Fault Line Widens Between KMT and CCP over the “1992 Consensus”

Fault Line Widens Between KMT and CCP over the “1992 Consensus”

Fault Line Widens Between KMT and CCP over the “1992 Consensus”

Three months away from the chairmanship election of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT, 國民黨), Taiwan’s main opposition party, current leader Johnny Chiang (江啟臣, b. 1972) has placed his long anticipated personal stamp on the Party’s formula for cross-Strait policy. Labeling the new formula as the “1992 Consensus Plus” (九二共識Plus), the formulation appears to be an extension of the “1992 Consensus,” the KMT’s long-standing stance on the relationship between Taiwan and China based on the tacit understanding reached between the then-ruling Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1992. [1] Pouring cold water on the new formula, the spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) State Council, Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮), reportedly retorted: “the core of the ‘1992 Consensus’ that both sides of the strait belong to ‘one China’ and work together to seek national reunification [sic] cannot be blurred and changed.” “Any approach that highlights differences is not conducive to maintaining consensus,” Zhu added.

At a launch event promoting his new book Game Changer (破浪啟程)—which signals his likely intent to run in Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election—the young KMT chairman put forward the idea of “1992 Consensus Plus,” specifically stating that his “cross-Strait policy is not just the ‘1992 Consensus’” and identified four major components: 1) the sovereignty of the Republic of China; 2) peace and security across the Taiwan Strait; 3) freedom, democracy, and human rights; and 4) the strengthening of cross-Strait co-prosperity. Chiang emphasized that “the ‘1992 Consensus’ based on the Constitution of the Republic of China” (ROC) (中華民國憲法) is the cross-Strait discourse of the KMT.

Image: KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang speaking at a book launch event on March 29. Chiang has recently unveiled the concept of the “1992 Consensus Plus” as a new framework for cross-Strait dialogue between the KMT and China’s ruling CCP. (Image source: NOW News)

At a separate event attended by several KMT heavyweights, and hosted by former KMT Chairwoman Hung Shiu-chu (洪秀柱)—who now heads the Chinese Cyan Geese Peace Education Foundation (中華青雁和平教育基金會)—Tso Chen-dong (左正東), director of the Kuomintang’s Mainland Affairs Department, stated that the KMT’s position on cross-Strait relations abided by the ROC Constitution, and that the ROC is the core value of the Kuomintang. In response to a question concerning TAO spokesperson comments about the KMT chairman’s policy proposal, the director said that the KMT firmly advocates for the “1992 Consensus” based on the ROC Constitution and encourages cross-Strait dialogue, exchanges, and consultation to solve problems. Tso added that the “1992 Consensus” had to keep pace with the times.

Following two consecutive defeats in the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, the KMT is now undergoing a soul-searching process that could fundamentally redefine the Party’s relations with the PRC after the KMT’s flirtation with the hardline pro-unification factions of Hung Shiu-chu and Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜). As a result of the KMT’s most recent electoral defeat, the former establishment chairman, Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) (2017-2020), who was unable to steer the Party away from Han’s failed presidential bid, stepped down in January 2020, and Chiang took over the helm of the ailing Party in March 2020. Many analysts attribute the cause of the KMT’s defeat in 2020 due to the Party’s inability to justifiably respond to Beijing’s increasingly aggressive posture vis-à-vis Taiwan and a rising younger generation whose views were growing out of touch with the Party’s more conservative approach of seeking reconciliation with Beijing against the backdrop of its suppression of freedom in Hong Kong.

Indeed, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) arguably won the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections by adopting the more pragmatic approach in light of circumstances. On the issue of the “1992 Consensus,” in her inauguration speech in 2016, Tsai acknowledged the historical fact that talks had occurred in 1992 while avoiding explicit rejection of the so-called “1992 Consensus.” Instead, Tsai stated that she would abide by agreements negotiated with Beijing and would base her cross-Strait policy on the ROC Constitution and the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例). According to David Brown, a visiting scholar at John Hopkins University and board member of the American Institute in Taiwan, “both […] have a basis in the idea of ‘one China.’”

