The "1992 Consensus" or "Consensus of 1992" is a political term referring to the outcome of a meeting in 1992 between the semi-official representatives of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. The Kuomintang (KMT) of the ROC says that the consensus exists, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of ROC and the President of ROC in 1992, Lee Teng-hui, deny the existence of the 1992 consensus. The term, as described by some observers, means that, on the subject of the "One China principle", both sides recognise there is only one "China": both mainland China and Taiwan belong to the same China, but both sides agree to interpret the meaning of that one China according to their own definition.
Critics of the term, including Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), point out that because there was no agreement on the meaning and mutual understanding of China and which government, ROC or PRC, represents "China", it was not a "consensus" at all. They also criticise the term on the basis that it was not created contemporaneously with the meeting: according to former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi, he invented the term in 2000, eight years after the 1992 meetings.
The PRC's position is that there is one, undivided sovereignty of China, and that the PRC is the sole legitimate representative of that sovereignty. The ROC's Kuomintang's position is that there is one, undivided sovereignty of China, and that the ROC is the sole legitimate representative of that sovereignty. The ROC's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) position is that it recognizes the PRC as a country and therefore there is now one country on each side, and each is a sovereign nation.
The 1992 Consensus was the outcome of a November 1992 meeting in British Hong Kong between the mainland China-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). Three months before the meeting, the Taiwan side (on 1 August 1992) published the following statement in respect of its interpretation of the meaning of "One China":
"Both sides of the Taiwan Strait agree that there is only one China. However, the two sides of the Strait have different opinions as to the meaning of 'one China.' To Peking, 'one China' means the 'People’s Republic of China (PRC),' with Taiwan to become a 'Special Administration Region' after unification. Taipei, on the other hand, considers 'one China' to mean the Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1911 and with de jure sovereignty over all of China. The ROC, however, currently has jurisdiction only over Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. Taiwan is part of China, and the Chinese mainland is part of China as well."
The above statement was published in the Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, ROC, “Consensus Formed at the National Development Conference on Cross-Strait Relations,” February 1997. “The Meaning of ‘One China’” was adopted by the ROC's (now defunct) National Unification Council.
With respect to the actual "1992 Consensus" reached by the two sides in Hong Kong in 1992, the following statement from the Taiwan SEF side is relevant:
"On November 3 , a responsible person of the Communist Chinese ARATS said that it is willing to 'respect and accept' SEF’s proposal that each side 'verbally states' its respective principles on 'one China.'"
The above statement was contained in a Press release (in Chinese) made by the SEF in Taipei on November 3, 1992. There appears to be no written record of what the SEF verbally stated at that time in respect of the meaning of "One China" but, given that it was effectively an agent of the ROC Government, it undoubtedly stuck to the ROC's official position at the time (set out above) with respect to the meaning of "One China".
With respect to the actual "1992 Consensus" reached by the two sides in Hong Kong in 1992, the following statement from the Mainland ARATS side is relevant:
"At this working-level consultation in Hong Kong, SEF representatives suggested that each side use respective verbal announcements to state the one China principle. On November 3rd, SEF sent a letter, formally notifying that 'each side will make respective statements through verbal announcements.' ARATS fully respects and accepts SEF’s suggestion."
The conclusion they reached was intended as a means of side-stepping the conflict over the political status of Taiwan. At the time of the meeting, Hong Kong was under British rule and therefore considered neutral territory by both sides.
As a result of the 1992 meeting, ARATS Chairman Wang Daohan and SEF Chairman Koo Chen-fu met in Singapore on April 27, 1993, in what became known as the "Wang-Koo summit". They concluded agreements on document authentication, postal transfers, and a schedule for future ARATS-SEF meetings. Talks were delayed as tensions rose in the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, but in October 1998 a second round of Wang-Koo summit were held in Shanghai. Wang and Koo agreed to meet again in Taiwan in the autumn of 1999, but the meeting was called off by the PRC side when then President Lee Teng-hui proposed his 'Two-states Theory' whereby each side would treat the other as separate state. PRC officials indicated that this position was unacceptable.
The KMT-led ROC government had expressed the 1992 meeting's outcome as "one China with different interpretations": that both sides agreed that there was one China, but indirectly recognised and respected that both sides had different interpretations of that concept. By contrast, the Communist Party of China (CPC) led PRC government consistently emphasizes that the 1992 meeting reached an understanding that there is "one China". ROC's main opposition party, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, did not see the 1992 meeting as reaching any consensus on there being only "one China". Instead, it saw the outcome of the meeting as establishing that the two sides had different interpretations of the status quo.
The election of the DPP to the ROC government in 2000 prompted former SEF official Su Chi to coin the term "1992 Consensus" as an ambiguous replacement for the previous terms in order to capture the broadest consensus between the different parties over the outcome of the 1992 meeting. Some who dispute the existence of a "1992 Consensus" claim that if there is a "1992 Consensus", it is that (1) there's only one China; and (2) both sides are free to define what "one China" is;
Also, supporters of the pan-Green coalition led by the DPP remained insistent that the meetings in 1992 did not come to any consensus over the one China principle. In support of this view, they point out that both Hsu Huei-yu and Koo Chen-fu, who participated in the 1992 meeting as SEF delegates, have publicly affirmed that the meeting did not result in any consensus on the "one China" issue. Instead, they claim, both sides agreed to proceed with future meetings on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Koo stated in his biography that, "Both sides across the strait have different interpretations of the 1992 Hong Kong meeting. Rather than using 'consensus,' the term of art should be 'understanding' or 'accord' to better reflect the fact, thus avoiding untruthful application."
