MAC call for 'constructive ambiguity' renews debate over '92 consensus

03/20/2021 07:01 PM
To activate the text-to-speech service, please first agree to the privacy policy below.
MAC chief Chiu Tai-san. CNA photo March 18, 2021
MAC chief Chiu Tai-san. CNA photo March 18, 2021

Taipei, March 20 (CNA) Debate in Taiwan over a decades-old cross-Taiwan Strait political understanding was revived this week after the government's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) called on Beijing to join it in seeking pragmatic solutions while avoiding issues that are likely to generate controversy.

The issue arose on Thursday when MAC head Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) announced at a press conference that Chinese nationals would once again be allowed to apply to travel to Taiwan for business reasons, following a ban of more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, commenting on the broader state of cross-strait relations, Chiu said the idea that bilateral exchanges can only proceed if one side accepts the other's positions is "unfair, unjust and an unrealistic request."

Chiu was referring to Beijing's demand that Taipei accept the so-called "1992 consensus" as a precondition for talks on resolving the current impasse in cross-strait ties.

The 1992 consensus refers to a tacit understanding that Taiwan's then-Kuomintang (KMT) government and the Chinese government reached in 1992, which was interpreted by the KMT to mean that both sides of the strait acknowledged that there is only "one China," with each side free to interpret what that means.

Taiwan's current ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, has argued that the consensus is meaningless because China has never openly recognized that each side is free to make its own interpretation. Beyond that, public opinion in the DPP is also strongly opposed to policies seen as fostering identification with China.

Instead of setting such preconditions, Chiu said, Taiwan and China should work to find "the greatest common denominator" that will bring mutual benefits and elicit the least controversy.

"Whether or not we employ so-called 'constructive ambiguity' will depend on the wisdom of both sides," he said.

Elaborating on the comments the following day, Chiu explained that the term, coined by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, refers to the deliberate use of ambiguous language on a sensitive issue in order to advance some political purpose.

However, when asked if the 1992 consensus was an example of such an approach, Chiu replied that it was not.

"The 1992 consensus has generated a great deal of controversy in Taiwan and is even the subject of disagreement within the KMT, so there is no way this term could be interpreted as constructive ambiguity," he said.

Responding to Chiu later that day, KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the consensus was indeed an example of constructive ambiguity, as it gave the sides a means to seek common ground, while setting aside their differences.

On Saturday, meanwhile, China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) jumped into the fray, accusing the DPP of using the term to distract from the two sides' main area of disagreement.

"If 'constructive ambiguity' is merely a means of negating the one-China principle," then the DPP is just playing word games and lacks sincerity, TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) said in a statement.

"Only a return to the 1992 consensus will allow for the peaceful and stable development of cross-strait relations," she said.

Chiu, who took the helm of the MAC less than a month ago, has pledged to try to break the impasse with China without sacrificing Taiwan's sovereignty, but faces a tough task, with both sides unlikely to budge from the conditions they have set for resuming direct contacts.

Aside from Beijing's demand that Taipei accept the 1992 consensus, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has said that cross-strait interactions must be based on the principles of "peace, parity, democracy and dialogue."

(By Miao Zong-han, Liu Kuan-ting, Yen Lai-hsi, Kuo Chien-shen and Matthew Mazzetta)

Enditem/J

    0:00
    /
    0:00
    We value your privacy.
    Focus Taiwan (CNA) uses tracking technologies to provide better reading experiences, but it also respects readers' privacy. Click here to find out more about Focus Taiwan's privacy policy. When you close this window, it means you agree with this policy.