Archive for the ‘China’ Category

China demands. Ko caves. Or does he?

August 5, 2015

Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je had a significant breakthrough in his efforts to deal with China this past week. There has been uncertainty over whether this year’s Taipei-Shanghai Forum would occur, since the PRC insists that all such interaction should occur under the One China framework. As One China is decidedly at odds with mainstream public opinion in Taiwan, Ko has resisted China’s demands for a “friendly gesture.” However, this past weekend the deputy mayor of Shanghai visited, and the two city governments reached an agreement that the forum would be held and Ko would travel to Shanghai to take part. What kind of “friendly gesture” did Ko commit himself to that the PRC found acceptable enough to green light the event?

Ko did not “accept” the 92 Consensus. Instead, he stated that he “respects” (zunzhong, 尊重) and “understands” (liaojie, 了解) the 92 Consensus. However, he stressed that his core position was laid out in the 2015 New Perspective, which he explained at a press conference with PRC media on March 30. At that time, he stated that he would respect the agreements that had already been signed as well as the history of interaction, and on this political foundation, he would proceed according to the principals of mutual recognition*, mutual understanding, mutual respect, and mutual cooperation, all the while maintaining the spirit of “one extended family on both sides of the straits.” 他當時 提出兩岸關係「一五新觀點」,表示願尊重兩岸過去已經簽署的協議和互動的歷史,並在既有的政治基礎上,以「互相認識、互相了解、互相尊重、互相合作」的原則,並秉持「兩岸一家親」的精神。

(* This “recognition” (renshi, 認識) is closer to understanding or knowing than the term used for formal diplomatic recognition (chengren, 承認) of states.)

What does all this diplomatic gobbledygook mean? Unfortunately, I’m not a diplomat, and I don’t speak fluent diplomatese. So keep in mind that I might be missing something.

Let’s start with the part about the 92 Consensus. Ko respects and understands it. “Understand” is useless word. It does not constrain him in any way. “Respect” is trickier. I’ve asked a few people what this means, and it also doesn’t seem to have a clear meaning. That is, respecting something could be as meaningless as taking note of it. It does not seem to indicate that Ko is promising to adhere to or be constrained by the 92 Consensus. In other words, as I understand it, the whole statement that Ko respects and understands the 92 Consensus is completely empty. It sounds good, but it doesn’t actually mean anything.

If the first statement is empty, the 2015 New Perspective must be the critical part. All of those “mutual” statements are fairly meaningless. They simply say that the two sides will act civilly toward each other. They certainly don’t imply anything about One China. The final statement, about being one big family, has a tiny bit of content, since stanch Taiwan nationalists won’t admit to being part of the Chinese family in any sense. However, this statement is also full of ambiguity, since it is easily dismissed as something about common origins hundreds of years ago or similar cultural heritages. Again, this all sounds good, but when you look closely, it is mostly hot air.
That leaves the part about respecting the existing political foundation of agreements that have already been signed and of the history of interaction. Finally, here is something more concrete: Ko respects the status quo. What is that status quo? Well, it includes all those negotiations in which the ROC insisted (in varying degrees of diplomatic vagueness) on its version of One China as well as on the ROC’s right to exist (and its right to sign agreements). In other words, if you really want to find One China in that blob of historical interaction, you can. However, you can also find plenty of support for a sovereign, independent ROC in that same blob. It is ambiguous and flexible, as long as both sides are willing to let it be ambiguous and flexible.

Does this sound familiar? To me, this is strikingly similar to Tsai Ing-wen’s statement that she will maintain the status quo by respecting the existing constitutional order, including all the cross-straits agreements that have previously been signed. What does that mean? Again, it can mean lots of things. If you want to look narrowly at the ROC constitution, it is a document originally written in China in a time when One China was not in dispute at all. Or, you can focus on the fact that the 23 million people in Taiwan have exercised sovereignty for over six decades, doing things like collecting taxes, educating children, electing presidents, and amending the constitution.
The PRC sent out signals that Tsai’s position was not acceptable since she has not accepted One China. However, they seem to be willing to work with Ko Wen-je, who seems (to me) to be taking almost exactly the same position as Tsai. It might be different because Ko is a mayor in local government, or I might be missing something important buried in those statements. Still, this might be an indication that the PRC, however reluctantly, will engage with the Tsai administration rather than simply try to isolate it.

I have to admit that when I saw that the Taipei-Shanghai Forum was back on track, I expected that Ko would have made some important gesture. The news reports seemed clear that China was making this a precondition, and Ko had suggested that the Forum was in danger of being cancelled because he was unwilling to budge. The various headlines also led me to believe that Ko had, in fact, changed his position. However, as I read through the details, I was surprised to find that I could not find any significant shifts. Ko spurted out a lot of wonderful sounding bullshit phrases without ever saying anything substantive, and that turned out to be sufficient for China. I had not expected that Ko would be able to use ambiguity so deftly. My estimation of his political skills just went up considerably.

While this could be a signal of how China will deal with a future Tsai administration, it could also be that they are attempting to cultivate Ko as an alternate conduit to Taiwan. That is, rather than legitimizing Tsai’s administration and cross-straits policy by dealing with the central government, they might have decided that it is better to deal with the Taipei mayor. They might even try to build him up to become a rival to Tsai. However, to do this, they have had to accept his position, with only the fig leaf of a few pleasant sounding but meaningless platitudes. To put it another way, they weren’t able to move him toward the blue camp. If they are cultivating him, they are building up a person who has not made any public commitments toward their preferred position.

Ma on independence

May 9, 2015

President Ma has come out swinging over the past few days. Two statements are particularly interesting.

First, Ma noted that Tsai Ing-wen claims she will maintain the status quo. Ma demanded to know if she wants the status quo from seven years ago or the status quo from today, seven years later. This is a brilliant trap question, like asking a man whether he has stopped beating his wife. No matter which way she answers, Tsai is backed into a corner. If she were to answer that she wants today’s status quo (her current position), she has to acknowledge that Ma’s seven years of governing have produced something worth keeping, that ECFA has produced benefits, and that the 92 Consensus has been useful. If she answers that the status quo from seven years ago was better (not her position), she will look like someone trying to live in the past and she will threaten everyone with interests in China. Tsai will ignore the question and insist simply that she wants to maintain the status quo. However, I expect to hear this question a few more times over the next eight months.

Second, Ma responded to criticism that One China was currying favor with China by arguing that One China is grounded in the constitution. Ma proclaimed, “This is delineated in the Republic of China’s constitution. How can our constitution permit two Chinas? How can it permit one China, one Taiwan? How can it permit Taiwan independence?”

Perhaps we should allow 2006 Ma Ying-jeou to rebut 2015 Ma Ying-jeou. In 2006, when KMT Chairman Ma was preparing to run for president, the KMT placed an ad in the Liberty Times stating that independence was a legal choice for Taiwan. Ma clarified that the KMT certainly did not support independence, but it did see independence as a possible choice, albeit a lousy one. As a democracy, Taiwan’s citizens certainly had that option. At the time, this was a major step for Ma and the KMT, and it was fairly controversial within the party.

