"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.

Rallying Popular Support

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 03/15/2005

With the anti-secession law passed in Beijing, many people are asking why restate, in a law, something which everybody has known for a long time, especially when concrete progress is being made on cross-strait relations.

The answer lies in symbolic grandstanding. Hu Jintao, having succeeded Jiang Zemin as party general secretary, has to show something to his constituency of 1.3 billion people. During the 16th party congress in October 2002, Mr. Hu had nothing new to say. Instead, a national hero was created in yang Liwei – the first Chinese astronaut – who rallied popular support behind a central government that had run out of ideology and could not control rampant corruption.

Now three years after becoming president, Mr. Hu needs to show progress on Taiwan, after relations deteriorated under Mr. Jiang. The anti-secession law was in the works last autumn, when ties seemingly an abyss. The announcement of the legislation last December sent shockwaves through both Taipei and diplomatic circles.

But tensions dissipated with Beijing’s offer of direct commercial flight between mainland and Taiwanese cities during the Lunar New Year. Since then, there have been discussions about extending the charter flights to cover other holiday periods, and even regular weekend commuter shuttles for Taiwanese businesspeople, and cargo.

A week before the National People’s Congress opened, even Taipei was warming up as never before. President Chen Shui-bian and People First Party chairman James Soong chu-yu issued a joint statement in which Mr Chen “guaranteed” not to undertake any action which could lead to independence through a declaration, constitutional revision or a referendum, thereby implicitly recognizing the “one-China” policy.

Mr Chen even took another step forward on the “one-China” issue, which Beijing insists is best expressed in the “1992 consensus”. The mainland government has called for Mr Chen to recognize the consensus as a basis for restarting cross-strait dialogue. He agreed to this, but refers to the document as the “1992 discussions”.

Many people in Taiwan consider the document to be a list of points on which both sides agreed to disagree, at meetings in Hong Kong in 1992. Regardless, Beijing interprets the word “consensus” as implicitly embodying the “one-China” principle. In Taiwanese politics, the consensus carries political baggage because it is seen as a document negotiated by the Kuomintang, not the current Democratic Progressive Party leadership.

Now, the problem of restarting constructive dialogue remains largely snagged on this single point of symbolic expression. Mr Chen tried to move things forwards a week ago in a meeting with European Union members by referring to the “fruitful results of the 1992 discussions”. The only thing he could possibly be referring to was the understanding reached concerning “one-China” because nothing else was really agreed in the document.

On this point, it is worth looking at the memoirs of the late Koo Chen-fu, who negotiated for Taiwan in 1992. When he died in January, his funeral presented an opportunity to break the ice. The State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office sent two deputy-ranking bureau directors to attend the funeral. It was only as symbolic gesture, as nothing specific was discussed. But a symbolic gesture might be what Beijing is waiting for.

Maybe reading Koo’s memoirs could offer some guidance. He does refer to the Hong Kong negotiations as the 1992 consensus, observing that on the issue of a “one-China” principle, both sides did, at least, reach an “understanding”. Perhaps Mr Chen can find some inspiration here. That might be the kind of symbolic language which Mr Hu is looking for. At least it may be a start.


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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