Pres­i­dent Ma’s speech seeks to con­se­crate the ‘1992 Con­sen­sus’


Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou’s speech de­liv­ered yes­ter­day at the Main­land Af­fairs Coun­cil ( MAC) was on the sur­face a re­count­ing of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to turn a new leaf in re­la­tions be­tween China and Tai­wan. An ex­am­i­na­tion of the speech’s con­tents yielded noth­ing new in terms of ideas and vi­sion, but rather a move by Ma to pre­serve the “1992 Con­sen­sus” as the stan­dard for fu­ture in­ter­ac­tion with China.

Pun­dits and an­a­lysts ear­lier in the week tried to pin down the abrupt na­ture of Ma’s planned visit to the MAC. Com­mem­o­rat­ing the 22nd an­niver­sary of the “Koo-Wang talks” (the first meet­ing be­tween Tai­wan and China’s of­fi­cials af­ter WWII) seems like a stretch for the rea­son be­hind the pres­i­dent’s trip to the MAC and so was a trip down mem­ory lane to visit a for­mer post, where he once served as vice chair­man.

Some say Ma was try­ing to re­gain lead­er­ship and ini­tia­tive in cross- strait re­la­tions ahead of the meet­ing be­tween Kuom­intang (KMT) Chair­man Eric Chu and Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping. Fol­low­ing the KMT’s drub­bing in last year’s elec­tions, Ma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been rel­e­gated to care­taker/lame duck sta­tus, and yes­ter­day’s speech was widely in­ter­preted as the pres­i­dent’s fight to re­gain some mo­men­tum.

In us­ing the “1992 Con­sen­sus” — in which both sides agree to dis­agree on the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “One China” — 30 times within his speech, Ma at­tempted to dis­count any al­ter­na­tive model to gov­ern cross-strait re­la­tions in the com­ing years. While ac­knowl­edg­ing Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party Chair­woman Tsai Ing-wen and other op­po­si­tion lead­ers’ at­tempts to cre­ate al­ter­na­tive means of con­sen­sus, Ma ar­gued that th­ese forms fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions both at home and abroad. Ma twice urged cau­tion in “de­vi­at­ing” from the “1992 Con­sen­sus,” which he ar­gued was the cause of a “lost decade” in crossstrait ties and in­creased po­lit­i­cal ten­sion in the re­gion.

What Kind of Con­sen­sus?

Ma asked Tsai: “What

is the ‘sta­tus quo’ that is to be main­tained?” In ad­di­tion, he im­plored Tsai to elab­o­rate on the con­tents of the sta­tus quo and asked “how should it be main­tained?” But by al­ready largely dis­miss­ing frame­works out­side the last seven years of Ma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, the pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate an “eco­nomics first, pol­i­tics later” cross-strait pol­icy, a pat­tern of think­ing that has caused so­cial fric­tion as ev­i­denced by stu­den­tled protests in 2014.

A Con­tin­ued Econ­o­miz­ing of

the Po­lit­i­cal?

The track record of the last seven years of cross-strait re­la­tions un­der the “1992 Con­sen­sus” has been to de­politi­cize the is­sue of po­lit­i­cal sovereignty in or­der to pro­mote in­vest­ment on the is­land as a re­gional eco­nomic hub while con­nect­ing con­tin­ued eco­nomic pros­per­ity on sta­ble re­la­tions with Bei­jing. What re­mains to be seen and de­serves in­creased scru­tiny is whether or not Ma’s suc­ces­sor will con­tinue to deny the po­lit­i­cal na­ture of the sta­tus quo, and seek to ad­dress the lim­i­ta­tions of the con­sen­sus’ am­bi­gu­ity while in of­fice.

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