While he was chairman of the opposition Kuomintang, Ma Ying-jeou, the president-elect, declared that he would sign a peace accord between Taiwan and Mainland China.In the run-up to the March 22 presidential election, Chinese Communist Party general-secretary Hu Jintao and his premier Wen Jiabao also said Mainland China is prepared to sign that accord.Hu, incidentally, doubles as president of the People’s Republic of China.
The president-elect has yet to reaffirm his promise to sign that accord, but laid down a sine qua non for resumption of dialogue: Mainland China has to remove all the cruise missiles deployed along its southwestern coast, all targeting Taiwan.That is a counteroffer to Beijing’s precondition: the consensus of 1992, an unsigned agreement like a low-level quasi-diplomatic aide memoire, under which the two sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is but one Mainland China, whose connotation or definition can be individually and orally expressed.
It is not at all difficult for Mainland China to accept Ma’s prerequisite.All missiles are mobile.They may be moved back to Mainland China’s vast hinterland at once but can be ordered back in place along the seacoast in no time, if Beijing so desires.The consensus of 1992 is a different story.
Su Chi, a former chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, coined that term for convenience with a little twist.He insists both Beijing and Taipei were agreed on the principle of “one China” with a different interpretation as far as its definition is concerned.That is the reason why it was once totally rejected by Mainland China and why President Chen Shui-bian has continued to deny it ever was.According to Su Chi’s interpretation, Beijing can claim the People’s Republic of China is that one China, which Taipei may say is the Republic of China on Taiwan.As a matter of fact, the non-official tacit agreement was reached through an exchange of notes to make it possible for C. F. Koo, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation in Taipei, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Daohan of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait to meet twice in 1993 and 1998 to settle “technical” and “substantial” issues between Taiwan and Mainland China.Their dialogue was suspended after President Lee Teng-hui proclaimed his “special state-to-state relationship” between Taiwan and Mainland China in 1999.
After President Chen had scrapped his new “Middle Way” approach and started his policy of creeping independence for Taiwan, Mainland China reconfirmed their version of the consensus of 1992 as the sine qua non for resumption of any negotiation across the Taiwan Strait.No dialogue has been resumed simply because Chen refuses to accept the Chinese precondition.
Dialogue may resume on the basis of that modus vivendi – even U.S. President George W. Bush called for such negotiation in a recent telephone conversation with Hu Jintao – after Beijing has sized up Ma Ying-jeou.Chinese leaders are genuinely concerned that Ma may turn out to be a less aggressive and less hostile Chen Shui-bian.Although they are certain that Ma will try all he can to maintain the status quo across the Strait, they suspect that he has given up “eventual unification” with Mainland China as the future of Taiwan, the fundamental common ground without which no talks can be initiated to negotiate the peace accord between the two sides and make it work.
Taiwan has been trapped in an economic doldrums for eight years and Ma’s priority policy objective is to revitalize the economy.Whether he can succeed depends primarily on how successfully he can improve relations between Taiwan and Mainland China.The success of his economic master plan, the cross-Strait common market, is predicated on the goodwill of Mainland China.Taiwan needs Mainland China much, much more than vice versa in trade and investment across the Strait. Without Beijing’s nod, few countries would sign a free trade agreement or any similar accord with Taiwan that is under threat of being marginalized or even ostracized in the fast-globalizing world economy.
That goodwill will be withdrawn if Mainland China is convinced that Ma Ying-jeou won’t even pay lip service to Chinese reunification.Hu Jintao cannot justify his signing the peace accord with his counterpart in Taipei.
Whatever we may choose to call it, the peace accord is a modus vivendi – an arrangement between two nations or groups that effects a workable compromise on issues in dispute without permanently settling them – just like the consensus of 1992.After it helped open up Taiwan to Mainland China more than a dozen years ago, the consensus is paving the way for another modus vivendi that alone can ensure mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the two sides of the Strait for years or decades to come.
All this proves one thing: Ma Ying-jeou’s “three-no” stance on relations between Taiwan and Mainland China cannot meet the fundamental requirement of Beijing “one China” principle as set forth in the consensus of 1992.Ma wants “no” independence for Taiwan, “no” force of arms used across the Strait and “no” change in the status quo.He has to add “eventual unification” to the trinity to dispel Beijing’s suspicion.
As a non-Hoklo president, Ma may feel it difficult to make that pronouncement.He does not want to expose himself to independence activists who will charge him with selling out Taiwan to Mainland China.But he can easily neutralize any venomous attack by telling the Hoklo-Hakka majority that he visualizes relations between Taiwan and Mainland China in the future as those between Great Britain and Canada, or Australia or New Zealand.
These former British colonies, in the words of the Pronouncement of the Imperial Conference of 1926, are “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”Internationally, these communities were recognized as separate states, entitled to have separate representation in the League of Nations and other world organizations, to appoint their own ambassadors, and to conclude their own treaties.
A similar arrangement can be made for Taiwan to be unified with Mainland China in the name of the Chinese nation.That commits Taiwan to Beijing’s fundamental “one China” principle.