KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — In April 2000, Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Su Chi (蘇起) used a phrase that has haunted cross-strait relations between Taiwan and communist China ever since.
Su was chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council at that time and in the wake of the 2000 elections, Taiwan was about to transfer power as a result of a democratic decision made by its people for the first time.
Tensions with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were understandably high and before the KMT handed over power to the DPP for the first time, Su used a phrase that he hoped would ease those tensions. He talked for the first time about the "1992 consensus."
Fast-forward to 2006 and the president that Su was serving under at the time, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), was asked about the term at a Taiwan Solidarity Union seminar. He called it “a fiction” and said of Su, "Little monkey boy's trying to make up history."
Inevitably, reporters flocked to Su’s door to ask him about these comments. Astonishingly, Su admitted that he had made up the term as a replacement for the expression "each side with its own interpretation" in order to benefit cross-strait development.
"The wording 'each side with its own interpretation' of the 'one China' principle' had been used from 1992 to 2000. But China didn't like the 'each side with its own interpretation' part and the DPP government didn't like the part that said 'one China,'" Su explained to the reporters.
"On account of these differences and the fact they could have led to more cross-strait tension after the DPP took power, I suggested the new term as a common point that was acceptable to both sides so that Taiwan and China could keep up cross-strait exchanges.”
On such fateful decisions can history turn and so it has proved in this case. The decision of Su to make up an agreement between China and Taiwan around the understanding of the so-called "one China policy" is one of the single biggest stumbling blocks in cross-strait relations today.
That’s not directly Su’s fault of course. It is the fault of the CCP, which, despite repeatedly demanding that the status quo be maintained in cross-strait relations at all costs, has repeatedly moved the goalposts as and when it suits.
As we have seen once again this week, the CCP is demanding the Taiwan government accept the "1992 consensus." During President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) first term of office, this was a stipulation for communication between the two sides.
Today, the rhetoric has been stepped up a notch with China's Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) stating the Taiwan government must “accept the '1992 consensus' in order for peace to be maintained in the Taiwan Strait.”
In other words, the phrase that Su made up in 2000 is now, in the eyes of the CCP, the bedrock for peace between Taiwan and China.
'One China’ problem
The fact that the "1992 consensus" is a fictional term for an agreement that didn’t happen is a problem for Taiwan, and understandably so since it is inexorably linked to the concept of "one China." But it is not the only problem.
The CCP considers the "1992 consensus" to mean that both China and Taiwan belong to "one China" and both entities must be "reunited" under the "one country, two systems" framework that has failed the people of Hong Kong.
For the KMT, which is remarkably still wedded to the phrase "1992 consensus" — despite one of their own politicians admitting to making it up — the term means that China and Taiwan belong to "one China," but each side has different interpretations of what that means.
In other words, it is a way for the KMT to cling to the archaic notion that the Republic of China (Taiwan) will one day wrest control of China back from the CCP. These are two extremely different interpretations of the same phrase — which is understandable since it was made up in the first place.
So, what did happen in 1992 to trigger Su Chi’s idea for a "1992 consensus"?
Well, there was a meeting in November of that year in Hong Kong between the CCP-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).
Neither party was officially representing the governments of either China or Taiwan (they were semi-official at best). While conversations took place over the notion of "one China" and how it should be interpreted, several SEF delegates have subsequently confirmed that while there was an agreement to hold further meetings, there was no consensus reached between the two sides.
There is no documentary evidence to back up claims of a consensus and no record of the term "1992 consensus" being used by either side before April 2000, when Su uttered those fateful words.
It is ludicrous to expect cross-strait relations now to be built on such non-existent foundations. There is no way that President Tsai can accept such terms and the CCP knows it.
The "1992 consensus" is a fallacy being used by the CCP to justify cutting communication with a democratically elected government of which it disapproves. It is a tool to allow the CCP to change the cross-strait status quo and heighten tensions while trying to make it look like it is the Taiwan government that is stirring up trouble.
The 1992 meetings took place almost 30 years ago and even if they had reached this mythical consensus, it would still have almost no bearing whatsoever on the views of Taiwanese today.
A 2018 survey found that 34 percent of those questioned thought the "1992 consensus" meant the KMT definition, while just 5 percent accepted the CCP definition. But 33 percent of people thought it referred to a definition the polling company had made up.
This is quite fitting given the phrase itself is a work of fiction.
The reality of cross-strait relations today is the people of Taiwan have no interest in the concept of "one China" no matter how it is interpreted. They identify as Taiwanese and have no interest in being any other nationality.
The sooner this fact is recognized on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the sooner cross-strait relations have a chance of genuine and long-lasting improvement.