Taiwan Communiqué No. 91, May 2000

The "One China" syndrome

Yes, we have No "One China"…

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There are apparently still some people -- reportedly primarily in the State Department and the White House -- who cling to the "One China" policy. For the benefit of these people, we briefly outline its history, and show why it is an outdated anachronism.

It was devised in the late 1940s, early 1950s, when the Chinese Communists had emerged victorious from the Chinese Civil War, and drove Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists off the mainland. As is now well-known, Mr. Chiang and his defeated troops moved over to Taiwan, an island inhabited by some 6 million Taiwanese, who had lived under Japanese colonial rule from 1895 through 1945.

While the Chinese Communists in Beijing claimed sovereignty over the mainland as "People's Republic of China", Chiang's Nationalists settled down in Taiwan, severely repressed the native Taiwanese, all the while continuing to claim sovereignty over China as "Republic of China". The native Taiwanese thus rolled from a colonial Japanese regime into a repressive occupation by the Chinese nationalists.

The West paid scant attention to the plight of the Taiwanese, but — faced with the dueling claims for sovereignty over China — adopted a "One China" policy, which continued to recognize Chiang's regime as the legitimate government of all of China, while Mr. Chiang kept the UN seat as the representative of "China."

However, in the subsequent decades, the newly emerging independent nations of Africa and Asia, were increasingly supportive of the PRC's claim, and as history shows, in the early 1970s, the PRC took the UN seat as the representative of "China."

During the subsequent years, the "One China" thus became the "other" China, the PRC, and the Western nations settled in another groove of the record of history. And that is where most of them still find themselves today.

The question is of course, what did this all do to the status of Taiwan?

The first remark which must be made is that during the 1950s and 1960s, "Taiwan" had gradually become synonymous with "Republic of China", a misconception which is perpetuated by the Kuomintang authorities in Taiwan to this day. This of course overlooks the fact that from 1911 through 1945+ these two were totally different entities: Taiwan was a Japanese colony, while the "ROC" was the government ruling mainland China _ sans Taiwan.

The second important point, which is often overlooked in the present debate, is that at the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951-52 -- when Japan formally ceded sovereignty over Taiwan -- no beneficiary was named, and it was decided that the sovereignty issue would be decided in due time in accord with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Back in those days, this could only have one meaning: independence.

The third important point is that UN Resolution 2758 of 1971 did not state anything about Taiwan's status: it only recognized the representatives of the PRC Government as the legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and expelled "…forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek."

In the subsequent years the world still paid scant attention to the plight of the native Taiwanese, and nations started to "acknowledge" China's claims to Taiwan, while _ according to two recent works _ Jim Mann's About Face and Patrick Tyler's A Great Wall _ Henry Kissinger even went further in his secret talks with the Chinese and promised no US support for Taiwan independence and other configurations.

The problem with those "acknowledgements" and Kissinger's distorted permutations is of course that they totally disregarded the views of the Taiwanese themselves. The people of Taiwan had no say in them: they were suffering repression under Chiang's regime, and were hardly able to voice their views on the important issue of their island's future.

This has now changed, and the democratization of Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s ensures that the people of Taiwan will speak up. However, in order for democracy to run its full course, it is essential for the United States and the rest of the world to distance themselves from the anachronistic policies of the yesteryear, and move squarely into the 21st Century with a policy that takes account of the monumental transformation which Taiwan has undergone, and recognizes the country for what it has become: a free, democratic and independent nation.

China will bristle and threaten for some time to come, but if faced with a principled and determined United States and Western Europe, it will eventually tone down and come to accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor.

Required readings:

Lowering the "One China" rhetoric

In the aftermath of Chen Shui-bian's election victory, the United States has been urging both China and Taiwan to "lower the rhetoric" and to refrain from "provocative" statements.

These urgings were certainly justified in the case of China, which had been sending a rain of bellicose and threatening statements across the Taiwan Strait, and continues to threaten Taiwan with military attack to this day.

US pressure was totally unjustified in the case of the DPP, since the party and its leaders have bent over backwards to be friendly and accommodating. In any case, what is "provocative" about advocating peaceful coexistence between China and Taiwan as friendly neighbors?

In fact, "lowering the rhetoric" should also be applied to the United States. Indeed, it is the ceaseless and careless use of "One China" rhetoric by the Clinton administration, which has led Taiwan into the present hot waters. The slide of Mr. Clinton towards Beijing and his apparent acceptance of China's definitions and phraseology are a major reason for China's present adventurism.

In view of the new situation in Taiwan it would thus be wise for the Clinton Administration, and other Western nations, to lower the "One China" rhetoric. The perpetual recitations of "One China" by US officials is only playing the Chinese Communists into the cards.

If the new leaders in Taiwan should be "flexible", then shouldn't the US be even more flexible, and start to think a bit more "out-of-the-box"? Shouldn't the United States _ and other Western nations — start to remove their respective feet from the "One-China" concrete and start to think a bit more creatively about Taiwan's future options?

The basic principles of democracy, human rights, and self-determination state clearly that the people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future. This is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The United States _ and other Western nations _ should help and nurture this process instead of inhibiting it.

