of the KMT, rather than a rejection of the 1992 consensus by the public as some people have said. “I find it difficult to believe the people of Taiwan, when asked about this one issue, would say they don’t support it.” Acknowledging the efforts Tsai has put into coming up with an alternative to the “1992 consensus,” Burns said that Tsai’s efforts have so far borne no fruit.
The pressure from China will “continue to be very hard” in an effort to ensure that Tsai’s attempts to facilitate Taiwan’s economic engagement with countries covered by the New Southbound Policy fails and its economy falters, Burns said.
“The mainland is a moving target and so is Taiwan,” Burns said, noting that the question of whether to accept the “1992 consensus” is about seeking the best balance and about “what is the best strategy to maintain Taiwan’s autonomy.”
Asked by reporters for a comment, William Stanton, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan who is now a professor at National Taiwan University’s International College, offered a different view on the “1992 consensus.” Stanton said he was “disappointed” by Xi’s insistence on the “1992 consensus.”
“I personally don’t believe there ever was a consensus because it can’t be a consensus if one side says ‘one China,’ and the other side says ‘one China different interpretations.’ These were two different things.” The fact that former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) did not mention “different interpretations” of “one China” when he met with Xi in November 2015 is proof that there was no consensus, Stanton said.
“It’s unfortunate they continue to insist on a phrase that in my view has no meaning.” Some commentators were intrigued by Xi’s use of the phrase “historical facts” when referring to Taiwan in the report, when he said “Only by recognizing the historical facts of the ‘1992 Consensus,’ that both sides belong to one China, can the two sides across the Strait start to engage in dialogue.”
Many commentators have pointed out that Tsai used the same phrase, Stanton said. “I thought that might be possibly an opening, but without further discussion, it’s hard to tell. It’s not clear what he meant by that.” •
By Shih Hsiu-chuan