Apparently 2015 Ma Ying-jeou no longer believes that Taiwan independence is a legal option. None of the relevant parts of the constitution have changed since then, but Ma seems now to believe that Taiwan independence is unconstitutional. Taken to the logical extreme, the government should revert back to Premier Hau Pei-tsun’s suggestion for how to deal with advocates of Taiwan independence: Arrest them all.

What Ma (and everyone in Taiwan) has to decide is what the essence of the constitution is. Is the most important point that the country is China, or is the most important point that the country is a democracy? Is it a nationalist constitution, or is it a democratic constitution? If it is a democratic constitution, the citizens of the state have the fundamental right to determine the nature of the state. If they become dissatisfied with the nature of the state, they have the right to change it. If the nature of the state is set in stone and the citizens of the state are not allowed to change it, it isn’t a democracy.

Israel can either be a Jewish state, or it can be a democracy. In the short run, it might be able to remain a Jewish democratic state, but if the population changes preferences, it will have to decide. In the USA, there are many who argue that the USA is a Christian state. Again, it can be a Christian state or a democracy, but it can’t be both. Iran has confronted this head on. It is an Islamic state, specifically one that gives special status to one sect of Shiites; democracy has clear limits. Thailand also seems to have confronted the fundamental choice it faces between democracy and monarchy and opted for monarchy.

In Taiwan, most people believe that the fundamental division is between a Chinese identity and a Taiwanese identity. I wonder if the real battle for Taiwan’s soul is actually nationalism against democracy.

Chu’s China Trip

May 9, 2015

Eric Chu’s trip to China for the KMT-CPP forum is now over, and Chu has completed his first event in the international spotlight. How did it go? From where I sit, it went pretty badly.

First, the optimistic assessment. Chu’s main message to China was that the KMT under his leadership will continue business as usual. Chu promised not only to continue to respect the 92 Consensus, but even to deepen it. He went out of his way to show respect for the CCP’s sensibilities by not stating the “each side with its own interpretations” part to their faces, and even when he needed to say “Republic of China” for domestic consumption he found a way to do that that the CCP leaders wouldn’t object to. He further stated that the two sides “both belong to One China” 兩岸同屬一中, a formulation that the Ma administration had previously rejected. In short, Chu presented himself as someone the PRC can work with. That will reassure the PRC, some people in Washington, some in Taiwan’s business community, and most in the KMT’s deep blue wing.

Now, the negative assessment. Reread the above paragraph.

The most important job of any party leader in a democracy is to win elections. Power is the top priority. I’m not convinced that Chu’s trip helped the KMT in winning votes next January. The current Ma government is deeply unpopular, and the 2014 elections and data from public opinion polls seem to indicate that the electorate does not want another term of the same old policies. It isn’t clear exactly how much change the electorate demands, but it does seem clear that the KMT needs to offer some sort of change from current policies.

The 92 Consensus, in particular, is living on borrowed time. It is under attack from both sides. China doesn’t seem satisfied with continuing the status quo indefinitely. Several Chinese leaders have made statements about needing to move forward with political integration. KMT presidential aspirant Hung Hsiu-chu has echoed this, saying the 92 Consensus has performed its historical transitional role, and now it is time to move forward and sign a peace agreement. In other words, the unification forces are just about ready to throw away the “each side with its own interpretation” clause. The Taiwan-First side is also just about ready to ditch the 92 Consensus. The usefulness of the 92 Consensus stemmed from its ambiguity. The PRC has suffocated it by squeezing the life out of the “each side with its own interpretation” clause and by refusing any international space for the ROC. If all that is left is One China and the PRC, it becomes harder and harder for people who think Taiwan is a sovereign country – the large majority of the electorate – to see any space for them within the 92 Consensus. Big business still supports the 92 Consensus, but the rest of the coalition is shrinking fast.

I didn’t really expect Chu to reject the 92 Consensus, but I thought he might play to public opinion and try to differentiate his position from Ma’s. After all, the classic KMT electoral strategy is to talk about being Taiwanese, placing Taiwan first, and affirming that the ROC is an independent, sovereign state. Chu’s public image is still not yet fully formed, and he had an opportunity to position himself closer to the median voter. Instead, Chu doubled down on Ma’s position. He effectively told the electorate that he would continue Ma’s strategy of incrementally moving closer and closer to China and unification. Predictably, KMT mouthpieces complained that the green media was painting him red. Actually, the green media didn’t need to smear him. Chu went out of his way to ensure we all know that he is firmly in the pro-unification slice of the spectrum.

By deciding to attend the forum personally, Chu also signaled that he doesn’t see anything wrong with the party-to-party model of cross-strait affairs. If the KMT controls the government, it can use government channels to arrange policy. If the KMT loses control of the executive branch, it will revert to party-to-party channels to try to control Taiwan’s interactions with China. Unless I’m reading public opinion incorrectly, this is not a winning political position. The public is in favor of cross-strait exchanges, but it wants politics and negotiations to be done on a government-to-government basis. I don’t think Chu’s smug and condescending question of why the DPP didn’t have its own forum with the CCP resonated as well with the general public as he thought it would. Chu apparently doesn’t see anything wrong with undermining his own country’s government to collaborate with another country’s rulers. This, of course, is what One China means. The KMT and CCP are both from the same country, so there is no question of undermining the country.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Chu would toe the party line on the 92 Consensus. However, he could have easily differentiated himself from Ma by calling for policies that would help ordinary wage earners. Instead, he asked the PRC for cooperation on exactly the same things that the Ma administration wants. He asked for Taiwan to join the AIIB and to participate in China’s regional economic cooperation program (RCEP). Laissez-faire economists often argue that more trade and economic grown will trickle down to ordinary people, and the KMT also generally takes this stance. However, the Taiwanese public is increasing rejecting the idea that cross-strait economic integration has been good for everyone. Widening income inequality certainly seems to indicate that the gains have been monopolized by a small minority while the broader public shoulders the costs. Who would benefit from Taiwan’s participation in the AIIB and a trading block run under Chinese rules? Probably the same big corporations that benefitted from earlier rounds of integration into the Chinese economy. In other words, Chu is doubling down on Ma’s economic strategy, and he is forgoing the opportunity to try to appeal to wage-earning sectors of the voting public.

The American in me thought that Chu looked like a leader. He was energetic, friendly, and spoke eloquently without a script. This was in marked contrast to the other side of the table, which seemed dull and lifeless. However, the voice in my head that pretends to understand Chinese political stagecraft laughed at my inner American’s naiveté. Chu was overeager, a younger smiling too broadly and showing his desperation for the older man’s approval. Xi showed his dominance by giving only the faintest of smiles in the official photo. Xi read his remarks from a script without much emotion, as if this were just another – relatively unimportant – event in his busy schedule. Yesterday while I was driving home, a talk show host (on a deep blue radio station) lambasted Chu for introducing his team one by one in the reception line, as if he were presenting a group of schoolchildren to the principal for a pat on the head. Chu simply didn’t seem to have the gravitas of people like Lien Chan.

