SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

John Chuan Tiong Lim ”One Country, Two Systems”- Four Primary Factors For Non-Support by Taiwanese society –


On January 2, 2019, Xi Jinping made his significant announcement about the “five principles” directed at the unification of Taiwan and China. It was a guideline for Taiwan by Beijing authorities in the “new era” of Xi Jinping.  In the wake of this announcement, Taiwanese media became a daily frenzy of debates and the issue was analyzed and commented on from various perspectives. The Taiwan issue, an old yet new issue, was heating up. However, what many people in Taiwan could not understand was why Beijing authorities adhered to “one country, two systems”, as the only system for the unification of cross-strait relations despite it never have been accepted in Taiwanese society for over forty years.


・Negative reactions in Taiwan against “one country, two systems”  

The two major political parties (ruling and opposition) in Taiwan, expressed their different reactions against the unification outlined in Xi’s five principles(習五条). In the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen herself stated that Taiwan absolutely would not accept the “one country, two systems” ideology, and said “we adhere to an opposition to “one country, two systems” as a will of the Taiwanese people, an absolute majority. This is the “Taiwanese Consensus.”” Her comments were not unexpected.


What Beijing authorities focused their attention on was the attitude of the Nationalist Party headed by Wu Den-yih. On the day after the announcement of “Xi’s five principles”, they reacted by releasing a statement consisting of six clauses from the cultural diffusion committee in the Central Committee of the Party. According to their statement, they emphasized strongly that they support the “consensus of the year 1992 (92年コンセンサス)”. This means that both China and Taiwan recognize “one China,” but different interpretations of the expression “one China” are permitted. Mr. Wu, however, avoided direct reference to Xi’s definition of the “new content” of the “1992 consensus,” saying that “both sides endeavor toward the unification of China”. However, he indirectly rejected Xi’s proposal by saying that “at this stage, it would be difficult to get full support for “one country, two systems” from the majority of Taiwanese.


Following this, public opinion surveys about “Xi’s Five Articles” and “peaceful unification, one country, two systems” were announced one after another. One survey, which was conducted and released by the Committee of Cross-Strait Policy think tank on January 9, showed 80.9% of Taiwanese were against “one country, two systems”. Only 13.7% were for the system. Shortly after, the Mainland Affairs Council held a press conference on January 17 to release the results of a public opinion survey. According to the Council, 75.4% of Taiwanese were against “one country, two systems” and only 10.2% were for the system. Moreover, 74.3% do not accept the content of the “1992 Consensus”, namely that “cross-strait areas belong to “One China” and both sides make efforts for unification”. Only 10% of citizens in Taiwan accepted the contents of the “1992 Consensus”.


・The impact of democratization and localization in Taiwan

Since the 1990s, the Mainland Affairs Council as well as media outlets have conducted numerous opinion surveys of how Taiwanese people feel about “one country, two systems”. The number of respondents choosing “agree” has never exceeded 30%. We can examine the following four factors for “non-support” in Taiwan to “one country, two systems” from the results gathered over these forty years.


  • Since the 1990s when Taiwanese society went through “localization (本土化)”, the majority of the public opinion has never supported unification. Before the 1990s, the Taiwanese Nationalist Party, as a surviving government of the Republic of China in 1949, set the “unification of China” as a national policy. This was followed by the “counter-attack (大陸反抗)” by Chiang Kai-shek and “Three Principles of the People(三民主義)” by Chiang Ching-kuo.  Up until the early period of Lee Teng-hui in the 1990s, there was a “National Unification Council” which set a “National Unification Party Platform”. However, after 1994, the recognition of Taiwanese people as “Chinese” underwent a change owing to the flourishing of the localization movement in Taiwan and promotion of constitutional reform. Under such political and social change, the ideology of cross-strait unification lost its mass appeal in Taiwan. Even when the Taiwanese Nationalist Party headed by Ma Ying-jeon returned to political power in 2008, neither the “National Unification Council” nor the “National Unification Party Platform” were revived, and the government adopted a policy to “not unify” in cross-strait policy.


  • Taiwanese society understands that “one country, two systems” would lead inevitably to the disappearance of the “Republic of China”. This is not accepted by the Taiwanese Nationalist Party. There is still a clause in the charter of the Party which states that “there is no change in the consistent pursuit of our goal, prosperity and unification of our country”. This is consistent with the idea of the unification of the nation printed in the “National Unification Party Platform”. As it refers to national identity in terms of the national polity of the “Republic of China” as a country and for the pursuit of unification of China under the flag of the “Republic of China,” unification does not mean relinquishing the ideal of the “Republic of China”.

The framework for unification outlined by the Beijing authority for “one country, two systems” is a logic of unification based on the disappearance of the Republic of China. It is hardly acceptable by “real” supporters of the Taiwan Nationalist Party.

Accordingly, as far as the framework for “one country, two systems” does not include the possibility of returning to a “Republic of China”, the Nationalist Party would never change their attitude. It goes without saying that people in Taiwan who support the Nationalist Party, having been strongly affected by localization in Taiwan, would also never change their minds .


・Key Point:The Taiwan version of “One Country, Two Systems” and cross-strait positionality  

  • Relations between the mainland and Taiwan in the framework of “one country, two systems” outlined by Xi Jinping are understood by many as a relation of “central government and local government”. After the political democratization of the 1990s, this proposition is hardly acceptable by Taiwanese society. The “one country, two systems” proposal for Taiwan submitted by Xi Jinping was an unfinished manuscript and not clear about relations between the mainland and Taiwan. 王英津, a mainland scholar, is seeking to understand the relation between the straits as a special and conditional relation of “central government and semi-government”. Such theories are based on the principle of “securing general sovereignty by the central government” which was proposed by a scholar in the Institute of Taiwanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science. In other words, it would be very hard for major political parties and society in Taiwan to accept the idea of unification under “one country, two systems” if they are unable to show the possibility of a “central government and local government” relationship.


  • Twenty years have already passed since “one country, two systems” took effect in Hong Kong. However, this case does not provide any successful examples for Taiwan. As you may know, “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Macao was a plan toward unification with Taiwan. The Beijing government understands “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong as a success, as Xi Jinping has commented at the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong in 2017 as well as in the announcement of the five principles earlier this year. There is a gap, however, between such official governmental opinion and the actual feelings of people in Taiwan and Hong Kong. One can guess that even in Hong Kong people are losing their trust in “one country, two systems”.

According to a survey by the Public Opinion Survey Project in Hong Kong University, in the year 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, 63.9% of Hong Kong citizens “trusted” “one country, two systems”. Only 18.5% did not trust the policy.

However, according to a recent survey, 21 years after the enforcement of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, only 45.5% of Hong Kong citizens responded that they “trust” the system. This figure of 45.5% is lower than the 46.9% who expressed “distrust.”  Moreover, the popular elections were unable to bring about a “soft landing,” and the “Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution” which broke out in 2014 in Hong Kong made people in Taiwan distrust “one country, two system”.


Nobody knows how “one country, two systems” in Taiwan will be presented in the future. As to factors which affect Taiwanese society negatively, as mentioned above, if the Beijing side is unable to change their stance and enact a bill which would be acceptable various groups in Taiwanese society including the Nationalist Party. If Beijing just one-sidedly wants the Taiwanese side to change their minds towards “one country, two systems” and the unification of both sides of the strait, it will remain wishful thinking.



SGRA Kawaraban 585 in Japanese (original)



(John Chuan-Tiong Lim / Researcher in Japan Research Institute in Taiwan, Chief of Japan Research Center, Wuhan University )  



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale