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President Ma addresses Mainland Affairs Council

President Ma Ying-jeou on the morning of April 29 addressed the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and reiterated that the 1992 Consensus is the key to ensuring cross-strait peace and prosperity. He also reaffirmed that both sides, based on the 1992 Consensus whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means, should continue to consolidate mutual trust and strive to benefit the people on both sides of the Strait.

Translation of the president's remarks:

Twenty-two years ago today, the Koo-Wang talks were held in Singapore. During those talks, Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and Chairman Wang Daohan (汪道涵) of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) signed four agreements. Those agreements were the first fruits of the 1992 Consensus, as well as an important milestone that marked the beginning of institutionalized cross-strait negotiations. Ten years ago today, opposition party leader and Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) travelled to mainland China and met with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). The resulting Lien-Hu communique unveiled the Five Points of the Common Vision, which put cross-strait relations back on the firm foundation of the 1992 Consensus. So the fact that I'm here at the MAC today holds special significance, and gives us a chance to commemorate this day in history as we reflect on the past, and peer into the future of cross-strait relations.

What we call the "1992 Consensus" is an agreement reached by Taiwan and the mainland in 1992 whereby both sides acknowledge the existence of "one China," but maintain their own interpretation of what that means. That has special significance for Taiwan, as it finally gave the two sides a mutually acceptable political basis to address the sensitive "one China" issue, and was also a consensual agreement instead of a unilateral pipedream. Of course, Taiwan's interpretation of "one China," based on our Constitution, means the Republic of China—not "two Chinas," or "one China, one Taiwan," or "Taiwan independence." Without the 1992 Consensus the 1993 Koo-Wang talks would never have happened, and the window of opportunity for progress in cross-strait peace would never have opened after 2008. So it's clear that the 1992 Consensus has played a pivotal role in ensuring cross-strait peace and prosperity.

Now let's look back and recall the historical circumstances that led to the birth of the 1992 Consensus. Back in July of 1987, the government lifted martial law in the Taiwan and Penghu areas. Beginning in November of that year, Taiwan residents were also permitted to return to mainland China to visit relatives. The progress of cross-strait relations thus proceeded from the initial state of military conflict to a middle period of a peaceful standoff, and finally to a new stage characterized by people-to-people interaction. In 1991 Taiwan set up its SEF and mainland China established its ARATS, creating an institutionalized communication channel. But over time, differences of opinion about the "one China" principle became more pronounced.

On August 1, 1992 former President Lee Teng-hui convened a plenary session of the National Unification Council (NUC). At that meeting a resolution was passed on the meaning of "one China," stating that: "Both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is only one China. However, the two sides have different opinions as to the meaning of 'one China.'" Thereafter, in talks held in Hong Kong at the end of October of 1992, mainland China wanted to discuss how "one China" should be interpreted. But no consensus was reached. On November 3 the SEF suggested that both sides express their interpretations of "one China" orally. On November 16 the ARATS cabled a response saying that they respected and accepted the SEF's suggestion, and the two bodies gave oral statements on their respective interpretations of the "one China" principle. This consensus to seek common ground while setting aside differences is virtually the same as the resolution on the meaning of "one China" passed by the NUC convened by former President Lee.

The process that I've just outlined makes it clear: The 1992 Consensus was not a proposal by mainland China that they forced us to accept. We made the initial proposal, which the mainland agreed to accept. At that time, Lee Teng-hui was our president and Huang Kun-huei (黃昆輝) was the MAC minister. That period in history is indelible, and can't be denied. In April of 2000, MAC minister Chi Su (蘇起) called that agreement the "1992 Consensus," and that name is still in widespread use by a majority of people on both sides of the Strait. And since its 18th Party Congress, the CCP has formally adopted the "1992 Consensus" locution for use in central government documents.

Now let's look at the evolution of the 1992 Consensus over the past 23 years. After the 1992 Hong Kong talks, in April of the following year Taiwan and mainland China held the Koo-Wang talks in Singapore. Four general agreements were signed, launching a new era in cross-strait negotiations.