Overall, my overall impression of Chu from this visit is that he’s still not quite ready for the big stage. He didn’t take the opportunity to present any sort of independent image or vision. He seemed content to not offend anyone and to reassure everyone that he would continue Ma’s policies. Most of all, he didn’t seem to understand that he was talking to people at home as much as he was talking to Beijing leaders. His “ROC” moment was particularly instructive. Green voices always complain that blue people only talk about the ROC at home. When they go to China, suddenly they are afraid to say anything about the ROC. Chu decided that he would take this talking point away by directing saying the term “ROC” to Xi Jinping’s face. Of course, he didn’t want to offend Xi, so what he did was to say something about “back when Sun Yat-sen established the ROC…” Of course, the ROC that existed during Sun Yat-sen’s time is not controversial at all. Apparently Chu thought that Taiwanese wouldn’t be able to see through this ruse, and DPP politicians would no longer be able to claim he didn’t dare talk about the ROC in China. Maybe he thought no one was watching the 24 hour news channels? In fact, now he simply opens himself to ridicule, and DPP attack dogs will be even more likely to bring up the topic.

I guess I should remind myself that Chu hasn’t exactly had good training for national leadership. He was a professor of accounting, a one-term legislator, and head of a local government for 12 years. His one stint in upper-level national politics was a very short eight-month stint as Vice Premier, during which he wasn’t exactly the public face of the government and may not have been included in President Ma’s strategy sessions on how to deal with China and manage the economy. In high politics, Chu is a greenhorn.

Of course, we shouldn’t overstate the impact of Chu’s performance. Within the KMT, he is still the most popular figure and the overwhelming preference for the presidential race. Now that he has come back and the deadline for deciding the presidential candidate is fast approaching, the KMT is putting the pressure on him to run. We are now in full flattery mode. “Only you can save the party from disaster.” “You are our only hope.” “We nurtured your career; you have no right to avoid a fight when the party needs you.” In 2010, Tsai Ing-wen found it impossible to resist her party’s pressure to run, even though it was pretty clear she would have preferred to sit out the race. My impression is that Chu was sincere in planning not to run, but I’m not sure he will be able to resist the pressure coming from almost all corners of his party.

If Chu does end up as the KMT’s candidate, the KMT-CCP forum will be even more awkward. It will appear as though he went to Beijing to inform Xi he was running, or, worse, to get Xi’s blessing. The forum and the presidential nomination are temporally so close that it is nearly impossible not to draw a connection in your mind. This is not helping Chu’s case with the general electorate. It didn’t have to be this way. If Chu was going to be the candidate, he probably should have sent someone else to Beijing to meet with Xi. At the very least, he could have changed the date of one of the events. Hey, he’s the party chair. He could have decided that the forum should be a month earlier or the nomination registration deadline would be moved back to June. If it looks like Chu went to China to get Xi’s imperial approval of his presidential bid, it’s his own damn fault. He shouldn’t blame the media for painting him red when he arranges events in this way.

[Of course, I could be wrong. I’m still waiting for a post-trip opinion poll to be published.]

The 92 Consensus in 1992

May 5, 2015

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.

我方協商代表許惠祐 將再停留香港等候回覆










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:

「一個中國」兩岸表述有異 雙方漏列「和平統一」問題
若先解決事務性問題 有助打破不接觸僵局


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.

LY considers restrictions on MAC

January 13, 2014

On Friday, something quite important may have happened.  At the legislature, party leaders agreed to put a fascinating item on the agenda for Tuesday.  The DPP and TSU will introduce a resolution limiting what Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi can say or do at his upcoming meeting with Chinese counterparts.  Of course, the DPP and TSU don’t have the power to control the agenda.  Critically, the KMT party leaders and Speaker Wang also agreed to let this resolution come before the floor.  The details of the resolution can be found in this story, and, if you read Chinese, these two stories from the front pages of yesterday’s and today’s Liberty Times are a bit more detailed.

The Taipei Times story is on the bottom of page 3, and the United Daily News and China Times buried this story even further back.  They might be correct.  After all, it is quite possible that Tuesday’s legislative business will go unexpectedly slowly and this resolution will never make it off the calendar.  However, I think the Liberty Times’ front page treatment is probably appropriate, and not just because it meshes with their ideological preferences.  This story might be significant in several ways.

First, this resolution is a clear signal to cross-strait negotiators (on both sides) not to expect any major breakthroughs.  The elected politicians are telling the negotiators not to go too far.  They are also telling China not to bother pressing Taiwan for too much at this time.  Even if Minister Wang publicly supports something that China wants, such as the One China framework, they have been publicly notified that this position will be repudiated by the legislature as soon as he gets back.  It might be wiser to wait for another day than to force Taiwan to openly disavow a position.  This direct effect on cross-straits talks is probably the most important angle to the story.  To me, however, it is the least interesting.

Second, this resolution might reflect an adjustment in the relations between the executive and legislative branches.  In a sense, this is an effort to wrest control of a vital policy area away from the executive branch.  Before, the president had been in charge of deciding how fast relations with China could develop.  The legislature has just asserted its prerogative by setting the outer limits of what is acceptable.  That is, they are suggesting that the executive branch can take care of the little details, but the broad vision shall be determined by the legislature.

The closest parallel I can think of comes from American politics.  In the early 1970s, the Vietnam War was increasingly unpopular, and then Nixon ordered a major bombing campaign into Laos and Cambodia.  Congress was fed up with the president’s unilateral use of the American military and passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, putting limits on the president’s power to use military force.  Congress argued that the US constitution gave them the right to declare war, so the president should not be able to have undeclared wars.  Every president since 1973 has replied that the resolution is unconstitutional, since it inhibits a president’s power to act as commander in chief.  The important point for us is that the power to use the American military had always been considered as one of the major pillars of presidential power.  In 1973, the legislature tried to pry some of that power away from the executive branch by asserting that they, not the president, had the right to determine the broad outlines (which major military conflicts the US would be involved in) of that area of power.  The current resolution in Taiwan is not quite so dramatic.  For one thing, the proposal is for a specific context, not for a general new law.  The resolution will only apply to this visit by Minister Wang.  It does not apply to other delegations that might negotiate in other places or times.  Even so, if the legislature passes the resolution next week, it will be asserting both some very concrete limits for Wang’s upcoming trip AND a more general right to set such limits whenever it sees fit.  I expect that the Ma administration will make at least a minor statement rejecting the legislature’s right to determine the basic course of cross-strait relations.

