Ma Ying-jeou’s Speech at the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) (June 15, 2016)

After a popular eight years as the mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-jeou served two four-year terms as president of Taiwan (Republic of China). A key plank of his platform was to forge closer relations with the PRC, and as part of his efforts to warm ties between the "two Chinas," he became the first Republic of China official to meet with a CCP official when he met Xi Jinping (in Singapore) in 2015. Ma's rapprochement with the PRC triggered a crisis of confidence and general discontent with Taiwanese. .As Ma describes next, the evolution of this relationship is one fraught with concern and caution on both sides of the Taiwan straits. Yet, with few promises and even fewer guarantees from the PRC about possible closer ties, the cjuestion of Taiwan remains a difficult one to Chinese in the PRC and in Taiwan.


  • 1. What different formulas have Taiwanese officials proposed for "cross-strait" relations?
  • 2. Why does Ma Ying-j eou suggest the "One China" policy is founded on a false premise?

The topic I want to talk about today is cross-strait relations in the after- math of the Ма-Xi meeting in Singapore in November last year. Crossstrait relations have improved more in the past eight years than during any period since 1949. And the foundation of that change is the 1992 Consensus, which is "one China, respective interpretations." But where did that foundation come from?

Taiwan lifted Martial Law and restrictions on family visits across the Taiwan Strait in 1987, and cross-strait relations began to thaw. In 1991, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) was established in Taiwan, and the mainland set up its counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). That marked the beginning of institutionalized exchanges. In October of 1992, right here in Hong Kong, those two agencies held working-level talks. The mainland side wanted to negotiate the "one China" principle, but talks between the two sides were inconclusive. So, they all went home. However, after the meeting Taiwan's SEF persevered, and sent a new suggestion. Its proposal stated that, "Both sides of the Taiwan Strait insist on 'one China' principle." However, the two sides have different opinions as to the meaning of "one China," and each side may state its interpretation verbally. On November 16, ARATS sent a formal letter informing the SEF that they "fully respect and accept the SEF's suggestion." The two sides had finally reached a consensus, and that is the origin of the [19]92 Consensus. At that time, Taiwan media came up with the headline "One China, respective interpretations," which is still in use today. So when the two sides reached the'92 Consensus, Hong Kong also played a role.

Based on that foundation, SEF Chairman Koo Chen-fu and ARATS Chairman Wang Daohan signed four agreements in Singapore in April of 1993. So, four decades after the two sides of the Taiwan Strait came under separate rule in 1949, government- authorized bodies from both sides signed formal, binding agreements for the first time. Unfortunately, for the next 15 years cross-strait relations were marked by turmoil, including the Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis in 1996; the shockwaves from President Lee Teng-Hui's "Two States [liangguo lun]" remarks in 1999; President Chen Shui-bian's "one country on each side [yibian i/iguo]” remarks in 2001; and four referendums tied to general elections in 2004 and 2008. So for a decade and a half, cross-strait relations were fraught with peril.

In 2008 I became president and began to promote cross-strait rapprochement. Under the framework of the ROC Constitution, I sought to maintain the status quo, defined as: "no unification, no independence, and no use of force [biltong, bitdu, buwu].'' I also promoted peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait based on the'92 Consensus, which is "one China, respective interpretations [yige zhongguo gezi biaosliu].'' The "three noes" [san bu zhengce] above is supported by over 80% of the people in Taiwan; it can be called a "Taiwan Consensus," whereas the'92 Consensus is a cross-strait consensus which is part of the status quo. And as a result of those policies, cross-strait relations began to stabilize.

Over the past eight years: Taiwan and mainland China signed 23 agreements; the ministers in charge of cross-strait affairs from both sides met seven times, addressing each other using their official titles; the number of scheduled cross-strait flights each week rose from zero to 890; over 4 million mainland tourists traveled to Taiwan last year, a 14-fold increase; and the number of mainland students in Taiwan surpassed the 42,000 mark, almost a 50-fold increase. Tension in the Taiwan Strait decreased significantly.

Those developments have transformed a flashpoint of conflict into an avenue of peace. It was the'92 Consensus that allowed our minister of health and welfare to formally attend the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) eight times in a row after an absence of 38 years. This was all possible because while we were improving cross-strait relations, we also adopted a new approach to foreign relations called "viable diplomacy," and stopped contending with mainland China for diplomatic allies in the international arena. That meant Taiwan's cross-strait and international relations were no longer a zero-sum game, and no longer mired in a vicious cycle.

