When Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proposed the “ one country, two systems ” model, two things were on his mind. One was that Chinese people across all parts of China should unite and stand as one nation. This addressed the long-standing complaint that Chinese people had been fragmented for too long. Because we were not united, foreign powers were able to “divide and rule” us, at our expense. The other was that we must respect each other’s political systems and existing institutions, so that different systems can coexist. This concern about mutual respect must not be taken lightly. Without mutual respect, hearts and minds cannot come together and real unity cannot be achieved. Over the weekend, Taiwan held its presidential election. The turnout and vote corresponded to the poll forecasts: Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party was re-elected president, beating Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang by a wide margin . The result was perhaps not surprising, given the fears which had been stirred up by Tsai, who took advantage of the months of political and social turmoil in Hong Kong over Beijing encroaching on political rights and freedoms in the city. Even “Beijing-friendly” Han spoke out against “one country, two systems”, saying that Taiwanese would never accept the model. In Taiwan, the turmoil in Hong Kong has now come to signify the failure of “one country, two systems”. This is very unfortunate. I had thought that the 1992 Consensus was quite ingenious and that it would be a major step towards peaceful and friendly relations across the Taiwan Strait. The consensus allows “one China” to be interpreted differently across the strait. The Mainland Affairs Council of Taiwan’s Executive Yuan offered this explanation of the consensus: “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 Administrative Region’ (SAR) after unification.” It carried on: “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.” Deng was known for his pragmatism. He famously said: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” It was he who asked us to throw out dogmas and adopt whatever idea works. He was concerned only with workable solutions that served the best interest of the country. To find “workable solutions”, we must know what is not workable. If we simply keep pressing ahead with a solution that does not work, perseverance will not pay off. True perseverance is persisting with our most important final goal in mind, and not stubbornly sticking to a formula that is not in line with the laws of nature. For “one country, two systems” to work, a feasible solution must give due respect to people’s feelings, including their fears. The extradition bill failed to get through the Legislative Council in Hong Kong and resulted in widespread protests because the government failed to fully address Hongkongers’ fears. And the reason that support for the 1992 Consensus in Taiwan has waned is because it failed to take into account the psychological need of the Taiwanese people to be treated as equals. My proposal for unification under “one country, two systems” would ensure that the aspirations of the people of Taiwan were fully respected with regard to sovereignty over the island’s political system and institutions under the name “Republic of China”. For this to work, the people of Taiwan must fully respect the political system and institutions on the mainland. Beijing ‘will view Tsai’s victory as setback but not a crisis’ While the political systems differ across the strait, people on both sides could view this as a giant experiment to find out which works better. We could leave open the possibility that Taiwan’s political system could be adopted on the mainland as well as the possibility that the mainland’s political system could be adopted in Taiwan, depending on whichever system proved to be superior. Meanwhile, Taiwan and the mainland could be represented in international bodies under the names China (ROC) and China (PRC) respectively. Full respect for the mainland’s political system implies not referring to the People’s Republic of China as an authoritarian or dictatorial regime, which it is not. Similarly, full respect for Taiwan’s sovereignty over its political system means a willingness to accept the elected president on the island as president of the Republic of China and not referring to Taiwan as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. What links the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China is Chinese culture, which is accommodating and peaceful. Meanwhile, because Hong Kong was established as a special administrative region under the Basic Law, that is what it is. The Basic Law shall prevail, and we should all abide by it. Ho Lok Sang is senior research fellow in the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute at Lingnan University Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.