Third, this story lifts the covers just a little and gives a peek at the KMT’s intense intra-party conflagration.  The war between Ma and Wang is still running hot, even if it isn’t on the front pages these days.  Ma is still pursuing the court case, and there is a good chance that Wang won’t be able to finish out this term.  One of the main complaints from the Ma side about Wang is that he uses inter-party negotiations to get everything he wants.  Here again, the item was put on the agenda in inter-party negotiations, chaired by Wang.  In the Liberty Times stories, Wang says clearly that the KMT reps didn’t want to sign on to the original proposal.  It was only after some give and take that they agreed.  If you read between the lines just a little bit, you can see a resolution that Wang could have easily killed, had he so wished.  Instead, he kept the negotiations alive, cajoled the various sides to give a bit, and produced an agreement that President Ma will absolutely hate.  Wang may genuinely have different preferences than Ma, but it probably didn’t hurt that Ma is trying to politically assassinate him and that this resolution will place humiliating and potentially significant limitations on Ma’s executive branch.

Beyond the feud between Ma and Wang, this also exposes a rift between Ma and the overall KMT legislative caucus.  Putting these preemptive restrictions on Minister Wang basically equates to an admission by the KMT legislative caucus that it doesn’t trust him.  You rarely hear of this sort of thing, except in divided government.  The back channels of communication must not be working very well if the KMT caucus feels it has to send a public message.  President Ma and Minister Wang will hear the message, but so will all the voters.  One part of the KMT is telling the voters that there is a possibility that another part of the party might do something crazy and they are taking steps to ensure that doesn’t happen.  Unified parties don’t do things like this because that telling voters that powerful people in your party are irresponsible is a good way to lose elections.

I’m increasingly persuaded by the argument that Ma is driven by his historical legacy.  To use a more provocative phrase, Ma might have Nobel Fever.  If he does, he will want to do big things with China before he leaves office.  Rather than waiting for the time to be ripe, he needs to act now in the two years he has left.  He can probably already see the shadow of the lame duck creeping up on him, so he has no time to waste.  The rest of the party has a much longer timeline on China.  Their immediate priority is electoral.  They need to cozy back up to public opinion before this year’s elections, and the public is not clamoring for dramatic new agreements with China right now.  This puts Ma at odds with the mainstream of his party, and it seems that the mainstream might be taking precautions to prevent him from pursuing his goals at the expense of theirs.

The resolution might never reach the floor, though if it does I think it will pass.  There are a few extremist legislators who won’t mind going on record as wanting to allow Minister Wang (and the whole ROC government) to support One China or One Country, Two Regions.  However, most will be want to be closer to the median voter.  If they have to vote, they’ll vote for the resolution.  Even if Ma’s allies can mobilize enough support to keep the resolution off the floor, just by putting this item on the agenda the KMT caucus has sent a warning shot to the administration.

the open revolving door

January 6, 2014

I’m very worried about the abuses that can occur when ROC officials who negotiate with China also do business in China.  There is a clear motive and opportunity for China to give them special treatment in business dealings in exchange for agreeing to more favorable regulations on cross-straits activities.  An excellent article in the Liberty Times points out that Taiwan facilitates such corruption by not extending the normal revolving door provisions to officials in the Straits Exchange Foundation.  Most officials are prohibited from engaging in business in industries regulated by their ministry for three years after leaving their post.  Since SEF officials are already technically retired, the government’s position is that there is no need to worry about their next jobs.  Of course, this is ludicrous.  SEF officials are not actually retired; they are actively on the job.  However, the more important effect is that since the revolving door provision doesn’t extend to the SEF, it also does not extend to the family members of SEF officials.  Well, that couldn’t possibly lead to anything improper, could it?

support for independence, unification, and the status quo

December 31, 2013

The front page headline of the Taipei Times has an incendiary headline today.  In bold type, it screams, “Independence beats ‘status quo’ in poll.”  This headline is a lie.  Independence did not beat status quo in any meaningful sense.  I assume the headline reflects incompetence by the reporter and headline writer and not willful manipulation.  However, this sort of irresponsible journalism serves only to discredit the Taipei Times’ reputation.

Putting aside the misleading reporting, there actually is an interesting story to tell.  In fact, a more honest accounting of public opinion leads us to nearly the same conclusion that the Taipei Times’ fabrication wants us to reach.

The Taipei Times story is based on an unpublished DPP survey that another media outlet obtained and published.  Without asking anything about the methodology, the Taipei Times gleefully informed us that the poll showed 60.2% in favor of independence, 23.4% in favor of unification, and only 8.7% in favor of the status quo.  (They then furthered the impression of incompetence by asking a professor of medicine to give an expert opinion on the results.  One wonders which part of his medical school training covered public opinion survey methodology.)  Years and years of data from a variety of different survey organizations have consistently shown that status quo beats both independence and unification by large margins.  Suddenly, we are supposed to believe that society has violently shifted and half the population has suddenly changed its mind on the single most important political question facing Taiwan?  Perhaps I might believe that if the People’s Liberation Army had launched an attack and was trying to land soldiers on the Chiayi coastline, but nothing quite so monumental has happened in recent months.  So where do the survey results come from?

In every survey, the status quo always wins, and many people want to further probe what these people think.  One suspicion is that they are simply avoiding conflict by giving a neutral answer and that they must really support some concrete option.  Another suspicion is that they aren’t really neutral; they must lean at least a little to one side or the other.  A third group of (more manipulative) people simply wants to look for evidence that allows them to redefine these respondents as favoring their side in the debate.  At any rate, there have been several attempts over the years to get status quo supporters to clarify whether they “really” support unification or independence.

The most straightforward method is to simply take away the neutral category.  Instead of asking whether respondents favor independence, unification, or the status quo, they are asked whether they favor independence or unification.  Even when only given these two choices, a small number of people will insist that they favor maintaining the status quo.  This is how the DPP survey’s results were obtained.  There is nothing wrong with asking the question this way, but it is not fair to claim that independence beat the status quo based on these results.  You could claim almost anything that way.  (Q: Do you prefer totalitarianism or prison?  A: Totalitarianism 40%, prison 35%, democracy 3%.  Headline: “People prefer totalitarianism to democracy!!!)  The fact that independence beat unification 60-23 in a two-category question is interesting, but it does not imply any fundamental shift in the three-category question that we are used to seeing.

So has there actually been a decrease in support for the status quo?  We need more information.  Consider the following TVBS poll conducted about a month ago.  If you read Chinese, the original report is here.  All translations are mine.


TVBS poll, Oct 24-28, 2013.  Sample size: n=1075.  Sorry for the strange numbering.

