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  • Writer's pictureWei Azim Hung

Taiwan’s Domestic Non-Consensus of the 1992 Taiwan-China Political Agreement

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

The 1992 consensus is a political terminology that emerged from a string of events between the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), representing the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), representing the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. The meeting took place in November 1992, British Hong Kong then considered neutral territory by both ROC and PRC. However, the term was coined only eight years after the meeting by former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi.

A politically charged term with no exact 'consensus' within and between Taiwan and China, this brief explores the question of what does the 'consensus' mean to the people of Taiwan, and the major views, and attitudes.


A Brief History of the ‘1992’ Consensus

Prior to the meeting on August 1st, 1992, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) published a statement regarding “One China”, later adopted by the now defunct National Unification Council. The statement stated:

"Both sides of the Taiwan Strait agree that there is only one China. However, the two sides of the Strait have different opinions as to the meaning of 'one China.' To Peking, 'one China' means the 'People’s Republic of China (PRC),' with Taiwan to become a 'Special Administration Region' after unification. Taipei, on the other hand, considers 'one China' to mean the Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1911 and with de jure sovereignty over all of China. The ROC, however, currently has jurisdiction only over Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. Taiwan is part of China, and the Chinese mainland is part of China as well."

Thereafter the meeting, the SRF issued the statement:

"On November 3 [1992], a responsible person of the Communist Chinese ARATS said that it is willing to 'respect and accept' SEF’s proposal that each side ‘orally states’ its respective principles on ‘one China’".

The ARATS issued a response:

"At this working-level consultation in Hong Kong, SEF representatives suggested that each side use respective verbal announcements to state the one China principle. On November 3, SEF sent a letter, formally notifying that "each side will make respective statements through verbal announcements." ARATS fully respects and accepts SEF's suggestion."

Several high-profile meetings representing the interests of Taipei and Beijing were conducted post-1992. For example, Taipei’s Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) met with Beijing’s Wang Daohan (汪道涵) resulting in the first Wang-Koo summit in Singapore on April 27th, 1993. Subsequently, despite delays due to rising tensions in the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, Wang and Koo met for a second time in October 1998. Both parties agreed to meet in Taiwan in 1999. However, the meeting was unilaterally called off by Beijing after Lee Teng-hui proposed his Two-states theory.

Public Understanding of the 1992 Consensus

The 1992 Consensus is an elusive concept. In the past, even when citizens may favor the notion conceptually, they may disagree with its underlying implications or 'substance'. That is the meaning and representation of what is not being said. Therefore, political awareness in grasping the public's perception of the term and its content is crucial. Without a solid understanding, this may trigger a disconnection between public policy and public opinion, negatively impacting cross-Strait relations.

Unwrapping the 1992 Consensus: both sides have different interpretations as to what precisely is the 'consensus'. When invoked by the Chinese Communist Party, it typically refers to the 'reality' that Mainland and Taiwan belong to "one China," and both aim for ultimate unification under the PRC's "one country, two systems" framework. Whereas the Kuomintang, proposed that while Mainland and Taiwan belong to one China, the existence of 'one China' is open for interpretation (ROC or PRC). Given the subtle nuances and disagreements, the average person has difficulty fully comprehending the term.

In a survey sponsored by Global Taiwan Institute, one-third of the Taiwanese respondents believed that the 1992 Consensus implies that Taiwan and China are two separate countries. Moreover, only another third of the respondents had an understanding that corresponds to Taiwanese government’s stance (until 2016). About 5% of the respondents chose the PRC’s definition of the Consensus, consistent with the small number of unification forces in Taiwan.

75% of the respondents favored conceptualizing Taiwan and China as two separate countries. However, this understanding is unacceptable to the PRC. Therefore, pressuring any (Taiwanese) government to accept the 1992 Consensus in its current form will be undesirable, as it fails to reflect public perception of cross-Strait relations.

Major Political Positions

With Cross-Strait Relations at an all-time low, many view the 1992 Consensus with skepticism. Such an outcome is unsurprising due to minimal communication on both sides. But it is also partly due to the nature and ambiguity of the Consensus, which rests on the premise of 'one China' interpreted differently. The strengths of the 1992 Consensus reside in its ability to sidestep the political sensitivities constraining both sides. However, it does not resolve political differences.