Instead, we created a win-win situation, a virtuous cycle, and peace dividends started to roll in. These developments were well received by the United States, Japan, the European Union, and countries throughout the Asia Pacific region. In fact, our relations with these countries have been the best ever as a result.

Some of you might recall that back on August 23, 1958, communist forces in Xiamen, Fujian Province, began a massive bombardment of the island of Kinmen. In just 44 days, 470,000 artillery shells rained down on Kinmen, an area of only 150 square kilometers. That's an average of over 10,000 shells per day. But since 1979, Xiamen hasn't been firing artillery shells. Instead, they have been sending an average of over 175,000 tourists each year since I took office in 2008. What's interesting is that when mainland tourists go shopping in Kinmen, their favorite souvenir is a kitchen

LEE TENG-HUI (Li Denghui) (1929-2020)—

Born in Taiwan and educated in Japan and the United States, he joined the KMT in 1971, was appointed mayor of Taibei in 1981, and succeeded Jiang Jingguo after his death in 1988. He became the first popularly elected ROC president in 1996.


policy dating from the late 1970s by Taiwan in response to the PRC's efforts to have direct talks. President Chiang Ching- kuo asserted "no contact, no negotiation, and no compromise." In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou later established a new "three noes" policy of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force." knife—a kitchen knife made from artillery shell casings fired by communist troops many, many years ago!

Because mainland China and Taiwan had built up sufficient mutual trust, and predicated on the principles of equality and dignity, I was able to meet with mainland Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore on November 7 of last year. That was the first meeting between cross-strait leaders in the 66 years since the two sides came under separate rule in 1949.

During that meeting, both sides affirmed that the shared foundation of "consolidating cross-strait peace and maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait" is the'92 Consensus. I also reminded Mr. Xi that the substance of the'92 Consensus is that "Both sides of the Taiwan Strait insist on the 'one China' principle. However, the two sides have different opinions as to the meaning of 'one China', and each side may state its interpretation verbally." That is the'92 Consensus: "one China, respective interpretations." Our side would not interpret that as "two Chinas," or "one China, one Taiwan," or "Taiwan independence," all of which are prohibited under the Constitution of the Republic of China. For us, of course, "one China" means the Republic of China. After the Ма-Xi meeting, Taiwan opinion polls showed that over 60% of Taiwan people support the'92 Consensus as I just explained it, a higher level of support than in the past. The'92 Consensus also reflects the concept of "mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual recognition of governing authority," as applied by the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.. . .

Taiwan is a society of immigrants, creating a rich and diverse Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics. Taiwan's free and democratic way of life, and our successful political and economic transformations, have become deeply embedded in the public's collective memory and core values for three generations. Those characteristics and values have thus become a wellspring of Taiwan society, nurturing our creativity and genuine human warmth. This is what the mainland needs to understand most.

On the other hand, with its vast territory and hard-working people, the mainland has implemented massive economic reforms over the past 35 years to achieve rapid growth of its overall wealth and strength. Mainland China is very, very different now. So both Taiwan and the mainland need to seek in-depth mutual understanding—and cultural empathy. Over the past eight years, we have welcomed mainland people to visit Taiwan, and encouraged mainland students to study in Taiwan. Mainland students live, study, debate, exercise, and play in a free and democratic environment together with their Taiwan schoolmates. So early in life, they start to develop friendships, creating a solid foundation for a sustainable peace and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait. By doing that, I believe together we will create a very different future for the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

I remember four years ago this past January, on the day of my successful re-election as ROC President, Taiwan and mainland students were together watching the ballot count on television. As reported in the international press, a Taiwan student said to his mainland schoolmate, "Look how efficiently we count the ballots. We vote in the morning, and know the result in the evening!" A mainland student replied, "Oh that's nothing. On the mainland, we also vote in the morning. But we already know the result the day before!" So when it comes to having a sense of humor, mainland students can clearly hold their own with Taiwan students....

Let me close by wishing all of you much happiness, and the best of health. I also welcome you, should you have a chance, to visit Taiwan as my guest.

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