  1. President Ma stated that people on both sides of the straits belong to the Chinese nation.* Do you agree with this statement? [兩岸人民同屬中華民族, could also be translated as “people on both sides of the strait are ethnically Chinese”]
    1. Agree:                44
    2. Disagree:            42
    3. Non response:    14
  1. 2. President Ma stated that the cross-strait relationship is not an international relationship.  Do you agree?
    1. Agree:            20
    2. Disagree:        66
    3. NR                   14
  2. 3. If there is an opportunity, do you favor President Ma meeting with mainland President Xi?
    1. Favor:              54
    2. Oppose:           32
    3. NR                   15
  1. 4. Do you understand the contents of the cross-straits trade services agreement that Taiwan and the mainland signed?
    1. Understand:            16
    2. Don’t understand:   85
  1. 5. Generally speaking, do you support or oppose the cross-straits trade services agreement that Taiwan and the mainland signed?
    1. Support:           32
    2. Oppose:           43
    3. NR:                  26
  1. 6. Generally speaking, are you satisfied with the policies and methods the government is using to handle cross-straits relations?
3.27.2012 10.17.2012 6.5.2013 10.28.2013
Satisfied 29 26 25 24
Dissatisfied 55 54 48 64
NR 16 21 26 12
  1. 7. Looking at the situation now, do you think the relationship between the mainland and us is friendly or antagonistic?
    1. Friendly:          40
    2. Antagonistic:   37
    3. NR                   14
  1. 8. When the two sides negotiate and sign cross-strait agreements, do you have confidence that the government will protect Taiwan’s interests?
1.28.2011 3.27.2012 10.17.2012 8.30.2013 10.28.2013
Confident 39 34 27 25 21
Not confident 53 57 62 64 71
NR 8 9 12 11 7
  1. 9. Some people say that the Ma government’s cross-straits policies lean too strongly toward mainland China.  Do you agree?
8.26.2008 5.21.2009 12.17.2009 3.27.2012 10.28.2013
Agree 42 43 52 59 62
Disagree 44 40 33 31 27
NR 14 18 15 9 11
  1. 10. Concerning the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China, do you favor independence, unification, or maintaining the status quo?
    1. Independence         24
    2. Unification              7
    3. Status quo               64
    4. NR                           5
  1.  11. If you can only choose one, would you prefer for Taiwan to become an independent country or for Taiwan to unify with the mainland?
    1. Independence         71
    2. Unification              18
    3. NR                           11
  1.  12. In our society, some people say they are Chinese, and some people say they are Taiwanese.  Do you think that you are Taiwanese or Chinese?
    1. Taiwanese               78
    2. Chinese                   13
    3. NR                           9
  1.  13. In our society, some people say they are Chinese, some people say they are Taiwanese, and some people think they are both Taiwanese and Chinese.  Do you think that you are Taiwanese, Chinese, or both?
    1. Taiwanese               55
    2. Chinese                   3
    3. Both                         38
    4. NR                           4


Questions 10 and 11 ask the independence/unification question in two ways, allowing and disallowing status quo.  When status quo is provided as one of the three answers, it easily beats the other two categories with 64%.  Independence beats unification 24-7%, but both percentages are fairly low.  This is the result we are all familiar with.  When only two answer categories are allowed, the results look much different, with independence beating unification 71-18%.  This result is roughly similar to that of the DPP poll.  (The TVBS methodology is more radical than the DPP’s.  TVBS won’t allow respondents to insist that they support the status quo.  Interviewers will keep pushing them until they pick one side or the other.  If a respondent absolutely refuses to pick a side, he or she is coded as a non-response.)  Maybe the Taipei Times should have run a story on this survey, claiming that independence beat the status quo by 71-0%!

TVBS did a similar thing for the familiar ethnic identity question (Q12, 13).  When they forced the people who thought of themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese to pick only one, suddenly Taiwanese identity beats Chinese identity by 78-13%.

Philosophically, are the two-category results better than the three-category results?  This is a subjective question.  I tend to believe that it is intellectually more honest to simply categorize them as neutral.  You can force me to have an opinion on whether people should take multivitamins or not, but I really don’t care.  If you eventually force an answer out of me, you probably shouldn’t use that as evidence that public opinion is against taking multivitamins.  If people are conflicted, confused, or genuinely want to put the decision of unification or independence off until further developments, we observers probably should respect that stance.  If you only report one result, I think it should be the three-category result.

That said, there is value in probing what lies under neutrality.  Consider a person who favors the status quo in Q10 but independence in Q11.  This person is not really an independence supporter, but he or she is closer to the independence side than to the unification side.  A slight to moderate change might be enough to push this person out of the status quo category and into the independence category.  However, it would probably require a major shift to push this person into the unification category.  What Q11 implies is that there are a lot more status quo supporters who might eventually shift to the independence camp than who might shift into the unification camp.

The TVBS/DPP two-category question is one way of seeing this.  I prefer a different set of questions developed by Yu Ching-hsin 游清鑫 and Hsiao Yi-ching 蕭怡靖.  In a paper published in the Taiwanese Political Science Review in 2011, Yu and Hsiao asked the normal six category question (immediate unification, eventual unification, immediate independence, eventual independence, decide later, status quo forever).  As usual, most people chose one of the two neutral categories.  (11.7% for the two unification categories, 27.5% for the two independence categories, and 56.9% for the two neutral categories.)  They then asked, “If that option is not possible, what would you prefer?”  This question teased out a few more answers.  Finally they asked, “Which option is least acceptable to you?”  This gave very interesting results.  59.9% were most strongly against unification, and 21.4% were most strongly against independence.  Using these answers, they put together a 7 category classification:

Conception of U or I

Yu & Hsiao




Immediate unification





Status quo, eventual unification



Status quo, oppose independence






Status quo, oppose unification



Status quo, eventual independence



Immediate independence





(This poll was conducted from April 30 to May 3, 2011, by the Election Study Center at NCCU.  Sample size: 1130.)

What this does it to look at different levels of intensity for unification and independence.  If you think of pro-independence or pro-unification as being something you want right now, then 88% of the population is for the status quo and almost no one is for unification.  If you think of them as something that people want to obtain eventually, then only 40% favor the status quo, and independence beats unification by about 2-1.  If you take the broadest definition, by defining the two sides as including people who don’t want the other side, then only 10% are for the status quo, and independence still beats unification by about 2-1.

To me, this is much more interesting and honest than simply screaming that people support independence in the most sensational manner possible.  The real story is that, at every level of intensity that we have measured, more people prefer independence to unification by quite a large margin.  At the current juncture, it is probably somewhere close to 2-1 for independence, for all measures except the narrowest conception of independence and unification.

There is another interesting lesson from the TVBS data.  On all the abstract questions, President Ma is losing badly.  On Taiwanese/Chinese identity and on unification/independence, Ma’s side is clearly outnumbered.  Moreover, these numbers are trending against him.  Similarly, on all the vague questions about cross-straits negotiations, Ma is also losing badly.  66% disagree with Ma that the cross-strait relationship is not an international one.  64% are dissatisfied with the policies and methods the government is using to handle cross-straits relations.  62% agree that the Ma government’s cross-straits policies lean too strongly toward mainland China.  71% is not confident that the government will protect Taiwan’s interests.  Moreover, Ma is doing worse and worse over time on these questions.  In the very general and abstract, the Taiwanese public seems to have completely rejected Ma and his China policy.

However, when we look at the more concrete questions, the picture looks a bit different.  54% favor a meeting between Ma and Xi.  The cross-straits services trade agreement has 32% in favor.  While this is less than the 43% opposed, the gap is much smaller than those for the more abstract questions.  Ma is doing much, much better on these more specific questions.

