USA China Taiwan

China rising as the next global power in the world order, has in fact two governments: China’s – People’s Republic of China- PRC, and Taiwan’s – Republic of China- ROC, but is recognized as ‘One China’. Although, officially the U.S recognizes only PRC, however it maintains independent strategic foreign policies with both China and Taiwan. This allows the US to make trade deals and make profits from both China and Taiwan. In addition, the U.S keeps China in check from overpowering Taiwan. If failed, this would lead to be a suitable opportunity for China to make a public display of assertion of strength, but the U.S acts as a big brother to Taiwan and keeps it safe from being taken over, by which the balance of power is constantly maintained.

Since the 1950s after the formation of ROC, United States’ utmost priority was to prevent communist invasion of the PRC in Taiwan. Therefore it recognized only ROC, because its foreign policy at the time was to support and protect Taiwan. The U.S saw communism as a serious threat in the world order. And with its ongoing cold war with the Soviet Union at that time, the U.S devised that joining hands with PRC who’s relationship with Soviet Union was also disintegrating, would give it a stronger and better stand against the Soviet Union. And so in 1979, the U.S officially shifted its diplomatic recognition to PRC for strategic interests in relations to its new foreign policy regarding China first, nevertheless continuing to maintain an unofficial relation with Taiwan so as to get the best of both China and Taiwan, killing two birds at a time.

  Containing Communism

In fear of a communist invasion by the PRC, with the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, the United States provided immediate military assistance to protect Taiwan. Although it still recognized Taiwan, it was only as a part of China but with an independent government. And for the next three decades, it established several foreign policies such as the ‘Mutual Security Act’ and the ‘Foreign Assistance Act’ to support Taiwan. The ‘Mutual Security Act’ signed in 1951, was very similar to the Marshall Plan, and mainly focused on preventing communism from spreading. The ‘Foreign Assistance Act’ on the other hand, was established on September 4, 1961, and replaced the former act, to assist economic and social development and more importantly internal and external security. Taiwan continued to benefit from these policies until 1979, when the U.S officially shifted its recognition to PRC.

  Shifting Sides

  1972- First Step Towards PRC

For the first time in 1972, President Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai officially formed the ‘Shanghai Communiqué’, the first of the three communiqués (joint statements between the U.S and PRC), to stabilize their relations. The ‘Shanghai Communiqué’ was made from both sides to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (especially with Taiwan). Unofficial relations however had begun in the early 1970s, with the United States’ National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger initiating a subtle hand towards warmer relations. Following up with a secret visit to China in 1971, Kissinger met Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing with diplomatic missions in mind. The ensuing outcome was President Nixon visit to China in the following year, the first visit of a U.S president to PRC, ending twenty-five years of no official communication or diplomatic ties between the two countries. However it was in 1971, under the pretext of exchanging table tennis players during the ‘World Table Tennis Championship’ happening in Nagoya Japan, the beginning of an unofficial relation had really been initiated between the U.S and China, later named as the ‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy’.

  1979- Change of Sides

In 1979, making use of the sino-soviet split, U.S seized the opportunity to bond with China by shifting its recognition to the PRC as the main government. The other countries who formerly recognized ROC too changed sides following the footsteps of the United States. With PRC replacing ROC, the second of the three communiqués known as the ‘Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations’ was established. This communiqué, a reassurance of the first, set the new beginning of stable relations between the U.S and the PRC and ended all formal political relations between the U.S and Taiwan.

Following this step, the U.S officially ended the ‘Mutual Defense Treaty (1955-1979)’ with Taiwan, withdrawing all military aids and signed the ‘Taiwan Relations Act’ instead, enabling it to continue non-diplomatic relations with Taiwan unofficially. The ‘Taiwan Relations Act’ reassured Taiwan, that the U.S would continue to help secure Taiwan’s safety, along with building commercial, cultural and other relations. In other words, continue to provide support and protection from behind the veil.

  1982 Keeping China in Reigns

The U.S and China settled on a third and last communiqué known as ‘August 17 communiqué /US-PRC communiqué’ in 1982, to strengthen economic, cultural, educational, scientific, and technological ties further, without making any changes to the existing statements involving Taiwan. This strengthening of ties between the U.S and PRC nevertheless made Taiwan’s future vulnerable to China’s attack of taking over, even though there were no changes to prior agreements concerning Taiwan. Hence to further reassure Taiwan of continuation of support, the U.S accepted and implemented the following additional ‘Six Assurances ’proposed by Taiwan:

1.              “* * * [W]e did not agree to set a date certain for ending arms sales to Taiwan”.

2.              “* * * [W]e see no mediation role for the United States” between Taiwan and the PRC.

3.              “* * *[N]or will we attempt to exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC”.

4.              “* * * [T]here has been no change in our longstanding position on the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan”.

5.              “We have no plans to seek” revisions to the Taiwan Relations Act.

6.              The August 17 Communiqué, “should not be read to imply that we have agreed to engage in prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan”.

‘This commitment was dramatically tested in the Spring of 1996. The Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-Hui, elected in 1988 was seeking re-election.’ He strongly believed that ROC was the legitimate China and was almost on the verge of proclaiming Taiwan as an independent country if he was to be re-elected. Obviously this was totally unacceptable for PRC, who took strong measures of frightening the Taiwanese by firing missiles into the sea, threatening them to discontinue such a thing from taking place. The U.S immediately retaliated by deploying two air-craft carriers into the South China Sea, conveying clearly to the Chinese that if there was any attempt on China’s part to exert control over Taiwan, the U.S would strike back with armed resistance. China wisely backed off and the stand-off was dispersed as hastily as it had begun. The tilting balance of power was as quickly settled as it had been upset.

  Common Consensus

  1992 One China

‘During Deng Xiaoping’s time as leader, the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan changed from one of military and political confrontation to one of economic co-operation. Trade began to increase and in 1987 Taiwan relaxed its foreign-exchange controls and removed its ban on travel to the mainland.’ Although the idea of ‘one China’ existed long before, it is only in 1992 that both governments agreed to one single sovereign state for mainland China and Taiwan, although unable to agree upon which of the two is the legitimate government. The United States accepted the ‘1992 consensus’ of one China but disagreed with PRC’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan.

The United States exclusively recognizes PRC as the main government, only to prevent any threat of opposition from China. At the same time, the U.S has kept full reigns on China, like providing arms and continuing informal relations with Taiwan. Taiwan if given independence, is capable of surviving on its own, but China is the one in need of Taiwan and therefore cannot afford to lose it. Thus it continues to claim sovereignty over Taiwan, although it’s claims are not recognized by others. The United States’ strategic foreign policies have enabled it to maintain fruitful relations with both the governments till date, while keeping the balance of power in check.

Works Cited:

J.A G. Roberts – A history of China- Chapter 7 China since the 1949 Revolution, pa 293

J.A.S Grenvillle – A History of the World from the 20th to the 21st Century- chapter 8- pa 628 

By Satyamayee Pattnaik

The author is presently pursuing post-graduation in East Asian Studies, from University of Delhi. Fascinated with new languages, cultures and societies, her long-standing interest lies in the understanding of East Asia in particular.

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