Following a policy review that lasted several months, in September 2020, the committee responsible for drafting the KMT’s proposed policy reforms, which included China policy, released the results of its internal deliberations. On China policy, the Party adopted eight points—three provisions of which are particularly noteworthy:

  • Cross-Strait official consultations must be conducted in accordance with the constitutional order of the Republic of China, respect the fact that the Republic of China exists, and space for the Republic of China are core elements of cross-Strait official consultations and interactions.
  • During the KMT’s rule, statements about the “[19]92 Consensus; one China, respective interpretations” were based on the Constitution of the Republic of China, as well as the successful experience of seeking common ground while preserving differences between the two sides of the Strait. The “1992 Consensus,” which is based on the Constitution of the Republic of China, should be applied to maintain cross-Strait interactions and to seek ways of interaction to keep pace with the times.
  • The mainland should abandon the use of force against Taiwan, and the two sides of the Strait should set an example in peacefully resolving differences and exercising mutual respect and non-exclusion in the international community. In order to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, the best strategy is to promote cross-Strait exchanges and Taiwan-US cooperation in parallel.

Asked by a reporter whether the “1992 Consensus Plus” meant that the KMT’s cross-Strait position was now becoming closer to the DPP, Tso, the KMT’s director for China policy, stated that if the DPP is willing to abide by the ROC Constitution that gave rise to democracy and freedom on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, he believes that the DPP could learn a lot from the KMT. To be sure, while differences remain between the DPP and KMT, their respective positions indeed appear to be converging and the latter’s position appears to be diverging with the CCP. As David Brown further noted in his article for the Global Taiwan Brief:

[…] there are still differences in the parties’ views. Party history and competitive electoral politics have and will continue to result in some differentiation. However, there is now more convergence of the views and policies of the two main parties toward Beijing than at any time in the past. […] In the face of CCP repression, both the DPP and KMT are invested in defending Taiwan’s interests.

A longstanding bone of contention between the DPP and KMT over the “1992 Consensus” has been that while the KMT maintains that the two sides agree that there is only “one China”—and that Taipei and Beijing may have their “respective interpretations” (各表)—Beijing has never publicly recognized this interpretation. When reportedly asked “How does Beijing view the ‘Republic of China’ now?” Zhu responded that “one” China means that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to the same China. With the “1992 Consensus Plus” formulation, Chiang may be trying to distance the KMT’s position from the CCP by distinguishing it with qualifiers.

The TAO spokesperson’s response is consistent with the assertive position laid out by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s (習近平) remarks in his January 2019 speech marking the 40th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan. In that speech, Xi emphasized that the “one country, two systems” framework remained the only formula for unification, and thereby tied it to the “1992 Consensus”—even as Beijing squashed dissent in Hong Kong. The TAO spokesperson’s response to the “1992 Consensus Plus” seems to indicate that that the PRC’s position on the ROC, and whether there is a respective interpretation of “one China,” remains unchanged. President Tsai’s repeated calls for the PRC to recognize the existence of the ROC may be viewed within this political context. With three months left before the KMT chairmanship election in July, Chiang appears poised to win reelection with no significant real challenger in sight. In the process of attempting to reform the Party, the KMT chairman is trying to rebrand the “1992 Consensus” in large part due to Beijing’s restrictive reinterpretations. This is likely being done to distinguish the KMT’s position from that of the CCP, which due to the lack of clarity regarding the “1992 Consensus” has increasingly become a liability in Taiwan’s domestic politics. This highlights the widening fault line between the KMT and the CCP on the “1992 Consensus,” and portends choppy waters ahead in relations between the two parties.

The main point: As the KMT approaches the chairmanship election in July, the incumbent has put forward a formula for cross-Strait relations that appears to put more distance between the KMT and the CCP on the terms for cross-Strait relations. This is likely being done to distinguish the KMT’s position from that of the CCP, which has increasingly become a liability in Taiwan’s domestic politics.

[1] “1992 Consensus” is a term coined by KMT lawmaker Su Chi (蘇起) in 2000 that, according to the KMT, insists on the position that the two sides agreed that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland belonged to “one China” but with each side having their respective interpretation (一中各表). According to former President Ma Ying-jeou, in 2008 Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) had affirmed in a private call with the United States that the “1992 Consensus” agreed to differ on the interpretation of “one China.” Yet, Beijing has never publicly indicated that it accepted respective interpretation. While the KMT continues to publicly maintain respective interpretation there has been no official public recognition of this clause by Beijing.