What this suggests to me is that while Ma’s China policy may be built on an ideological foundation, it is tenable because it appeals to pragmatism.  Ma is clearly and decisively losing the ideological battle about identity.  However, he has found some space to operate in the more practical questions of how exactly Taiwan and China should interact.  All sides in Taiwan agree that Taiwan needs a prosperous economy and that, in an interconnected world, Taiwan and China have to have some sorts of economic interactions.  Even those people who don’t want to be part of China and don’t trust the Ma administration at all will concede that Taiwan’s government has to have some relations with China.  Doing nothing is not a very good choice.  There are a lot of people who are willing to look past their ideological differences with the Ma government and will consider individual policies for their economic impact.  To put it another way, the unification side is losing (badly) the battle for Taiwanese hearts and minds.  The revised strategy for unification rests on Taiwanese wallets.

a new political cleavage?

January 15, 2012

I think when we look back at the 2012 election a decade from now, we might remember this as the year the economic cleavage was introduced to Taiwan’s politics.

This is the first year that big businesses have lined up so unanimously on one side.  Moreover, there was a real difference in Tsai’s vision of a welfare state with wealth distributed more evenly and Ma’s focus on the traditional numbers like GDP growth.

However, if this is the first time the election has been so explicitly framed in terms of a left-right divide, we must remind ourselves that this was not a cross-cutting cleavage.  Instead, the new left-right divide was simply layered on top of the China cleavage.  The big businesses lined up on the KMT’s side precisely because they want access to the China market.  Tsai framed her concern about the growing wealth gap in terms of how integration into the China market affects normal people’s incomes.

Maybe in the future, the left-right cleavage will take on a life of its own and cut across the traditional unification-independence axis.  If it does, that might upset the KMT’s seeming perpetual majority.  For now, I am simply observing the emergence of a left-right cleavage as an important way to decide which side you are on.


Ma and the peace agreement

November 10, 2011

Wow.  This election is boring.  Two months before election day, and it is really, really cold.  And now, a lightning fast reaction to a story that is two weeks old.

In stating that he is open to negotiating a peace treaty with China, Ma Ying-jeou made a either a horrible campaign mistake or a responsible policy statement.

Politically, it is clear that Ma’s support took a hit in the polls almost immediately after he introduced this issue into the campaign.  One never knows for sure exactly why these numbers go up and down, but it’s hard to avoid connecting the dots in this case.  Experience tells us that nothing matters in Taiwanese elections as much as the China issue.  Four years ago, Ma managed to diffuse suspicions that he was a unification advocate, or at least he managed to convince people that he wouldn’t actively pursue unification.  The No Unification, No Independence, No War slogan was quite powerful.  In the same way that Chen Shui-bian used the DPP’s Resolution on Taiwan’s Future to neutralize fears that he would pursue a radical course, Ma assuaged fears that he would be the opposite sort of radical.  However, by suggesting that he would negotiate a political settlement with China, Ma has stepped away from his moderate stance.  This is important, because the moderate position is where most of the electorate resides.  The Election Study Center’s most recent data point shows that about 60% of the electorate wants either to maintain the status quo and decide about unification or independence in the future or simply maintain the status quo forever.  One of the big advantages of incumbency is that the challenger is usually seen as the riskier choice, since voters have a hard time imagining what she would be like if she actually were the president.  In a stroke, Ma made himself into the dangerous candidate.

One of the more curious aspects of this case was Ma wondering why everyone reacted so suspiciously.  After all, Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, and Tsai Ing-wen have all mentioned the possibility of a peace agreement at one point or another.  Why hasn’t anyone accused them of acting dangerously or pursuing unification?  Well, when different people say the same thing, it doesn’t always mean the same thing.  The classic case is Nixon in China.  Richard Nixon spent the 1950s and 1960s building a reputation as the United State’s premier anti-communist.  Even within the Republican Party, no one was more anti-communist than Nixon.  When Nixon suddenly announced that he was visiting China in 1972, no one doubted that he was being soft on communism or naïve about Mao.  If Eugene McCarthy, who demanded that the USA pull out of Vietnam immediately, had won the 1968 presidential election and then announced that he was going to visit China in 1972, the reaction would have been very different.  There would have been uproar about surrender to communism.  Nixon could do it; McCarthy couldn’t have.  To give an example from Taiwan, many people have noted that in the 2000 presidential election, the formal policy positions on China of all three candidates were basically the same.  Did that mean that people understood Chen, Lien, and Soong to have the same stance?  Of course not!  They had each been associated with a particular stance for years, and their supporters had quite different ideas about what the proper relation with China was.  Ignoring the policy statements, voters judged Chen to be on the independence side of the spectrum, Soong to be on the unification side, and Lien to be closer to the middle.  Moreover, the voters were right to ignore the platforms.  Subsequent events showed that Chen actually leaned to the independence side while Soong and Lien clearly located themselves on the unification side of the spectrum.[1]  When voters reacted differently to almost exactly the same statements by the three candidates, they were wise to do so.  It is no wonder if people today think that when Ma is moving toward unification when he proposes a peace agreement.  He has a long history of Chinese identity, pro-unification activities, and he is supported by people who share those values.  Likewise, it is no wonder that people might react differently if Lee, Chen, or Tsai say exactly the same thing.

(I don’t really think Ma doesn’t understand this.  Whining about how unfairly the other side treats you is part of the political game.  It is all fodder for your side to chew on so you can tell yourself that the other side is completely unreasonable.)

Raising the idea of a peace agreement is almost certainly a vote loser.  However, the policy-oriented democrat in me sees a certain value in it.  Assume that Ma is planning to win the election and seek a peace agreement.  He has a certain responsibility to tell voters that before the election.  If Candidate Ma denied he would do any such thing and then President Ma turned around and did it, it would almost certainly be met with outrage and might cripple his presidency.  It certainly would lack legitimacy.  However, re-elected President Ma can tell voters that he told them about his plans, asked for their support, and got their votes, so seeking a peace agreement has a democratic legitimacy.[2]  Think about ECFA.  No matter how much the DPP protested, Ma always had a trump card.  In the 2008 campaign, he had run on the idea that he would pursue closer economic ties with China, and he won the election with 58%.  He could simply reply that he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

As a democrat, I believe that elections should have consequences.  By putting the possibility of a peace agreement out in the open, Ma has made it very clear what those consequences could be.  Responsible.

On the other hand, as a democrat, I believe in winning elections.  Ma’s actions have made that less likely for him.  Stupid.

[1] Actually, there probably was a mistake in those popular judgments in 2000.  Soong is probably more moderate than Lien.  However, in 2000 Soong was commonly evaluated as pro-unification, probably because he is a mainlander, while Lien was judged as more moderate because of his position as Lee Teng-hui’s protégé.  Lien subsequently made a complete break with Lee and took a much more pro-unification stance.

[2] There is a third way.  In addition to (1) telling the voters and then doing it and (2) not telling the voters and then doing it, Ma could opt for (3) not telling the voters and not doing it.  The third way would simply be continuing his present policy.  Apparently Ma wants to change his present policy so much that he is willing to risk losing the presidency.  Either that or he simply miscalculated the potential impact of announcing a major change in China policy.  Or maybe I am overreacting.