The Chief of the ROC Mainland Affairs Council also indicated that no consensus was reached as a result of the 1992 meeting and that the term 1992 Consensus was only introduced by the mass media in 1995. Some Taiwan independence supporters, such as former President Lee Teng-hui, point to a lack of documentation to argue that the consensus has never existed. However, it is also the case that as of 1992, the government of the ROC still formally adhered to a 'one China' position, one which it only moved away from in the late-1990s.
According to Raymond Burghardt, the chair of the American Institute in Taiwan, the United States representative office in Taiwan:
"[There was] some language [in the faxes] that overlapped and some language that differed." Then Taiwan and China agreed to conduct dialogue based on their statements written in those faxes. "That's what happened. Nothing more or nothing less," Burghardt said, adding that the KMT called this the '1992 Consensus', which was to some extent "confusing and misleading. To me, I'm not sure why you could call that a consensus."
Burghardt is thought to be the only US official to have expressed a position on the existence of the 1992 Consensus.
The 1992 Consensus has been described by Lee Teng-hui, the ROC president between 1988 and 2000, as a consensus without a consensus on the definition of 'One China.'
The PRC has stated that any group in Taiwan with which it has formal talks must support the 1992 Consensus.
In a speech on 10 October 2004, then-president Chen Shui-bian expressed his willingness to initiate dialogue with PRC leaders on "the basis of the 1992 meeting in Hong Kong". This formulation however presumes that no agreement on one China was made in the 1992 meeting, and Chen's speech was widely seen as an effort to establish a basis for negotiations with the PRC without accepting the one China principle. The PRC did not respond to his speech favourably and no dialogues were initiated.
The 1992 Consensus was invoked again the following year, when KMT chairman Lien Chan and People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong made separate trips to Mainland China to begin party-to-party dialogue between the CCP and KMT and between the CCP and PFP. Both leaders explicitly endorsed the 1992 Consensus.
During the debates between then-KMT-candidate Ma Ying-jeou and DPP candidate Frank Hsieh in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, Ma said the 1992 Consensus undoubtedly existed, and that while the DPP were entitled to disagree with it, they could not deny its existence. Furthermore, he stated that the agreements reached in the 2005 Pan-Blue visits to mainland China, which occurred on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, could, if it was beneficial to the people, be developed into policy and thence into law, and put into practice.
The election of the KMT to the ROC government saw both sides of the Taiwan strait moving closer to a common interpretation of the Consensus. In March, PRC's state news agency Xinhua in its English website reported a telephone discussion between the PRC president Hu Jintao and his counterpart George W. Bush. The agency reported that it is PRC's "consistent stand that the Chinese Mainland 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". However, Xinhua's Chinese version of the report only stated that the resumption of the talks should be on the basis of the 1992 Consensus without expanding into the meaning of the Consensus.
In his inauguration speech on 20 May 2008, ROC president Ma Ying-jeou stated that in 1992 the two sides of the strait reached a consensus which saw "one China with different interpretations" and the ROC would resume talks with the PRC as soon as possible based on the 1992 Consensus.
On 28 May 2008, KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung met Hu Jintao as CPC Chief in Beijing at Hu and the CPC's invitation to engage in a party-to-party dialogue. In the meeting, the parties expressed that both sides across the strait will lay aside disputes, and work for a win-win situation on the basis of the 1992 Consensus. As well as the party-to-party channel, the semi-governmental dialogue channel via the SEF and the ARATS is scheduled to re-open in June 2008 on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, with the first meeting held in Beijing. The first priority for the SEF-ARATS meeting will be the establishments of the three links, especially direct flights between mainland China and Taiwan.
Weekend direct chartered flights between mainland China and Taiwan commenced on 4 July 2008 subsequent to the successful cross-strait talks in June 2008.
On 2 September 2008, the ROC President Ma Ying-jeou was interviewed by the Mexico-based newspaper El Sol de México. He was asked about his views on the subject of "two Chinas" and if there is a solution for the sovereignty issues between the two. The ROC President replied that the relations are neither between two Chinas nor two states. It is a special relationship. Further, he stated that the sovereignty issues between the two cannot be resolved at present, but he quoted the 1992 Consensus, currently accepted by both sides according to Ma, as a temporary measure until a solution becomes available. The spokesman for the ROC Presidential Office Wang Yu-chi later clarified the President's statement and said that the relations are between two regions of one country, based on the ROC Constitutional position, the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area and the 1992 Consensus.
On 12 January 2011, Xinhua news agency reiterated Beijing's position on this issue by defining the 1992 Consensus as saying that "under which both sides adhere to the One-China Principle".