The Debate

A One-Sided Consensus Slowly Falls to Pieces Across the Taiwan Strait

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The Debate

A One-Sided Consensus Slowly Falls to Pieces Across the Taiwan Strait

Taiwan may be ready for a new era in cross-strait ties, despite the economic difficulties that may bring.

A One-Sided Consensus Slowly Falls to Pieces Across the Taiwan Strait
Credit: Antique world map, Taiwan via

In what seemed like a huffy decision made across the Taiwan Strait, China announced last week that communication between it and Taiwan has been suspended since Tsai Ing-wen stepped into office as president, on May 20. Taiwanese Premier Lin Chuan spoke shortly after the Chinese announcement, saying that not all ties were severed and that Taiwan has been “trying to reach Chinese authorities.”

While it is impossible that China would stay in its tantrum-induced cocoon forever and continue to ignore Taiwan, Taiwanese authorities seem slightly flustered by China’s declaration. But before anyone could secure another official remark from China, matters went from complicated to grim when a Taiwanese soldier “accidentally” fired a supersonic missile meant to defend the island against China. In the course of these events, China still does not tire of bringing up the “1992 consensus,” despite the consensus not being as widely recognized by many in Taiwan as it once may have been and its validity crumbling, even among authorities.

The so-called “1992 consensus” refers to an understanding Taiwan and China achieved during a meeting in Hong Kong the same year, that there is only one China and both sides are free to interpret the meaning. Namely, each side considers itself to be the true government of a single China, but Beijing is today worried that Tsai is about the break the post-1992 status quo.

According to An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the mechanism for contact and communication between China and Taiwan has been suspended since Tsai’s inauguration. This being the first time Chinese authorities spoke publicly about the communication channels set up across the Strait, An noted that the main reason for China’s decision is how the Tsai administration refuses to openly recognize the so-called “1992 consensus,” which he said is the political foundation for cross-strait relations and embodies the “one China” policy.

Looking back at her inauguration speech that Beijing reacted negatively to, Tsai hadn’t openly blown the “1992 consensus” out of the water; she simply stated the talks of the same year were an “historical fact” that no one could deny happened. China obviously did not consider this enough, promptly deciding to cut all communication with Taiwan as Tsai had refused to endorse what China deemed the only way to maintain the peace between the two sides.

The situation wasn’t seeing much immediate improvement, and was possibly made worse by a rookie military mistake that nearly blew the strained status quo into smithereens. On Friday, a petty officer fired a supersonic missile into the Taiwan Strait, coincidentally during China’s celebration of the Communist Party’s 95th birthday (the two incidents were supposedly not related). The missile hit a Taiwanese fishing boat just off the southern shore of Kaohsiung, instantly killing the vessel’s captain.

China’s reaction was speedy; it demanded to know Taiwan’s reason for firing the missile. Although Taiwan’s Navy Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu explained that the missile was fired during an unsupervised moment during a drill inspection, and that there was no political motive behind the accident, TAO Director Zhang Zhijun once again brought up the “1992 consensus.” “While China has continued to stress that the two sides must maintain peaceful development of relations under the political basis of the 1992 consensus, this is a very serious incident,” said Zhang.

For one panicky moment, many in Taiwan thought the country was going to war with China. And then the tension seemed to subside, as the government announced an investigation into the missile’s firing and the fisherman’s death; China seemed to be momentarily pacified.

While analysts hinted that the cross-strait status quo wouldn’t last long if Taiwan did not want to be economically and politically stunted in the long run, and that Taiwan would soon have to give in to China’s threats, the island itself has not seem perturbed about the mainland and the thousands of missiles that China continues to point toward Taiwan. Tsai’s election and her subtle defiance of the “1992 consensus” have lent the Taiwanese people a sort of bravery that took form in recent polls conducted by Tsai’s leading party. A good number of people indicated that they were willing to “take the bullet” should China decide to cut Taiwan off economically, proving that the Asian giant’s restraint over the small island is ebbing.