What is the ROC?

August 31, 2010

I had a very thought-provoking discussion last night with my wife about the ROC.  Mrs. Garlic tends to think about the big issues like sovereignty and national identity much more than I do, and she has the gift of being able to put her own opinions aside in order to think clearly and fairly about what all sides are saying.  This post (and many other posts on this blog) owes a very large intellectual debt to her.

The ROC’s current official position is the 1992 consensus, “One China, each side with its own interpretation” (一個中國,各自表述; yi ge zhongguo, ge zi biaoshu).  The PRC, of course, holds that One China means the PRC.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Taiwan’s position, that One China means the ROC, is much more complex and murky.  What is the ROC?

There are three clearly distinct ROCs.[1] First, there is the ROC that the PRC believes in.  This ROC governed[2] China from 1911 to 1949, when it was defeated in the Chinese Civil War by the PRC.  As a result of that defeat, the ROC lost its claim to be the legitimate government of China and ceased to exist as a legitimate force.  The ROC was noted for corruption and ineffective governance.  Ideologically, it was a mishmash of liberal ideals, fascist and feudal practices, and an inability to shed the Confucian intellectual heritage.  It is best seen as a historical transitory regime between the old imperial system and the new PRC.  The current government on Taiwan is a leftover remnant fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable unification of China.  Its status is similar to Zheng Chenggong’s (Koxinga) Southern Ming or Liu Bei’s regime in the early Three Kingdoms period.  Zheng and Liu claimed to be extending and protecting the Ming and Han Dynasties, respectively, but historians do not recognize their regimes as part of those dynasties.  Rather, they are local strongmen who carved out a local area of support and tried to set up an independent kingdom.  Both failed, and their regimes were eventually annexed back into the rest of China.  Likewise, the current regime in Taiwan is just another example of a regime that tries to justify its separation from the legitimate government of China with some grand and preposterous claims to legitimacy.  In fact, you can see how ridiculous these claims are by noting that the ROC sometimes claims to be the real government of China, while at other times claiming sovereignty for just the 23 million people on Taiwan.   Sensible people can just ignore these claims, in the same way that most Americans ignored claims from the Soviet bloc that the Soviets, not the Americans, practiced “true democracy.”

In the context of the 1992 consensus, viewing the ROC as this ROC is tantamount to simply One China, without the rest of the statement.  If the ROC is a historical entity that ceased to have any meaningful existence in 1949, then the only realistic and reasonable China is the PRC.  Very few people in Taiwan take this view of the ROC.[3]

The second ROC is the ROC of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo.  This ROC is the legitimate government of all of China, although China is still divided and remains to be unified.  In this view, the ROC has a glorious history, having overthrown the Qing Dynasty in 1911, unified China with the Northern Expedition in 1927, and resisted Japanese incursions during the War against Japanese Aggression of 1937-45.  Unfortunately, the communists took advantage of that last struggle to develop their own strength, and they were able to occupy and hold most of the territory of China in the ensuing years.  However, the ROC remains the legitimate government of China.  Its ideology, based on the liberalism of Sun Yat-sen, is far more suitable to the modern world than the socialism of the Maoist government or the authoritarianism of the post-1978 PRC.  Yes, the ROC had a period of authoritarian government, but that was a necessary and unfortunate expediency.  The long-term goal has always been a liberal democracy.  The PRC, in contrast, has an explicitly authoritarian ideology.

Chinese nationalism is at the core of this ROC.  Indeed, China has the first claim of allegiance; the ROC has only the second claim.  This vision of the ROC fits quite easily into the 1992 consensus.  In effect, it is an agreement to simply continue the Chinese Civil War, but with less violent forms of competition.  Indeed, as the PRC sheds its socialism, there is less and less need to vigorously struggle against it.  What is left of the PRC is not all that different from the ROC of thirty years ago.  Believers in this ROC often find they are more likely to be allied with the PRC by the One China principal (against people who either reject One China or adhere to the third vision of the ROC) than they are divided by the Each Side With Its Own Interpretation clause.

I don’t have any concrete numbers on how many people in Taiwan adhere to this vision of the ROC, but I don’t think there are very many.  I would guess about 5-10%.  However, they have disproportionate influence because so many of these people have prominent positions in the media, military, academia, bureaucracy, and the KMT party machinery.

The third ROC is the most complex.  This is the ROC on Taiwan developed by President Lee Teng-hui in the 1990s.[4] This ROC is a state based on the 23 million people living on Taiwan.  It is fully sovereign and independent, and it therefore has full rights to determine its own future.   Moreover, this ROC is a liberal democracy, and its sovereignty does not merely belong to its 23 million citizens in some abstract sense, sovereignty is actually exercised and controlled by the citizenry through the mechanisms of liberal democracy.  However, this ROC is NOT tantamount to Taiwan independence.  It is a Chinese state, albeit with a very complicated history.

Where does this ROC come from?  To put it simply, the ROC is a synthesis between two strands of history, one originating in China and the other in Taiwan.  Neither of these strands is dominant; both are important and should be respected.

In the Taiwan-based strand, most people in Taiwan emigrated from China sometime between the mid-17th century and the end of the 19th century.  Taiwan was an unruly frontier area of China, often ignored and neglected by the center.  However, Taiwan was still part of China, and the Qing Dynasty did provide some level of governance.  Following the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and spent the next 50 years as a Japanese colony.  The Japanese heritage developed during the colonial era is an important part of the ROC on Taiwan’s identity.  If many people in Taiwan speak a smattering of Japanese, enjoy sashimi, or look to Japan for new cultural trends, this is not because Taiwanese have some kind of false consciousness or a twisted and confused sense of identity, but because they absorbed and internalized many elements of Japanese-ness during the colonial identity.  There is nothing wrong with this.

While Taiwan integrated some elements from Japan, it remained culturally Chinese, even through the colonial period, and most Taiwanese welcomed the new ROC government in 1945.  However, the KMT proved to be more corrupt and less competent than the Japanese had been, and tensions between the Taiwanese populace and the newly arrived KMT broke out into outright clashes in 1947.  The next few decades were marked by suppression of Taiwanese aspirations, though Taiwanese were allowed nearly complete autonomy in local politics.  They also had quite a bit of freedom in economic affairs, and the stability provided by the national government allowed Taiwan to produce its economic miracle.

Taiwan’s transformation to a liberal democracy began with CCK’s policy of Taiwanization in the early 1970s, and the KMT gradually relaxed its authoritarian grip while allowing more and more native Taiwanese into the centers of power.  This transformation was completed with the first direct presidential election in 1996.  With the old restrictions removed, native Taiwanese naturally occupied most of the positions of power.  On the other hand, mainlanders were not shut out, and many of them continued to wield considerable amounts of power.  It was a KMT-led, gradual transformation, and it produced a liberal democracy without the bloodshed and/or civil war that many countries experience.

