United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 3, 2016
Executive Summary: Zhou Zhihuai is the Director of the Taiwan Institute of Social Sciences of the Mainland based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Zhou publicly declared that "What I want to stress, is that substitutes can be found for the 1992 Consensus. We do not oppose the creation of creative alternatives to the 1992 Consensus. We can form new commonly agreed upon expressions as the political basis for the development of cross-Strait relations."
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Zhou Zhihuai is the Director of the Taiwan Institute of Social Sciences of the Mainland based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Zhou publicly declared that "What I want to stress, is that substitutes can be found for the 1992 Consensus. We do not oppose the creation of creative alternatives to the 1992 Consensus. We can form new commonly agreed upon expressions as the political basis for the development of cross-Strait relations."
Zhou said "The Mainland's willingness to establish a new consensus on cross-Strait policy is every bit as strong as its determination to safeguard the consensus reached in 1992."
This is the first time that the Mainland has made clear that the 1992 Consensus can be replaced, and that it has no objection to the creation of an "alternative consensus", a "new shared interpretation", or "new cross-Strait consensus". Zhou Zhaihuai is considered the Mainland's chief Taiwan policy expert. His declaration is undoubtedly a policy statement, and should be treated seriously. Consider the following points.
One. What did Zhou mean when he said substitutes for the wording of the 1992 Consensus are acceptable? He meant that substitutes for the two words “1992 Consensus” are acceptable. Zhou reiterated that "the affirmation that the Mainland and Taiwan both belong to one country" is a key element that cannot be replaced. He said the new cross-Strait consensus must reaffirm the One China Principle, oppose Taiwan independence, and oppose de-Sinicization. This being the case, why not continue using the term “1992 Consensus”? After all, any new consensus would have to make these conditions regarding the core meaning of the 1992 Consensus even more explicit.
Two. Zhou's declaration included “One China Principle”, "two sides, one nation", "The Mainland and Taiwan are both part of one country", and "(Taiwan) may as well learn to get along with the Mainland under a One China framework”. But he did not explicitly define "one country". He left room for compromise.
The Ma government championed the 1992 Consensus, and refrained from contradicting Beijing. It qualified its position by stipulating that it championed "one China, different interpretations". Does the Tsai government intend to repudiate the "one China / one country" concept? If not, then what is its alternative? The Tsai government need not use the term "one China, different interpretations". But what alternative does it have? If it forfeits the 1992 Consensus, what will happen to “one China, different interpretations”?
3. Zhou said the Mainland's bottom line in its Taiwan policy is opposition to Taiwan independence. His new cross-Strait terminology merely stipulates that "the Mainland and Taiwan are both part of one country". But will the Mainland follow up by adding the clause "opposition to Taiwan independence"?
Ma Ying-jeou advocated "no reunification, no independence, no use of force". This is an affirmation plus a repudiation. Only by saying "no independence", was it able to say "no reunification". If Tsai accepts the idea that "the Mainland and Taiwan are both part of one country", she must address the problem of “one China, different interpretations”. The contradictions in Taiwan independence will then resurface.
Four. Zhou advocates the establishment of a "new cross-Strait framework” or “cross-Strait consensus". He recommends that think tanks from both sides of the Strait "strive to reach a tacit understanding". He said "This understanding need not be a written agreement, or even a verbal agreement. But it is essential". He said “Cross-Strait exchanges and controllable contacts can be conducted only under specified conditions”.
Outsiders may not immediately understand the gap between “a consensus that does not require even a verbal agreement”, and "a new understanding of cross-Strait talks and a new cross-Strait consensus". Do "contacts through buffers” and “controllable contacts" mean that the two sides should arrange for secret exchanges outside the two cross-Strait agencies? If so, how can the Tsai government gain the trust of the general public, or allay suspicions within the Green Camp?
Five. Zhou Zhihuai said "The KMT occupies a special place in the history of cross-Strait peace, and cannot be replaced". The Mainland considers the KMT just as irreplaceable as “both sides of the Strait are part of one country". This and other remarks by Zhou Zhihuai were probably meant for the ears of the Tsai government, which is intent on exterminating the KMT. If the KMT is weakened too much, the cross-Strait framework created by the KMT-CCP civil war will also evaporate. Beijing may consider the DPP vendetta against the KMT an attempt to sever a historical connection between the two sides. Therefore as the DPP attempts to exterminate the KMT, it should not ignore the possible consequences.
Zhou has released a political trial balloon, a deliberate attempt to resolve the cross-Strait impasse. Meanwhile, the premise that "both sides of the Strait are part of one China" remains irreplaceable, and is a way to force the Tsai government to negotiate, or else.
If the Tsai government refuses to respond, if no response is forthcoming, how can it answer to the public? If it decides to respond, what will its bottom line be? Now that the gauntlet has been thrown down, the government can no longer afford to ignore it.