12.10.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the “1992 Consensus” in PRC-Taiwan Relations


The NEO’s increasingly frequent reference to one of the key and perhaps most dangerous issues in contemporary global politics, the situation surrounding Taiwan, is accompanied by a sense of considerable discomfort. How to designate the parties directly involved, which the Taiwan Strait separates? With one of them, everything is more or less clear – it is the People’s Republic of China, which since October 1971 is represented in the UN and is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of this major international organization.

However, with whom is the PRC having a relationship issue? Before the above date, the “Republic of China” had seats in the UN and the UN Security Council went to the PRC. In 1992, i.e., during the absolute rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan since 1945, a protocol was signed (it must be pointed out) between the formally non-state entities of both parties recognizing only “one China.” This provision is referred to as the 1992 Consensus.

The title is hardly a good one, as the parties have remained at odds over the vital question: what is meant by “one China”? That is why for quite a long time, Beijing did not pay much attention to this protocol, especially since the Democratic Progressive Party ruled the island from 2000-2008, which turned a blind eye to the 1992 Consensus. Since its founding in the late 1980s, it was determined that Taiwan would attain full-fledged statehood, fully autonomous from the PRC.

The 1992 Consensus’s importance increased dramatically in 2008 when the Kuomintang returned to power on the island after a long hiatus and party leader Ma Ying-jeou became the President of Taiwan. In the conditions of the global crisis, the factor of sharp development of the economic sphere of relations with China (“mainland”) became extremely important. Moreover, the (hypothetical) support of the Kuomintang for Taiwan’s statehood would directly contradict the founding principles of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of China’s oldest party.

Guided by these circumstances, Ma Ying-jeou, occupying the presidential post, reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the 1992 Consensus, which was met with quite a favorable reaction from Beijing, and again no clarification on the interpretation of the key concept of “one China” from Taipei.

By the way, it should be noted that it is not only the author of this article who feels uncomfortable with the Taiwan problem, but, apparently, the Chinese leadership as well. Indeed, how do you designate someone you wanted to congratulate on the positive fact for Beijing of the re-election in 2012. Ma Ying-jeou to the highest office in Taiwan? While all the Taiwanese are considering him “President.”

But Taiwan has no statehood in the eyes of Beijing. Consequently, there is no “President” over there either, but rather a relatively agreeable leader of a province in China that once strayed from its path to the homeland. The said province should be assisted in this challenging task. If necessary, by “non-peaceful” means, for which the PRC adopted a special law in 2005.

However, this law seems to have been forgotten during Ma Ying-jeou’s time in power on the island, despite the fact that he has been dragging his feet on essential clarifications of the 1992 Consensus and the resolution of the Taiwan problem in general. While taking full advantage of the rapidly developing ties with the second world economy, Beijing’s transparent hints that “it’s time to get down to business” were followed by a reaction in the style of “there’s no need to rush.” “Widen and deepen” the economic ties, and then…

But that could still somehow be tolerated. To repeat, the Kuomintang does not (at least publicly) claim full-fledged statehood for Taiwan. These are not “separatists” from the Democratic Progressive Party. After all, since 2016 (based on the results of the general elections held at the time, confirmed in 2020), continues to rule in Taiwan.

DPP leader and the incumbent President of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen, published her view of the situation around Taiwan in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. This, rather a misunderstanding, is reflected in the title of her article, “Taiwan and the Fight for Democracy. A Force for Good in the Changing International Order.”

Several positions can be highlighted in the article, the key one being unacceptable for Beijing. It is about the Taiwanese President’s expressed openness to dialogue with Beijing “in a spirit of equality and without political preconditions.” There is, of course, no mention of the 1992 Consensus. Since the reaction (or rather the lack thereof) of Beijing to such a call for “dialogue” is evidently beyond doubt to the author, it goes on to express Taiwan’s readiness “to defend itself, its way of life and democracy.”

Designating the Chinese Communist Party as the source of global “threats,” Tsai Ing-wen looks to other countries for support. At the same time, a statement is made (similar to blackmail) about the “catastrophic consequences of Taiwan’s fall” for the situation in the entire region. Unwittingly there arises an association with the Eastern European “defenders of the free world,” who also try to bargain the specter of a “threat,” but a Russian one.

However, it should be noted that the situation in the Taiwan Strait has recently become tense. This involves both the PRC’s main geopolitical opponents and the China’s People’s Liberation Army. As always in such cases, the question of “who started it and who answered it” looks meaningless. Let us mention only the fact that the British squadron led by aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth passaged defiantly through the Taiwan Strait, heading for home after conducting joint exercises in Okinawa with the US and Japanese Navy. Although on the way to Japan, the same squadron passed the final stretch east of the island of Taiwan, that is, by a less defiant route.

Taiwan itself has recently focused on various aspects of defense. All sorts of the latest weapons are purchased (primarily in the US), drills are conducted using reservists, F-16 fighter jets are trained to take off and land on the highways.

However, there can hardly be any doubt about the outcome of the PLA’s operation to implement the same 2005 law. Despite all the accompanying costs, the significance and relevance of which has never before been recognized in Beijing. Therefore, everything possible seems to be done to avoid the prospect of using the “last argument of kings.”

It appears that particular hopes are pinned on the prospect of positive for the Kuomintang in the next general elections to be held in early 2024. In this regard, the congratulations of the newly elected new party leader Eric Chu by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping are remarkable. Incidentally, Eric Chu’s first public action after his election was to reaffirm the validity of the 1992 Consensus.

But, of course, the transformation of PRC’s relations not with Taiwan but with the latter’s “big brother,” which is Washington, will have a decisive influence on the situation in the Taiwan Strait. A test of the current state of US-Chinese relations will be a still possible meeting of the leaders of the two world’s leading powers, for example, on the margins of the next G-20 summit.

Its agenda was apparently at the center of the talks held in Zurich on October 6 by National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan and the equally responsible PRC representative Yang Jiechi. The White House briefing on the topics of the past talks mentions the Taiwan issue. We should also note the restrainedly positive tone of the Chinese Global Times’ commentary that appeared on the eve of Jake Sullivan’s meeting with Yang Jiechi.

In other words, a combination of intra-Taiwanese and US-Chinese factors may finally make it possible to solve the Taiwan problem, which they call “nice and slow.” Unavoidable in the case of the mentioned “non-peaceful” methods.

And the 1992 Consensus may come in handy.

And then on the global agenda will be the question of what to do about the limitrophe blisters on Europe’s body, which are increasingly poisoning its system.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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