Ma and Chen exchange fire over role of '1992 consensus'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am

Taiwanese president-elect Ma Ying-jeou and outgoing President Chen Shui-bian turned their first meeting since 2006 yesterday into a debate about whether a cross-strait understanding in 1992 can form the basis for reviving talks with the mainland.

In a meeting to discuss the handover of power after the Democratic Progressive Party's defeat in the presidential election on March 22, the two exchanged fire over the role of the '1992 consensus'.

Mr Chen took the first shot by questioning the existence of the consensus, saying it would be wishful thinking for Mr Ma to use it to resume cross-strait talks, suspended since 1999 after former president Lee Teng-hui identified cross-strait ties as 'special state-to-state' relations.

Mr Chen raised similar doubts two years ago during a meeting with Mr Ma, who was then chairman of the Kuomintang.

In response, Mr Ma said such an understanding did exist whether it was called the '1992 consensus' or not, as only with such an understanding would the two sides have been able to hold a landmark discussion in 1993 in Singapore, where chief negotiators reached several key agreements for cross-strait exchanges.

Mr Ma said mainland leaders, including President Hu Jintao , had already acknowledged the existence of the consensus as was evident by recent talks between Mr Hu and US President George W. Bush, during which Mr Hu said Taipei and Beijing could hold talks using the consensus as their foundation.

Mr Ma said it was practical to use the consensus to resume talks with the mainland to improve cross-strait relations and economic exchanges. He noted that it basically meant the sides 'agree to disagree', providing the necessary grey area for them to hold talks without touching the highly sensitive sovereignty issue.

Beijing has stressed that Taipei must accept the 'one China' principle in order to talk with the mainland. The '1992 consensus' basically states that both Taiwan and the mainland agree there is only one China, but each has its own interpretation of what that means. To Taipei, it means the Republic of China - the official title of Taiwan. To Beijing, it means the People's Republic of China.

An analyst said the consensus stands for mutual non-denial, which leaves room for flexibility for the two sides to resume talks.

'The 1992 consensus is a special mechanism for mutual non-denial of one China,' said Philip Yang, director of the Taiwan Security Research Centre.

He said the fact that Mr Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao had acknowledged the consensus in their recent statements meant the chances for the two sides to resume talks based on this understanding would be good.

'It is not easy for Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to publicly mention this term as a kind of substitute for the one-China principle,' he said, noting that the mainland had stopped short of openly acknowledging it in the past decade.

He said it was unlikely mainland leaders would publicly acknowledge the separate interpretations clause because it would mean a direct acknowledgement of Taiwan's de jure independent status.

But he said that with Mr Ma at the helm, the two sides would move to resume talks based on the consensus as the KMT and the Communist Party had already laid a foundation to create chances for both sides, following former KMT chairman Lien Chan's historic visit to Beijing in 2005.