Taiwan Communiqué No. 71, June 1996

Towards "One Taiwan, One China"

Discard outdated "One China" policy

The beginning of 1996 was marked by Taiwan's Presidential elections in March 1996, and China's threatening military exercises, missile launches, and saber rattling which preceded it. These events are prompting an increasing number of leading observers to voice the opinion that the "One China" policy, devised in the early 1970's by Mr. Nixon and Kissinger to forge the opening towards China, is becoming obsolete.

The major reason why this policy is now outdated, is the fact that the Taiwanese have achieved democracy, gained a voice in their political system, and want to be accepted as a full and equal member of the international community. Back in the early 1970s, Taiwan was still ruled by the repressive one-party authoritarian regime of Chiang Kai-shek, who allowed the Taiwanese no say in their political future. The Taiwanese were therefore also not consulted in the decisions, statements and communiqués about the legal status of their island.

The Taiwanese march for their future

There is thus a new and democratic Taiwan, in which the overwhelming majority of the population does not want to be a part of a repressive, dictatorial, and corrupt China, but cherishes its own Taiwanese identity, language, culture, and newfound political freedom. This new nation wants to find its own place under the sun, contribute not only economically, but also politically to the international community, and be accepted as a full member of the international family of nations, in particular the United Nations.

It is necessary for the rest of the world, and particularly the United States and Europe, to live up to the principles of universality and democracy on which the United Nations were founded, to accept Taiwan as a full and equal partner, and recognize it under the heading of a new and realistic "One Taiwan, One China" policy.

China would do well to accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, instead of perpetuating an old and anachronistic Civil War. The Taiwanese themselves didn't have anything to do with that Civil War and their future should not be held hostage to it.

On the following pages, we present further background and arguments why it is essential to recognize the new reality and move towards a new "One Taiwan, One China" policy.

Why Taiwan is not part of China

A close look at the island's history shows that Taiwan was only very briefly a part of Imperial China (from 1887 until 1895). Before that time, it was a loose-lying area, not ruled by anyone. In fact, when the Dutch East India Company established a settlement in the southern part of the island in the 1620s, they found no signs of any Chinese administrative structure.

The people who emigrated from the coastal areas of China in the 17th and 18th century moved to the island to escape wars and famines in China, not to conquer the island on behalf of the Imperial dynasty. In fact, in the 1870s, when the governments of the United States, Japan and France protested to the Manchu emperor in Peking that pirates around Taiwan were attacking ships passing the island, they were told by the Chinese authorities: "Taiwan is beyond our territory."

In 1895, the island became Japanese territory, having been ceded "in perpetuity" to Japan by the Chinese Manchu rulers under the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. For the following 50 years, it was an integral part of the Japanese Empire.

In 1945, it was "temporarily occupied" by the Chiang Kai-shek's troops on behalf of the Allied Forces. When Chiang lost his Civil War in 1949, he moved the remainder of his troops and government to Taiwan, and ruled with an iron fist. In the "February 28" incident of 1947, his troops massacred between 18,000 and 20,000 Taiwanese elite. The Taiwanese people, who comprise 85% of the island's population, were thus oppressed, and became unwilling pawns in a bigger chess-game between the two Chinese adversaries.

"One China" policy: ambiguous and confusing

The "One China" policy is a confusing concept. From 1949 through the late 1960s the United States recognized the Kuomintang regime in Taipei as the government of "China." It held the seat in the United Nations, and kept up the pretense of representing China.

When in the 1970s the United States and other Western nations recognized the Communist regime in Beijing as the government of China, the KMT's fiction was discarded, but was replaced by another fiction: the "creative ambiguity" of the Shanghai Communiqué, in which the Beijing authorities were recognized as the government representing China, but in which the United States stated that it "acknowledged" the Chinese position, that there is but one China, and that Taiwan is part of China.

Did the wording of the Shanghai Communiqué mean that the US, and other nations which used similar wording, recognized or accepted that Taiwan is part of China ? The answer is an equivocal no. These nations simply took note of the Chinese position, but did not state their own position on the matter. However, over time, this distinction started to blur, and some began to interpret the wordings of the 1970s as to mean precisely what they were not meant to be: "accept or recognize."

In the meantime, however, the Taiwanese achieved their transition towards a democratic system, and for the people of Taiwan any communiqué's between other countries such as the United States and China are not binding and of little relevance, because they were made without any consultation with, or representation of, the people of Taiwan.

Thus, the need to move towards a new "One Taiwan, One China" policy. This would not alter international recognition of the authorities in Beijing as the government of mainland China, but would specifically state that according to the basic principles agreed upon in the context of the United Nations, it is up to the Taiwanese people themselves to determine their own future. It is up to the international community to guarantee that this is done freely, without any coercion by China.

Back to: Table of Contents

Copyright © 1996 Taiwan Communiqué