wanCurrent United States policy towards the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan is the culmination of nearly three decades of trilateral diplomatic activity and is based, ostensibly, upon four policy documents. These cornerstones of Sino-American relations are the Joint U.S.-China Communiqu of Shanghai, China, issued on February 27, 1972 ; the Joint Communiqu on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China, issued on January 1, 1979 ; United States Public Law 96-8, known as the Taiwan Relations Act, approved April 10, 1979 ; and the U.S.-China Joint Communiqu, issued August 17, 1982 .
In light of recent Presidential elections in Taiwan, which, based upon the campaign rhetoric of the prevailing party, would seem to put Taiwan on a much more direct course towards declaring outright independence as a sovereign state, distinct and apart from mainland China, the assignment of this reviewer is to determine if revision of the United States’ one China policy is warranted or in fact legal under international law.
In order to accomplish this analysis, it is necessary to clearly understand the evolution of the underlying doctrines of Sino-American relations cited above and how the Taiwanese elections affect continued observance of these tenets.
Sino-American Relations – the Evolution
At the beginning of the 1970’s, the United States, perhaps with the aim of widening the Sino-Soviet schism that had developed between the two countries, began to pursue a policy aimed at recognizing the communist People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China .
A series of dialogues between the United States and the People’s Republic of China at the lower echelons of the diplomatic hierarchy gradually escalated, culminating in President Nixon’s February 1972 trip to China.
To be sure, President Nixon unequivocally prefaced that this excursion to mainland China should not be construed by the international community as official recognition by the United States of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate Chinese government; that de jure recognition was to come several years later. However, the trip clearly evidenced the United States’ desire to normalize relations between the two nations, with the Joint Communiqu issued at the end of the trip laying the ground work for future Sino-American interactions.
As expressed in that Communiqu, issued in Shanghai on February 27, 1972, both nations affirmed that:
progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries;
both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;
neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region…
The Chinese re-affirmed that they were “…the sole legal government of China…” and that the liberation of Taiwan was an internal matter to be determined by China alone, and that the resolution of the Taiwan question was crucial to normalized Sino-American relations.
For its part, the United States acknowledged that “…there is but one China…” with Taiwan being part of China, that the Chinese should peacefully resolve the issue themselves, and finally, towards that end, the United State’s ultimate objective is withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations on Taiwan.
With the seed of normalization rooted in the 1972 talks, formal recognition between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, with its concomitant “derecognition” of Taiwan as the official government of China, occurred on January 1, 1979, via a joint communiqu establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China.Included in the language of the communiqu however, is the sentiment, expressed by the United States, that within the context of recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, the United States would “…maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial emphasis added relations with the people of Taiwan.”
To that end, the United States Congress enacted Public Law 98-6, The Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law on April 12, 1979, with the intent of creating an infrastructure under which the United States could legally, in the international arena, maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan.
Under the provisions of the Act, the United States has created, in domestic statute, an obligation to:
preserve and promote extensive, close and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people of Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland… emphasis added
provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character… emphasis added and
maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan;and
make available to Taiwan such defensive articles and services in quantities necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
Additionally, the Act provided that the absence of diplomatic relations or recognition would not affect the application of the laws of the United States with respect to Taiwanand clarified that “Whenever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with such respect to Taiwan.”
In order to maintain an unofficial presence in Taiwan, the Act provided for the establishment of the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT), a nonprofit corporation, incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia, whose charge is to conduct or carry out programs, transactions and/or other relations on behalf of the United States with respect to Taiwan.Currently, the Taiwanese counterpart to the AIT is the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
For more than 20 years, six presidential administrations of both parties have linked foreign policy success in east Asia to the ability of the United States to maintain official, de jure relations with the People’s Republic of China, while at the same time maintaining vital, yet unofficial links with Taiwan, which, by 1999, had become the seventh largest market for U.S. exports and the United States’ fifth largest foreign agricultural market.
Indeed, commitment for the continued unofficial relations between the United States and Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act was recognized by the United States Senate, which, marking the 20th anniversary of the Act, unanimously passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 17, resolving that the United States should reaffirm its commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and the specific guarantees of provision of legitimate defense articles to Taiwan, called for in the Act.