Democratic Taiwan versus "One China"

The election of Chen Shui-bian as Taiwan's next president has sent a clear signal to the international community that the nation's once-budding democracy is now in full bloom — and that it doesn't want to kowtow to China.

By Prof. Chen Wen-yen, President, Formosan Association for Public Affairs

If you listened carefully to recent statements made by U.S. policy makers, you would hear one message about the U.S. "one-China policy" _ democracy in Taiwan has changed the issue dramatically.

Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) put it forthrightly in a March 29th speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: "The Taiwan issue is fraught with ambiguity. Congress, however, is fond of simple truths. The simple truth is that the people of Taiwan, with whom we have traded, worked, studied and lived for 50 years have developed a free, democratic and prosperous society worthy of emulation and respect. This society stands in sharp contrast to that of the Mainland with which, for better or worse, we must work to develop a positive relationship."

In a major speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center on 3/30, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) acknowledged that Taiwan was "a very different place than it was in 1972" when the Shanghai Communiqué laid out the "cornerstone of American policy on the question of Taiwan." Stated Kerry forcefully, "Let me be clear: the United States will never accept a rollback of democracy and freedom in Taiwan."

Forty House of Representatives' Members sent a letter to Chen Shui-bian on 4/10 congratulating him on his election "as President and the people of Taiwan for their historic vote to strengthen democracy in Taiwan." Addressing the cross-strait issue, the Members wrote, "Taiwan should not be compelled to accept Beijing's `one country, two systems' formulation that presupposes the final results of any negotiations and is not in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people."

American Institute in Taiwan's Chair Richard Bush also gave a speech at CSIS on the same day as Senator Murkowski that was an important marker for the Clinton Administration. Bush noted that, given Taiwan's democratic development, fundamental issues concerning Taiwan's future must "be shaped with public views in mind" and "time will be needed to build a broad consensus and to fashion approaches that command a majority."

"All political forces on Taiwan," Bush continued, "agree that the people of the island should have a say in those choices." Then Bush added that the Administration agrees that its own one-China policy also must allow for the Taiwanese people's voice, noting, "President Clinton has said that the Taiwan Strait issue should be resolved peacefully and with the assent of the people of Taiwan."

Lest the implications be missed by China, Bush made them clear to Chinese officials at the conference, stating, "Beijing should understand the larger message of these elections, that Taiwan's democratization has transformed the cross-Strait equation in a rather profound way. Taiwan's willingness to move forward on cross-Strait relations is no longer a function of the views of Taiwan's top leaders; it is also a function of the views of the public at large, the press, members of the legislature, and the leadership of the opposition parties. The people of the island themselves will have to be convinced that any arrangements reached in cross-Strait dialogue are in their fundamental interests."

Bush then laid out six elements of U.S. policy concerning Taiwan, with clear emphasis on the democratic process in Taiwan. "Taken together," Bush stated, "these policy elements are designed to foster an environment in the Taiwan Strait region that is conducive to our fundamental interests in peace and stability and are therefore good for the PRC and Taiwan as well."

Bush's first three policy elements repeated past statements: a one-China policy as defined by the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act; peaceful resolution of the Taiwan Strait issue; and no mediator role for the U.S.

Bush then concluded with these three policy statements:

  1. "We understand that any arrangements between Beijing and Taipei should be on a mutually acceptable basis, and not be imposed on one side by the other. How specifically to define the "one-China" principle and how concretely to realize it are best left to the two sides of the Strait on a mutually acceptable basis.
  2. We understand that because Taiwan is a democracy, any arrangements between the two sides ultimately have to be acceptable to the Taiwan public.
  3. We are willing to support any outcome voluntarily agreed to by both sides of the Taiwan Strait."

Bush's stress on "mutually acceptable" arrangements that are not imposed "on one side by the other" parallels Chen Shui-bian's insistence that "one-China" be considered as an issue, not as a principle defined by China.

"If the one-China principle means that Taiwan is part of the P.R.C., or that Taiwan is a province of the P.R.C., then never mind that Chen Shui-bian couldn't accept it, the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people also couldn't accept it," Chen told the Asian Wall Street Journal on 4/11. "Therefore, the principles for talks or negotiations must be founded on certain common beliefs. But at the moment there aren't any. That is why I have suggested that the one-China principle be a topic for discussion, but the outcome shouldn't be decided ahead of time, or discussion precluded."

Chen also has picked up on Clinton's statement concerning "the assent of the people of Taiwan." In the AWSJ interview, Chen stated, "This sentence of Clinton's is extremely important. Clearly, according to all the opinion polls, Taiwanese people will not accept being a province of China, or the one country, two systems formula, or becoming a second Hong Kong. If the cross-strait problem is to be resolved with the consent of the Taiwanese people as Clinton said, then any effort to force Taiwanese people to accept the one-China principle is a very serious subject."

Congress and Richard Bush couldn't agree more. There may be those in the U.S. State Department who still don't accept the policy echoes converging here. But the echoes are getting louder. You can be sure that Messrs. Al Gore and George W. Bush are listening. Are Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji?

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