Ironically, passage of the Anti-Secession Law saw a lowering of cross-strait tensions. Indeed, the name of the law itself presupposes that there is already “one China” from which Taiwan must not secede. The emphasis is thus on not allowing Taiwan to move any further away from China.
Almost immediately after the law’s passage, China invited Lien Chan, chairman of the KMT, to visit the mainland. Lien had been leader of the opposition since the DPP’s Chen Shui-Bian, Taiwan’s first non-KMT President, had been re-elected in 2004. The KMT leader was received by Hu and the two men signed an agreement which, among other things, called for an end to the state of hostilities and for a peace accord. After ending the state of hostilities, it said, the two sides should build a framework for the peaceful and steady development of cross-strait ties, including the establishment of a mechanism for developing trust between the two parties’ militaries , to avoid any cross-strait military conflict.
Significantly, the word “reunification” doesn’t appear in the agreement signed in 2005. For the first time, China hadn’t linked a peace agreement with reunification, although in the document both Lien and Hu voice opposition to Taiwanese independence.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The return of the Kuomintang to power with Ma Ying-Jeou’s triumph in the 2008 presidential election dramatically improved the cross-strait atmosphere. In this new environment, Hu delivered a speech on December 31, 2008 to mark the 30th anniversary of the “Message.” In it, he insisted that even though the mainland and Taiwan hadn’t been united since 1949, there was still “only one China in the world” and the current situation was “merely a state of political antagonism that is a legacy – albeit a lingering one – of the Chinese civil war.” This seemed to suggest that once the political antagonism had ended, reunification would be achieved.
Hu emphasized not peaceful reunification but peaceful development. “Anything conducive to the peaceful development of cross-straits relations must be energetically promoted,” he said. “Anything detrimental must be staunchly opposed.”
Hu’s theme was reflected in the title of his address: “Let us join hands to promote the peaceful development of cross-straits relations and strive with a united resolve for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.” Compared with the title of Jiang Zemin’s 1995 talk, “Continue to Promote the Reunification of the Motherland,” the difference in emphasis is striking.
In Hu’s mind, it seems, a peace accord represents a step towards ultimate reunification, but a peace agreement and reunification are separate steps that could well be separated by a long period of time. As for how long that period could be, Mao Zedong said China could wait 100 years; Deng extended that to 1,000 years.
The inescapable reality, which Chinese leaders must face, is that the people of Taiwan want to keep the status quo for the indefinite future. Why shouldn’t that be acceptable? It is, after all, a form of “one country, two systems” whereby the people of the mainland and those in Taiwan live under separate systems.
Moreover, if both sides accept Ma’s proposition that Taiwan won’t seek independence (on condition that China doesn’t compel reunification), there need be no political antagonism between them. Just like the “1992 consensus,” a peace agreement can be interpreted differently by the two sides. Beijing can claim that there is de facto reunification while Taiwan can emphasize maintenance of the status quo.
Meanwhile, both sides can agree on peaceful development. What could be better?
*The article originally and incorrectly stated Hong Kong's handover as having taken place in 1999. We apologize for the error.