The fourth component that currently underpins Sino-American relations, for the purpose of this analysis, is the U.S. – People’s Republic of China Joint Communiqu of August 17, 1982.
In this document, both the United States and the People’s Republic of China confirmed that one of the conditions of formal recognition between the two states was, and would continue to be, United States’ continued maintenance of cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the peoples of Taiwan.
Through the communiqu, the United States clearly asserted that it had no intention of infringing on Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, or interfering in China’s internal affairs or, most importantly, “…pursuing a policy of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.”To that end, the United States further declared that it would not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan and that it intended to gradually reduce its sales of arms to Taiwan, “…leading over a period of time to a final resolution.”
The March 2000 Taiwanese Presidential Elections
The run up to Presidential elections in Taiwan prompted particularly bellicose statements from Beijing aimed at the Taiwanese electorate, due primarily to Beijing’s belief that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose platform called for complete independence for Taiwan, was in a strong position to turn out the ruling Nationalist Party. Ironically, Beijing’s dire warnings of a military response from the mainland, should the Taiwanese people vote for “pro-independence” parties, likely precipitated the DPP upset. It is important to note that the same strident admonishments, followed up by Chinese military maneuvers in the Straits of Taiwan, had no affect on the Taiwanese during the 1996 elections.
March 18, 2000 saw the election of Chen Shui-bian, former Taipei mayor and long-time advocate of Taiwanese independence, to the office of President of Taiwan. With 39% of the vote, Mr. Chen upset the long-ruling Nationalist Party candidate, Lien Chan who garnered only 23% of the vote.Equally interesting in this contest was the strong performance of third-party candidate James Soong. A former Nationalist Party (KMT) member, Mr. Soong was banished from the KMT by former party chairman and current President Lee Teng-hui. During the election, Mr. Soong finished in a strong second place with 37% of the vote, a mere two percentage points behind Mr. Chen.
Mr. Chen had recently softened traditional DPP rhetoric regarding Taiwanese independence, indicating that “no declaration of independence was needed because Taiwan was already sovereign.”Indeed, in an effort to subdue Chinese reaction to the DPP victory, Mr. Chen pledged to seek deeper economic ties and a “permanent peace” between Taiwan and China.
Additionally, Mr. Chen indicated that Taiwan would not declare independence or hold referenda on the issue unless Taiwan was to come under attack.Indeed, Mr. Chen, an ethnic Taiwanese, attempted to assuage Chinese and Taiwanese Nationalists by offering his acceptance speech in Mandarin Chinese, rather than his native Taiwanese dialect.
However, Mr. Chen clearly indicated that he rejected the Chinese tenet of “one China,” with its “one country, two systems” approach towards integrating Taiwan into a larger People’s Republic of China as unacceptable to the Taiwanese people.
Perhaps learning from its foreign policy blunders in attempting to rhetorically strong arm the Taiwanese electorate and the lack of impact it realized from military buildups following the 1996 election, Beijing, both immediately following the election and as late as April 1, 2000 has adopted a “wait and see” approach towards the Chen election and any potential movements by Taiwan to declare independent sovereignty, separate and apart from mainland China.
Finally, the most intriguing figure to emerge from these elections is Third Party candidate James Soong. With the ouster of out-going President Lee Teng-hui from his position as KMT party chairman, Mr. Soong is in a strong position to re-enter the KMT as its leader. Additionally, Mr. Soong could sign on with the newly formed New Taiwanese People’s Party (NTPP), much to the benefit of President-elect Chen, whose DPP wasn’t able to wrest control of Taiwan’s Legislature from the KMT. Mr. Soong’s allegiance with the NTPP could cost the KMT 50 to 70 seats in the Legislature, thus assuring the DPP a controlling majority.
The United States and the Chen Shui-bian Government
Given the previously outlined history of Sino-American relations together with the seemingly cooled rhetoric offered in recent days by both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China following the recent Taiwanese presidential elections, it is the position of this reviewer that the United States should continue to abide by its nearly two decades old policy of “one China,” and no “one China, one Taiwan.”
Both the United States and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to be bound, for nearly thirty years, by the conditions put forward to the international community through the three previously cited official joint communiqus. Additionally, China, while not completely satisfied with all the arms sale provisions or the Taiwanese defense assertions of the Taiwan Relations Act, has recognized that this Act has the full force of domestic U.S. law and that it has become one of the guiding principles of United States foreign policy in East Asia since 1979.