KMT

Today, some of the stronger proponents of the 1992 Consensus include 'deep-blue' KMT members and the PRC. The historical position adopted by the KMT is exemplified by Chiang Pin-kung, who represented Taiwan during the 1993 APEC meeting and stated that Taiwan would adhere to the one-China principle in the long run while pursuing a “two Chinas” policy. Former President Lee Teng-hui, the leader of KMT at the time, also seemed to uphold this concept as he proposed the special state-to-state theory. Since Ma Ing-jeou's ascension to the presidency, he firmly adheres to the 1992 Consensus, but he does state that Taiwan’s sovereignty issue and political status are matters to be decided by the Taiwanese people. In his presidential speech, he said, "in 1992 the two sides of the strait reached a consensus which saw "one China with different interpretations" and the ROC would resume talks with the PRC as soon as possible based on the 1992 Consensus". For Ma, relations are neither between the two Chinas nor the two states. It is a “special relationship”. The 1992 Consensus was stressed by both Ma and Xi during the 2015 Ma-Xi meeting. Similarly, Wu Po-hsiung met Hu Jintao in Beijing, and expressed that both sides across the strait shall lay aside disputes, and work for a win-win situation based on the 1992 Consensus.

Earlier this year, KMT chairman Eric Chu visited the US to sell his idea of US-China-Taiwan relations. Chu argued that the “1992 consensus” is to the KMT what the “one China” policy is to the US, in that they are both a “non-consensus consensus,” serving as a device to allow for creative ambiguity. According to Chu, it's about putting aside conflicts of interpretation and moving forward (e.g., on trade, finance, and education). It is a practical position aimed at solving problems, he noted. Likewise, KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia (夏立言) said at a cross-strait forum that his party will continue to promote exchanges between Taiwan and China on the foundation of the so-called "1992 consensus."

Beijing

On the other hand, a forum in Hong Kong recently marked the 30th anniversary of the 1992 Consensus, stressing the one-China principle and opposed "Taiwan independence." Historically, Chinese leaders such as Hu Jintao said PRC’s position is that the “Chinese Mainland and Taiwan should restore consultation and talks on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, which sees both sides recognize there is only one China, but agree to differ on its definition". In 2015, Xi claimed that without this “magic compass that calms the sea, the ship of peaceful development will meet with great waves and even suffer total loss”. Subsequently in 2019, Xi Jinping marked the 40th Anniversary message to Taiwan compatriots with a long speech calling for the adherence to the 1992 Consensus. In 2021:, Taiwan Affairs Office stated that the meaning of the 1992 consensus is "both sides of the strait belong to one China, and work together to strive for national unification".

Despite also clinging to the 1992 Consensus, Beijing refused to sign on to the SEF’s proposal of “One China, different interpretations.” Beijing has always been viewing the “one China” principle in its strictest term. Beijing refuses to acknowledge Taiwan’s independence or ambiguous arrangements such as “one China, one Taiwan” and “two Chinas.”

In response to the SEF’s suggestion, the ARATS “agreed to the SEF’s suggestion of stating the ‘one China’ principle,’ but both sides have to pursue reunification without talking about the political meaning of one China when negotiating over policy affairs of mutual interests.” Simply put, Beijing’s view of “one China” is the following: “there is only one China in this world, Taiwan is part of China and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the sole legitimate representative of China.” Its later modification of words into “there is only one China in this world, Taiwan and mainland both belong to China and any attempts of sovereignty or territorial secession is prohibited” does not change the underlying premise: to Beijing, “one China” is literally one China. There is no room for any liberal interpretation.

In a recent announcement, Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said that the 1992 Consensus should not be distorted nor discarded.

DPP

Chen Shui-bian initially expressed some willingness to accept the 1992 Consensus but withdrew after facing backlash from his party. On Double 10 (2004), Chen expressed his willingness to initiate dialogue on "the basis of the 1992 meeting in Hong Kong." PRC did not respond to his request.

Overall, the DPP government denies the existence of the so-called “92 Consensus,” arguing that there is no written agreement and common understanding of what constitutes the “92 Consensus.” Instead, DPP advocates “92 spirits,” one that shows the DPP’s willingness to put disputes aside and solve policy issues of mutual concerns through cross-Strait talks. President Chen proposed the resumption of cross-Strait talks based on what was achieved during the 1992 Hong Kong meeting (the one during which the “92 Consensus” was supposedly formed), but the DPP insists that the “one China” principle should not be seen as a conclusion. DPP has always been advocating the “one China, one Taiwan” principle, so “one China” is seen by DPP as one of the several options for Taiwanese people. The “92 Consensus,” to DPP, is a trap set by Beijing. Accepting this arrangement would indicate Taiwan’s acceptance of the “one China” principle—an agreement to become a part of the PRC.

In Tsai's inaugural speech, she carefully worded her position, acknowledging the first meeting between SEF and ARATS in 1992 as a “historical fact.” She added that “it is based on such existing realities and political foundations that the stable and peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship must be continuously promoted.” In 2019, in response to Xi’s 2019 speech: "the Beijing authorities' definition of the '1992 Consensus' is 'one China' and 'one country, two systems", and that "we have never accepted the '1992 Consensus.’” Tsai called for the PRC to conduct negotiations with the Taiwanese government to resolve the political status of Taiwan (as opposed to the KMT). Incumbent Vice President and potential presidential contender William Lai asserted that China has ignored Taiwan's goodwill gestures over the past six years.

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