But after former President Lee visited the US in 1995, cross-strait tensions escalated and mainland China conducted numerous military exercises along its southeastern coast. During Taiwan's presidential election in 1996, the PRC fired two missiles that landed off the coast of Keelung and Kaohsiung, respectively, precipitating a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. The US dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to Taiwan as a precautionary measure. In October of 1998, although another round of Koo-Wang talks were held and arrangements were made for the ARATS chairman Wang Daohan to visit Taiwan the following year, in July of 1999 former President Lee proposed designating cross-strait relations as "special state-to-state relations," which the media dubbed the "two states theory." Feeling that the 1992 Consensus had been violated, mainland China once again broke off contacts between the SEF and the ARATS. In the year 2000 Taiwan witnessed its first transfer of power between political parties. The new president, Chen Shui-bian, did not endorse the 1992 Consensus. Instead, he advocated a policy of "one country on each side" [of the Taiwan Strait] and launched a referendum seeking ROC membership in the United Nations. During President Chen's eight-year tenure, institutionalized cross-strait negotiations ceased, and Taiwan and the US were often at loggerheads as mutual trust at the highest levels of government vanished.

Taiwan's 2008 elections brought another transfer of political power. Four days after that election, on March 26, mainland Chinese leader Hu Jintao spoke to former US President George W. Bush by phone, and proposed that, "Mainland China and Taiwan should restore consultation and talks on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, which sees both sides recognize there is only one China, but agree to differ on its definition." Again, that's almost the same as the "one China" definition proposed by the NUC under former President Lee that I just described. On the 26th and 29th of May in 2008 the SEF and the ARATS announced that, based on the 1992 Consensus, they would resume the institutionalized cross-strait negotiations that had been put on hold for a decade. On June 11, the two sides met for talks in Beijing. Two days later the decision to commence direct cross-strait flights and allow mainland China tourists to visit Taiwan was announced, a major step in reviving cross-strait relations.

Over the past 23 years, experience has shown that when the ROC and the PRC abide by the 1992 Consensus, cross-strait ties make steady progress, but when one side disregards the Consensus, relations become unstable and past gains evaporate. For example, the Koo-Wang talks were suspended after just one session following the emergence of talk about a “two state theory" and "one country on each side." The hiatus lasted for 10 years, until talks were finally resumed in 2008. In the seven years since then, SEF-ARATS talks led by Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) have been held eight times, followed by two talks led by Lin Join-Sane (林中森) and Chen Deming (陳德銘). However, during that 10-year hiatus when cross-strait relations were in limbo, Taiwan missed out on many valuable opportunities for development and progress, which is truly regrettable.

Here in Taiwan, some people still hold differing views regarding the 1992 Consensus, and hope to establish a new basis for the conduct of cross-strait relations. Four years ago, for example, Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) argued during her presidential campaign in favor of a "Taiwan consensus." She also proposed that the two sides should "seek harmony while reserving the right to disagree, and seek agreement in a spirit of harmony." And senior DPP leader Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has also spoken of a "constitutional consensus" as well as a "constitutional one-China" or "different interpretations of the constitution." It is true that these calls represent serious efforts to build a new consensus. However, in the course of discussions within Taiwan and across the Taiwan Strait, none of the ideas proposed have simultaneously gained support in both Taiwanese society and the mainland, so they cannot replace the 1992 Consensus.

More recently, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) put forward a "new perspective for 2015," wherein he called for the two sides to honor previously signed cross-Strait agreements as well as past interactions, and promote communication and goodwill so that the people of the two sides can work together for a better shared future based on the "Four Mutuals" [mutual interaction, understanding, respect, and cooperation]. DPP Chairperson Tsai has also called for maintaining the cross-strait status quo, and has said that if her party were to return to power in the future, it would review cross-strait agreements in accordance with a Cross-Strait Agreement Supervisory Act while continuing to engage in cross-strait talks. We are willing to take a positive view of the fact that Mayor Ko and Chairperson Tsai are willing to set aside past positions and adopt a pragmatic attitude to cross-strait reconciliation and cooperation, which is the direction in which relations are headed. In shifting to this pragmatic attitude, they are moving closer to our administration's current policy on mainland affairs.

But we must also point out that Chairperson Tsai and Mayor Ko have sidestepped the "one China" issue. Our administration, on the contrary, addresses it head on in its clearly stated position that the 1992 Consensus allows each side to acknowledge the existence of "one China" while maintaining its own interpretation of what that means, and in its insistence that the "one China" of which we speak is the Republic of China. As the DPP nominee for president in 2016, Chairperson Tsai has a responsibility to clearly answer two questions. First, when she speaks of maintaining the cross-strait status quo, what status quo is she referring to? Is it the current status quo, wherein we adhere, on the basis of the ROC Constitution, to the principles of no unification, no independence, and no use of force? And does it also look to the 1992 Consensus—whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means—as the basis for peaceful ties between the two sides? Second, how is the status quo to be maintained? Chairperson Tsai must say clearly what the status quo entails and how she intends to maintain it, for cross-strait ties affect more than just the wellbeing of the 23 million people of Taiwan; they also have a bearing on stability in the Taiwan Strait and the security of the entire region. The people of Taiwan, and the international community, have a right to know the answers to these two questions.