In this narrative, many features unique to Taiwan are important to defining the ROC.  The Japanese era, the white terror, Mainlander/Native Taiwanese tension, the economic miracle, and the democratic transition are all integral parts of the ROC on Taiwan.  However, in addition to this Taiwanese heritage, the ROC on Taiwan also has an equally important Chinese heritage.

The ROC on Taiwan shares the glorious ROC history of the second vision, including Sun Yat-sen’s intellectual foundation, the triumphant struggle against the Japanese in WWII, and, more generally, the broader Chinese history and culture.  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Tang Dynasty landscape paintings, and the Great Wall of China all belong to the ROC on Taiwan’s historical and cultural heritages.

Moreover, while the Native Taiwanese side of the postwar political struggles is part of the story, so is the Mainlander side.  The Mainlanders, many of whom were simple soldiers, came to Taiwan almost by accident.  They made the best of things, but many of them led difficult lives in impoverished military villages.  Mainlanders also suffered, perhaps even more than native Taiwanese, during the White Terror, and they had to deal with the pressure of being surrounded by an often antagonistic population who spoke strange dialects.

The ROC on Taiwan, thus, has an integrationist history.  All of these strands belong, and all are important.  The ROC is Chinese, but it is also Taiwanese.  Or maybe it is Taiwanese, but it is also Chinese.

What is the relationship of the ROC on Taiwan to China?  I think this is best encapsulated by the idea of the Special State to State relationship that Lee introduced in 1998.  This idea was, of course, met with a firestorm of criticism, and it was broadly interpreted as a step toward outright independence.  That may have been Lee’s intent.  However, I’m guessing that when Lee sold the policy to the rest of the KMT, he had to stress the “Special Relationship” rather than the “State to State Relationship.”  The Special relationship indicates that the ROC is still Chinese, if not exactly part of the PRC.  There are deep and undeniable connections between the two regimes.  They share a common history.  Whatever the future holds, it is nearly unfathomable to think that Taiwan’s future will not somehow be related to China’s.  This may be political union, war, economic cooperation, economic de-facto colonization, or something else, but China will almost inevitably be the most important influence on Taiwan.  Taiwan cannot (and does not want to, in this vision) simply go its own way.  Moreover, in this vision of the ROC, China is affected by Taiwan as well.  The ROC’s successful practice of a liberal democracy is significant for China.  One of the 1990s slogans was Managing Greater Taiwan, Building a New Chinese Culture (經營大台灣,建立新中原, jingying da Taiwan, jianli xin zhongyuan).  In this view, the society being constructed in Taiwan was an example for the rest of China, and this example was simply too powerful for China to ignore.  Likewise, the current wave of Taiwanese businesses and white-collar workers in China is helping to transform China into a place more amenable to Taiwan and Taiwanese values.

In terms of the 1992 consensus, the ROC on Taiwan is an uneasy fit, though not an impossible one.  The ROC is happy to acknowledge its Chinese heritage, but it is not shy to remind the PRC that it also has another, uniquely Taiwanese, heritage.  One China is possible, but it has to be something short of inevitable.  Liberal democracy is crucial to the ROC, and sovereignty is indisputably exercised by the 23 million people living in that regime.  They can voluntarily choose to unify with China, but they cannot be coerced to do so against their will.  If China wants them to accept unification, it has to be a more attractive partner.  Most people who believe in this ROC probably believe that Taiwan will eventually unify with China (and that this is a good thing), but they expect that both sides will have input on the terms over a long period of negotiations during which the PRC will continue to experience its own internal transformations.  They do not want the PRC to dictate the terms of unification.  They certainly do not anticipate outright annexation in the immediate future.  Indeed, one type of unification possible within this vision is simply to have two governments share a common China, with each exercising control over one part of that territory and both claiming a common destiny.

In this vision of the ROC, “each with its own interpretation” is perhaps more important than “One China.”  The ROC on Taiwan insists on its right to make its own decisions about who it is and what its future will be.   This flexibility makes the One China clause palatable.  If the PRC insists on imposing its definition of One China, which the ROC does not share, then the whole deal is off.  The 1992 consensus will become politically unviable in Taiwan.

The ROC still claims the loyalty of a very large percentage[5] of the population on Taiwan, and I believe that most of those people think of the ROC in terms close to what I am describing as the ROC on Taiwan.  Most of them would probably be aghast at the idea that they are followers of Lee Teng-hui, but focusing on the individual misses the point.  The ROC on Taiwan idea was developed by the KMT, not solely by Lee.  Whatever Lee’s personal preferences were, he had to (and did) articulate a vision that most of his party could support.  Some party members split off and formed the New Party, but most party members and supporters stayed with Lee.  I think Lee strayed too far from his party with the Special State to State Relationship, but only because everyone immediately forgot the “Special” part of that formula.

I will not make a judgment on the wisdom of the 1992 consensus, but I think it is currently a viable position for the KMT to hold.  In other words, the KMT can espouse this position and be electorally viable.  It may even be a vote winner.  However, it is a very fragile position.  It depends critically on the fungibility of the ROC.  The PRC can accept that Taiwan claims that China means the ROC because its understanding of the ROC is very nonthreatening.  Taiwan can accept One China because that acceptance comes with the caveat that Taiwan also gets to insist on the ROC and the ROC implies that the meaning of both China and Taiwan is still up for negotiation.  There is also a small but vocal group that believes in the second vision of the ROC.  These people make the 1992 consensus look stronger than it is.  They give the PRC the impression that Taiwanese can accept One China without reservations while also reassuring the ROC on Taiwan believers that the ROC is a viable and respected entity.

We are starting to hear rumblings that could eventually tear the 1992 consensus apart.  China has thus far refused to concede any space to the ROC, while within Taiwan, supporters of the second vision complain that the government still pays too much attention to the local history and politics and not enough attention to China.  President Ma and other KMT (elected) leaders seem to understand that the 1992 consensus is only electorally viable if the ROC is the ROC on Taiwan.  The complaints come primarily from people who don’t need the support of broad swaths of the electorate.  To me, these people are shortsighted, because if they force Ma and the KMT to move away from “each with its own interpretation” and toward “One China,” Ma and the KMT will cease to hold power in short order.

If the DPP retakes power, the 1992 consensus and the ROC itself may face challenges.  While there are many in the DPP who are comfortable with the ROC on Taiwan vision, this is a generally more of a final line in the sand, a position beyond which they cannot retreat after they have conceded their more preferred solutions.  There are also many who dislike the entire notion of the ROC.  At best, it is an uncomfortable shell that must be maintained until favorable conditions allow them to discard it entirely in favor of a fully independent Taiwan.

[1] There are other variations on these three, but I think these are the big, distinct ones.

[2] Note the use of the past tense.

[3] Perhaps I should say that very few people who believe Taiwan is Chinese accept this vision of the ROC.  Many Taiwan Independence supporters would be entirely comfortable with this vision.

[4] I do not know if Lee personally still believes in this ROC, or indeed if he ever did.  However, this is how I understand the vision that was fully articulated during his presidency.

[5] This is intentionally fuzzy.  If you insist on numbers, let’s say somewhere between 25% and 65%.