The 1992 Consensus is a tacit understanding made by semi-official representatives from both China and Taiwan (Strait Exchange Foundation and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait) during a meeting at Hong Kong in October, 1992.
Compared to the former KMT majority party, Taiwan’s new government has different thoughts on the Consensus.
“I respect this historical fact,” noted President Tsai Ing-wen during her inauguration speech last year in regards to the 1992 Consensus. China responded to the speech saying it was an incomplete test paper, and they pressured her government for a straightforward answer.
Both governments agree that there is only “one China” while the two sides interpret the term differently; the KMT (Kuomintang) equates China to the Republic of China. Although no diplomatic procedures were taken, the agreement became the formula for future communications between Taiwan and China.
The consensus gave Taiwan the opportunity to negotiate with China and be involved in international issues. The KMT has been continuously emphasizing the importance of the consensus throughout the transition between former president Ma Ying-jeou and current President Tsai.
Recognizing the agreement, the Ma administration was able to sign trade agreements with Beijing. It also lead to an historic meeting between the two leaders, Ma Ying Jeou and Xi Jinping, which took place in Singapore on November 7, 2015.
Agreeing on the consensus may seem merciful of Beijing, however, being such an influential country, China has the power to change its policy and Taiwan would have to accept the change or be isolated by other nations.
Since Tsai took power we’ve lost two diplomatic allies, didn’t receive an invitation to the World Health Assembly (which we had since 2009), and even ended communications with China. This is the exact opposite of “working hard to maintain the existing mechanism.”
Instead of communicating with Beijing, our new president chose to strengthen the relationships with the U.S. and Japan, hoping to receive more support from the two countries. However, this action put the fate of Taiwan in the hands of the U.S. and Japan.
As diplomatic partners with China, it’s uncertain whether Japan and the U.S. would turn their backs on Taiwan when China starts pressuring the two governments. Moreover, U.S. officials have always advocated that Taiwan’s cross-strait policies should remain the same; the U.S would not provide help if Taiwan declared independence and provoke China.
The U.S and its West Pacific allies have tried preventing China from growing stronger, however, the Philippines growing closer to China indicates America is losing its position of leadership. It’s only a matter of years until China becomes as important as the U.S; refusing to talk directly to Beijing will only bring Taiwan more trouble.
The new government has yet to make any progress on diplomacy issues, so we shouldn’t expect major changes in cross-strait relations unless Taiwan declares a specific stance on the consensus.
Taiwanese people are showing signs of frustration toward the passive attitude of those in power. Protesters even risked being put into jail holding their banners high calling for Taiwan’s independence at the 2017 Summer Universiade closing ceremony.
Agreeing on the consensus could bring a major change to Taiwan’s international status, thus the decision should not be taken lightly.
However, the Tsai administration needs to act fast. Either agree on the consensus and deal with the aftermath of the early “incomplete test paper scandal,” or refuse to respond, which is quite similar to declaring independence, and prove that Taiwan is capable of standing on its own despite China’s pressure.