As I've stated above, the 1992 Consensus has three key characteristics:

First, the 1992 Consensus is rooted in the ROC Constitution.
The principle of "one China, respective interpretations" reflects how cross-strait relations are treated under the ROC Constitution. Our constitution treats the situation as "one ROC, two areas" (the Taiwan area and the mainland area). This is a concrete manifestation of the principle whereby the two sides are to maintain "mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual non-denial of governing authority." Abiding by the 1992 Consensus is conducive to defending the ROC's sovereignty and the dignity of Taiwan.

Second, the 1992 Consensus was proposed by our side.
The "one China" principle is the most sensitive issue in cross-strait relations, and one that cannot be sidestepped. It was our side that took the initiative to put forward the idea of a 1992 Consensus—whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means—while the mainland authorities decided to accept it, thus creating the consensus. The ability of the two sides to settle on a political "meeting of the minds" with respect to the "one China" issue, and on that basis to pursue peaceful cross-strait ties, has been no minor accomplishment. The two sides should hold it in high regard, and never stray from it. Let me just say that one more time: We've got to hold it in high regard, and never stray from it.

Third, the 1992 Consensus is a pragmatic and feasible consensus that has withstood the test of time. The successful experiences of the past seven years have shown that the 1992 Consensus really can yield all sorts of peace dividends for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. It is acceptable to the people of Taiwan, and the international community believes it helps maintain regional peace. The other positions currently being discussed lack concrete details and any means of implementation, and are unlikely to gain support and trust in Taiwan, in the mainland, and in the United States. Quite clearly, the 1992 Consensus is still the key to continued peace and prosperity in cross-strait relations.

Institutionalized negotiations over the past seven years have resulted in the signing of 21 agreements between the two sides that are related to the livelihood of the public. These agreements have also solidified a strong foundation for the development of cross-strait peace. These 21 agreements cover, among other things, the three direct links and cross-strait direct air transport, mainland tourists traveling to Taiwan, food safety, medical and health cooperation, joint crime-fighting, and economic cooperation. The heads of the agencies on each side of the Taiwan Strait responsible for cross-strait affairs met three times last year during which they referred to each other by their official titles, which was unprecedented. This is conducive to the normalization of interaction between the two sides. All of this is the result of implementing the 1992 Consensus.

I would also like to take this opportunity to examine the interaction and development at all levels between the two sides.

1. Cross-strait trade over the past seven years has grown enormously. While Taiwan enjoys a sizeable trade surplus, its reliance on exporting products to the mainland is falling.

Cross-strait trade last year reached US$174.5 billion, a considerable rise of 34% compared with 2007. Taiwan's trade surplus was US$74.9 billion, but our dependence on exports to the mainland has declined.

Taiwan's degree of dependence on exports to the mainland (including Hong Kong), stood at 23.4% in 2000 when former President Chen took office. This figure increased to 40.7% by 2007, which was the year before I was inaugurated. Over the past seven years, the government has worked to diversify Taiwan's export markets, and Taiwan's exports to mainland China in 2014 not only did not rise, but in fact fell to 39.7% of total exports. In addition, Taiwan saved the equivalent of US$2.2 billion in tariffs since the implementation of the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and half of that benefit has been enjoyed by small- and medium-sized enterprises. Taiwan is registering its first trade surplus in the trade of agricultural products between the two sides in decades, and that surplus is still rising. In addition, the benefit to small- and medium-sized firms and farmers should continue to expand.

2. Large numbers of mainland tourists and mainland students are coming to Taiwan for tourism and study, thus promoting mutual understanding and strong growth in Taiwan's tourism industry.

The number of mainlanders visiting Taiwan in 2014 was 3.84 million, which was a 16-fold rise from 2007, while the number of mainland students coming here to study stood at 32,911, a growth of 40-fold. Mainlanders bring with them a large source of foreign exchange and this has undoubtedly benefitted Taiwan's tourism industry. Even more important, however, is that mainland travelers and mainland students are able to see with their own eyes the lifestyle and social values of the Taiwan public, which is conducive to mutual understanding, tolerance, and—step by step—trust, thus forging even more stable cross-strait relations. This kind of interaction should be expanded.

3. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are jointly combatting crime. This is largely reducing instances of fraud and other crime that the public abhors, and is significantly improving safety here in Taiwan.

Authorities from the two sides have also worked together on many occasions in conjunction with police from Southeast Asian nations in the investigation of fraud, resulting in the arrest of 6,288 individuals over the past six years. The number of telecommunications and Internet fraud cases in Taiwan has declined by over 20,000, equivalent to a 46% drop, while the amount of money lost in these scams has fallen from NT$18.6 billion in 2006 to NT$3.3 billion last year, which is a drop of 82%. Consequently, society is much safer here now and I am confident that the public can sense the benefits of this policy, which should continue to be promoted.

4. The international community has applauded the peaceful development of relations between the two sides and has exhibited a much improved attitude toward the government and people of the ROC, thereby indirectly benefitting the ROC's international relationships.

Cross-strait reconciliation, peace and cooperation have transformed the Taiwan Strait from a "killing fields" into a "peaceful arena." Leaders from the Americas, European and Asian nations have applauded the ROC's policies with respect to mainland China, and the attitude of the international community toward the government and people of the ROC has improved considerably. At the same time, the improved international image of the ROC has indirectly helped the ROC in expanding international relations. For instance, the ROC over the past few years has been able to participate in the annual meetings of the World Health Assembly (WHA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), two bodies in which it had been absent for 38 and 42 years, respectively. Attending these activities is something we could not even have imagined in the past. Furthermore, the number of countries and areas that provide visa-free courtesies or landing visas to ROC nationals has risen from 54 during the presidencies of Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian to 140 now. That is a rise of 86 (equivalent to 159%) over this period, and the number continues to increase. The spillover effect from the improvement in cross-strait relations has been meaningful participation for Taiwan in the international community. This relationship has turned from a vicious cycle in the past into a virtuous cycle.

As cross-strait cooperation in economics and trade has continued to progress, the ROC has signed unprecedented investment and fisheries agreements with Japan, while also inking economic cooperation and economic partnership agreements with New Zealand and Singapore. Meanwhile, the United States has continued to sell large amounts of arms to the ROC under former US President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama. These arms sales, which are the highest in the past two decades, are effectively enhancing Taiwan's war preparedness and helping to ensure the safety of Taiwan. These leaders also believe the improvement in cross-strait relations helps maintain stable relations between the United States and the ROC, which is also unprecedented.

The public on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share a desire for "peace" and "prosperity," and this remains a constant objective in the development of cross-strait relations. Over the past seven years, we have worked to create an ultra-stable foundation, thus generating the greatest level of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait since the two sides came under separate rule 66 years ago. We will not, however, rest on our laurels.

Looking ahead, the two sides should continue to consolidate mutual trust and pursue wellbeing for the public based on the "1992 Consensus, respective interpretations." There are still three areas that I will promote actively during my presidency to solidify and add further depth to cross-strait peace. First, the signing of the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Goods will help round out the function of the ECFA. Second, realizing the establishment of representative offices in each other's countries will provide services to the public of both sides. And third, negotiating Taiwan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and participating in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other multilateral regional economic organizations under the condition of "dignity and equality." I have no doubt that these goals have great significance for Taiwan's sustained development and long-term peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Over the past 23 years, anyone from Taiwan or the mainland can clearly see that the 1992 Consensus has been the key to the development of cross-strait relations. When we abide by that Consensus, cross-strait relations flourish. If we diverge from it, cross-relations will deteriorate. And if we oppose it, there will be turmoil in the Taiwan Strait. The 1992 Consensus is not a panacea, but it can resolve quite a few issues, maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and bring peace and prosperity to the Taiwan Strait.

I wholeheartedly believe that peace and prosperity is the common future for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and that this is not only in the best interest of Taiwan, but also meets the expectations of the majority of the public and the international community. The government will adhere to existing policies and pursue positive interaction in this regard, thus "putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people." This will create a new chapter in relations between the two sides. I encourage our colleagues in the MAC and the SEF to continue their efforts.

Among those in attendance at the event were Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), MAC Minister Andrew L. Y. Hsia (夏立言), and SEF Chairman Lin.

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