"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Once Country, Three Systems

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 05/03/2005

When Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan’s motorcade pulled into Tiananmen Square to be received by Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, he was met by an enormous picture of Sun Yat-sen, eye to eye with the portrait of Mao Zedong. Recognized by both Beijing and Taipei as the “father of modern China”, Sun’s poster usually appears in the square only on the October 1 National Day. A special exception was made for Mr Lien.

The symbolism was clear. When Mr Hu shook hands with Mr. Lien, China’s epic civil war between the two rival political parties officially ended. Last week, Chinese newspapers couched it in these terms: “When we meet again both will laugh and the past is forgotten.” All this is happening only a month after the national People’s Congress adopted the controversial Anti-Sucession Law, which left Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian with two choices: to be outraged, or remain cool. While he joined a protest last month, he did not speak at the mass rally. This show of restraint sent a message to Beijing that Mr Chen was prepared to be practical, too.

KMT vice-chairman Chiang Pin-kung’s high-profile visit in March shook up Mr Chen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party more than the Anti-Succession Law by paving the way for Mr Lien’s visit. Some in Taipei called it “divide and rule’. Maybe Beijing has finally woken up and elarned to play party-to-party politics with Taipei.

There was further concern in Taipei over People First party chier James Soon Chu-yu’s scheduled trip on the heels of Mr Lien’s. Mr Chen feared that a snub for Mr Soong might affect their four-point accord made in February, when they agreed not to declare independence, change the Republic of China name, change the island’s status in the constitution or promote a referendum on independence.

Mr. Hu sent Mr Soong a personal invitation, assuaging any anxieties and showing that Beijing has caught on to the subtleties of Taiwanese politics. The message is that Communist Party leaders are willing to deal with any other party in Taiwan as long as its leaders recognize the “one-China” principle.

For Beijing, the 1992 Hong Kong Consensus has become the embodiment of that principle. But, for Mr Chen, the term “92 consensus” remains politically problematic because it was negotiated by KMT officials before the DPP kicked them out of power. That is why Mr Chen has been dancing around the wording, calling it the “92 discussions” and “92 meetings”, which from a DPP perspective is a big step, but from Beijing’s standpoint is irritating. Beijing sees the word “consensus” as vital to inferring agreement on “one-China”. This principle has now become not only the bottom line, but probably the only remaining condition to a cross-strait solution.

By extending an invitation to Mr Soong, Mr Hu has set a precedent for the communist to deal with other political parties in China (as long as they accept they are in China). The significance of this should not be overlooked.

It underscores the fact that China can evolve as single nation, with different subsystems of government in Hong Kong and Taiwan, each of which functions in its own administrative environment, with multiparty democracy, wile the Communist Party dominates the mainland administration. In the history of political systems, this is an unprecedented model. Could this perhaps be the start of a new kind of “democracy with Chinese characteristics”?

Is it conceivable, then, that Beijing may adopt a “one country, three systems” model? Deng Xiaoping had the foresight and mettle to talk of “one country, two systems”. Will Mr Hu go one step further? If he does, his place in history will be assured. If Mr Chen wants a place in history, he will also need to say something – the words: “one China”.


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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