For its part, the United States has continued to assert to the international community its intent to maintain unofficial economic and cultural ties with Taiwan while affording de jure recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China.
Following a rise in Chinese-Taiwanese tensions leading up to the 1996 Taiwanese presidential elections, Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in testimony for the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs confirmed that it was United States policy to insist that the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan solve their differences peacefully, and that United States policy with regard to Taiwan was guided, ostensibly, by the Taiwan Relations Act.
Mr. Lord restated that among the key elements of U.S. policy towards Taiwan was U.S. acknowledgement of the Chinese position that “there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China” and that the United States had no intention of pursuing a policy of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.”
Further, in a statement outlining U.S. policy toward Taiwan, Richard C. Bush, Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, (created by the Taiwan Relations Act) affirmed that while the Act provided for the legal basis of the unofficial relationship between Taiwan and the United States, the United States was compelled to adhere to its one-China policy.
Finally, in remarks following the 20th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, Susan L. Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, reasserted the Clinton Administration’s philosophy that, like the five preceding administrations, the United States views the Act as a mechanism to “…retain substantive, but unofficial emphasis added relations with Taiwan, while pursuing improved ties with the People’s Republic of China.”
Most recently, the United States has unofficially entered into communications with President-elect Chen through the auspices of former Congressman Lee Hamilton, traveling in a private capacity to Taiwan to meet with senior officials.It is clear that, while the United States is grateful for Congressman Hamilton’s private efforts, officially, U.S. policy must continue to be to avoid formal recognition of the Chen government.
However, when asked about a reported buildup of missile defense systems along the coast of China, the U.S. State Department acknowledged its commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with its legitimate defense requirements while at the same time declaring U.S. intentions to uphold its One China Policy.
To this reviewer, the reduction in the inflammatory rhetoric on both side of the Straits, together with China’s current “wait and see” approach is a welcome development. However, the U.S. must be mindful of its obligation under current U.S. law to assist in the defense of Taiwan, should such actions be necessary.
In conclusion, it is the opinion of this reviewer that to formally recognize the Chen government on Taiwan would undermine nearly 30 years of Sino-American efforts towards normalized relations. As demonstrated above, the United States, in all its public pronouncements, has clearly indicated to the international community its commitment to be bound by the joint communiqus previously cited. Any change with regard to the United States’ One China Policy would, at least nominally, abrogate three decades of stated policy obligations and United States law.
1.U.S.-People’s Republic of China Joint Communiqu, 2/27/72
2.U.S.-People’s Republic of China Joint Communiqu, 1/1/79
3.United States Public Law 98-6
4.U.S.-People’s Republic of China Joint Communiqu, 8/17/82
5.Spanier, John. Games Nations Play (Fifth Edition). Holt, Rhinehart, Winston, 1984
6.”The Taiwan Relations Act: The First 20 Years,” Richard C. Bush, AIT Chairman, remarks made at Arizona State University.
7.Remarks by Susan L. Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. State Department, in an address to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, 4/14/99
8.Senate Concurrent Resolution 17, read and approved 4/12/99
9.”Taiwan Nationalists Ousted After Half-Century Reign,” New York Times, 3/19/00
10.”Beijing Says It Will Wait to See How Victor Acts,” New York Times, 3/19/00
11.”China Indicating Caution on Taiwan,” New York Times, 4/2/00
12.”Runner-Up in Taiwan Now Holds Most Cards,” New York Times, 3/26/00
13.U.S.-China Relations Fact Sheet; Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. State Department; 6/20/97
14.”The United States and the Security of Taiwan,” Statement by Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in testimony to the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
15.U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, Wednesday, March 22, 2000;
Briefer: James P. Rubin
16.U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, Tuesday, March 28, 2000;
Briefer: James B. Foley
“Neuer Prsident beantwortet Pekings Sbelrasseln mit einem vershnlichen Angebot” Die Welt On-Line, 3/20/00
“China-Taiwan: Eine der explosivsten Krisen,” Die Welt On-Line, 3/30/00
“Die Vereinigten Staaten und Taiwan,” Die Welt On-Line, 3/30/00
“Les Etats-Unis s’efforcent de calmer les tensions tout en mnageant Pkin,” Le Monde dicion lectronique, 3/21/00