A few days ago, I wrote a post about the rumor that Ma Ying-jeou would drop the “each side with its own interpretation” and simply state that the ROC was committed to One China. In the event, Ma did not go that far. However, in his opening remarks, he stated his position as the 92 Consensus, which he further explained as being the One China principle. This caused no small amount of controversy back home. Moreover, the choice to take this stance seems to have been Ma’s, and he did it over the opposition of the professional bureaucrats in the MAC. The rumor, it turns out, was not entirely unfounded.
On the one hand, part of me thinks that this whole controversy is overblown. Ma did state his position as the 92 Consensus, and the 92 Consensus is not a new idea. It has a well-worn history, so it is not reasonable to imagine that it doesn’t actually include the second half. Moreover, Ma talked about the “each side with its own interpretation” during the press conference. I still believe that the big picture is that Ma did not jettison the second part of the phrase or redefine the 92 Consensus as meaning simply One China.
On the other hand, the omission is significant. Xi Jinping did not specifically state “One China” in his remarks; he simply stated the phrase “92 Consensus.” Ma seemed to voluntarily do the dirty work of trying to squeeze the meaning of that phrase from a broader range to a narrower range of possibilities. This is causing quite a bit furor in Taiwan, not least because Ma always emphasizes the second part of the formula when he talks to domestic audiences. In fact, one of the reasons that Ma is so unpopular back home is that people have increasingly gotten tired of him saying one thing to the Taiwanese people and then a very different thing to international audiences or to China. The KMT campaign logo that was introduced just before the trip was announced is a classic example. The logo says, “One Taiwan,” which was a grating contrast with Ma’s repeated insistence of “One China” in Singapore. To give another pertinent example, when Ma ran for Taipei mayor, his campaign slogan was, “Taipei First, Taiwan First.” You might notice the absence of “China First.”
The 92 Consensus does have a certain level of support here in Taiwan, though it is lower and more fragile than Ma would like the world to believe. A few weeks ago, before the announcement of the Ma-Xi meeting, Taiwan Indicators Survey Research [original and English translation] asked a very interesting poll question. Respondents were asked if they supported various formulae for cross-strait relations. In descending order of popularity, here are the results:
|One Country on Each Side||69.3%|
|Conduct relations according to the ROC constitutional framework||69.0|
|One China, One Taiwan||64.8|
|No unification, no independence, no war||63.8|
|One China, Each side with its own interpretation||36.2|
|One Country, Two Systems||28.3|
|Both Sides belong to one China||16.2|
|One Country, two governments||16.0|
|One Country, two regions||15.6|
|One China with the same interpretation||12.0|
(A poll released by the Cross Straits Policy Association today found similar results.)
There are four options that get a lot of support. None of them are based on One China. All of them are based on Taiwan maintaining its current de facto sovereignty. What is really interesting is to look at the different ways that the 92 Consensus can be stated. If you just call it the 92 Consensus, it gets 27% support. If you explicitly spell out the entire formula, “One China, each side with its own interpretation,” support rises to 37%. If you only use the words “One China”, support falls to around 15% (in several different formulations). With 37% support, you can probably maintain a viable position, even if only at a minimal level of legitimacy. You will probably have to have outstanding performance in other areas to compensate, but it might be doable. With 27%, it is probably untenable. With 15%, it is absolutely impossible. Why are there such differences in support? Ma bragged that the 92 Consensus is a masterpiece of ambiguity. There are small differences in each version, but those differences are important enough for many people to tip the balance from acceptable to unacceptable. In short, it was important for a large number of Taiwanese for Ma to explicitly spell out the phrase, “each side with its own interpretation.”
Opinion polls thus far send a split message. There are numbers that Ma will point to, and there are numbers the DPP will focus on. I’d say the DPP has more ammunition than Ma, but Ma has enough to work with at the moment that he can survive. However, I think public opinion on how well Ma did last weekend could take a downturn. We are starting to get information that the Liberty Times reporter was right. Ma was considering weakening the 92 Consensus, and he, in fact, actually did so. Andrew Hsia, head of the Mainland Affairs Council, went the legislature today. Under intense questioning from the media and in legislative interpellation, Hsia revealed that Ma had made important revisions to the draft produced by the MAC. The MAC had argued for spelling out the 92 Consensus in full. Ma made the decision to only state the part about One China and omit the second half of the formula.
Other insiders – including deep blue people angry at Ma’s treatment of the ROC – are starting to talk to reporters as well, and a common narrative keeps coming up. The MAC actually prepared two drafts, a more aggressive one using language including “ROC constitution” and “One China, each side with its own interpretation” to use if Xi Jinping raised a several more provocative points such as opposing Taiwan independence and One China with a common interpretation, and a more conciliatory draft to use if Xi left those out. The MAC finally got word from the TAO that Xi would use the latter script so the MAC moved to its more conciliatory script as well. However, Ma insisted that he would go further and only use the One China line. It seems that when Hsia said on October 6 that they were still hammering out the final wording and a reporter asked in disbelief if they were still negotiating, the MAC bureaucrats were actually negotiating with both their counterparts in the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office and also the One China hawks in the Presidential Office. As news of this comes out (and insiders – including deep blue people angry at Ma’s treatment of the ROC – are starting to talk to reporters off the record), I suspect the public will judge Ma more harshly. He overruled the professional bureaucrats to take a position closer to China’s and against mainstream public opinion. That doesn’t seem like it will go over well.