China Power

The Twisted Logic of Taiwan

Will the 1992 Consensus between Beijing and Taipei be undermined by changing views of identity?

An interesting report over the weekend underscores one of the big problems facing those hoping for a long-term peaceful resolution of the Taiwan situation.

Essentially, the peace is currently kept because neither side really wants, for now at least, to tackle the core issue of who will eventually govern Taiwan. It’s a kind of limbo that pushes the uncomfortable question of clarifying rule off sometime into the future.

The twisted logic whereby Taiwan acts independently but isn’t independent is no more in evidence than it is in the so-called 1992 Consensus. This understanding, a product of a meeting that year between representatives of mainland China and the Republic of China, says essentially that although both sides recognise there’s only one China, both sides can verbally interpret in their own way what exactly one China means.

Back then, a survey by Global Views Monthly in Taiwan showed less than 20 percent of respondents considered themselves Taiwanese rather than Chinese. So, 20 years ago, the 1992 Consensus must have looked reasonably appealing. The problem now—at least if the latest Global Views poll is to be believed—is that more than half of respondents now consider themselves Taiwanese.

It’s perhaps with an awareness of such numbers that Beijing has been leaning hard on potential presidential candidates of the main opposition party in Taiwan, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, to accept the 1992 Consensus. This pressure was underscored by statements from China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin, who has suggested that the mainland’s economic policy is predicated on the political agreement implied in the Consensus.

Chen is quoted as saying this month: ‘Without opposition to Taiwan’s independence and recognition of the ’92 consensus, all bilateral economic measures and policies might be reconsidered.’

This appears to be a not particularly veiled threat that the economic sweeteners China has plied President Ma Ying-jeou with, including the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in June (which by one estimate could boost Taiwan’s GDP by as much as 5.3 percent by 2020), could be pulled from under Taipei’s feet.