My Take

In light of today’s political realities, Beijing needs to rethink what ‘one China’ really means

The ‘1992 consensus’ on Taiwan and the ‘two systems’ engineered for Hong Kong appear to have passed their use-by dates

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 12:35am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 9:16am

As the pro-China Hung Hsiu-chu was elected the first woman leader of the Kuomintang, Beijing sent a congratulatory message stressing the one-China principle.

Beijing can take consolation in that their woman in Taiwan might have lost – or rather ditched as a candidate at the last minute – in the January presidential election; she is now at least the leader of the “correct” political party.

In her reply, she obliged by stressing the so-called 1992 consensus on which the one-China principle is based.

As a piece of diplomacy, the 1992 consensus is most useful by arriving at a general principle on which both sides can claim agreement. But it papers over crucial specifics over what exactly that principle means, thereby avoiding potential conflicts.

In that sense, the consensus may be seen as a political analogue for such ideas as “one country, two systems” and “high degree of autonomy” in the Basic Law in Hong Kong. Beijing and Hong Kong people may all agree on these general principles, but their specific meanings are highly contested.

China and its loyalists still stick to these formulas whenever conflicts arise. But as diplomatic or political tools, they are showing serious wear and tear in light of new political realities in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It’s difficult to call something a consensus when the current dominant party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party, rejects it. Even the United States, which officially recognises only one China, does not take a position on the 1992 consensus.

The “consensus” was useful as long as the KMT was in power. But there needs to be new ideas when the DPP and large swathes of the Taiwanese electorate reject it.

Likewise, radical localism in Hong Kong may be seen as a reaction to cracks being shown on the political edifice built on those old political slogans as formulated in the Basic Law.

Rightly or wrongly, “two systems” is increasingly seen as subservient to “one country” and “high degree of autonomy” is considered not a right but a discretion to be granted or denied by Beijing.

In their time, such concepts were born out of diplomatic creativity or political necessity. It remains to be seen whether Beijing is ready for a new era of creative policy in facing down fresh challenges in Hong Kong and Taiwan.