I’m pretty fed up with claims that the 92 Consensus is historically based and claims that it is a fiction invented a decade later. Personally, I think the important point is that the KMT and CCP have found an idea they can agree on; whether or not it is based on something that happened in 1992 is not that critical. They could call it the “Super Awesome Neato Arrangement Sponsored by Samsung and Coca-Cola” for all I care. Diplomatic-speak makes me yearn for the relatively straightforward and honest rhetoric of election campaigns.
Still, I thought it was about time I went back and looked at newspaper reports from 1992 to try to sort out what was said. I could have just read the Wiki page which basically covers all the main points, but instead I dove into old United Daily News stories. Here are a few of the important ones:
In this story, the two sides have not reached any consensus on One China. The ROC side has tried to avoid the question by suggesting that “negotiations on practical matters are a matter for Chinese people on both sides,” but the PRC side rejected this. At this point, they are both still insisting that there is One China, and that One China can only be represented by their own government.
This is the critical report, since this is the compromise the 92 Consensus is supposedly based on. On November 3, the SEF proposed that the two sides would each orally state the One China principle, and ARATS agreed to this procedure. As to the content of what each side would say, they would continue to negotiate.
In other words, the two sides did not come to any consensus about One China at this point. The agreement was simply to avoid the topic by not writing anything down. Both sides (presumably) continued to insist on their previous position, and both sides could continue to insist that the precondition of the meeting was met because they had stated their version of One China and the other side had not walked out or registered a formal objection. Since there would be no written record, there was no way to prove that the other side did not accept their version.
This is quite different from the 92 Consensus, in which the two sides actually agreed to the wording of “One China, Each side with its own interpretation.” (Even if China never states the second half of the 92 Consensus, it also does not openly object that the second half does not exist.) In the 1992 bargain, there was no actual agreement on content, and the PRC did not (even tacitly) admit that any other legitimate interpretations might exist. That agreement simply allowed the two sides to sidestep the One China question and move on to practical matters.
The 92 Consensus is seen as a framework that allows the two sides to negotiate on other matters without worrying about One China at every step. The 1992 agreement did not achieve that, as this story from Nov. 18, 1992 suggests:
Here, Taiwan’s government complains that China says they are willing to talk about anything, but as soon as Taiwan sends negotiators, China always bogs things down by insisting that they should talk about One China first.
I couldn’t find any UDN stories about exactly what happened with regard to One China in the Koo-Wang meeting in Singapore on April 27, 1993. However, about a week later, Premier Lien Chan stated that the government’s position had not been changed at all because of the summit. (Just to bewilder future readers, Lien also complained that the mainland had “malicious intent” 敵意 toward Taiwan and hadn’t renounce the right to use force. Also Huang Kun-hui 黃昆輝 was then head of MAC and nominally committed to unification. Today, he is head of the TSU and not so much in favor of the same position. His deputy was Ma Ying-jeou. I wonder how tense their working relations were.)
連 戰上午答復立委呂秀蓮質詢時做以上表示。連戰說，大家必須以務實的角度討論中國的前途問題。中共這個強大而有敵意的政權，不僅要貶抑我為地方政府，且無視 於我國在國際間應享的國際地位，更不肯正面明確表示，願意放棄以武力犯台。連戰強調，今日中國處於分裂狀態是無法「視而不見」的事實，這是中共與我方都必 須面對的事實。立委呂秀蓮上午針對「辜、汪會談」後的兩岸關係與我國重返聯合國等問題向行政院提出質詢。呂秀蓮說，「辜、汪會談」之後，一個中國的神話已經被打破，演變成在台灣的中華民國，在北京的中華人民共和國，還有一個兩岸要統一建立虛幻的中國，形成「3個中國」的新局面。
Overall, the claim that there was a consensus in 1992 is misleading. There was an agreement to avoid the topic, but the “each side with its own interpretation” was more a statement of behavior than of content. I can see why the KMT today feels comfortable in tracing the 92 Consensus to 1992, since it is roughly a description of what happened. That is, each side actually gave its own interpretation, the other side pretended not to hear it, and no one wrote anything down. However, they never actually agreed on “One China, each side with its own interpretation.” After the meeting, the ROC government didn’t seem to think it had changed its policy, and China felt the need to continually raise the One China question because it did not seem to feel that a consensus existed.