Beijing’s Claim to Sovereignty of Taiwan Strait Undermines US ‘One China’ Policy

CommentaryThe Chinese regime recently claimed sovereign rights on the entire Taiwan Strait, adding that U.S. warships sailing through it were partaking in provocative behavior. Beijing’s new move might have put the U.S. government in a more difficult position to continue its “One China” policy. On May 23, U.S. President Joe Biden commented during a visit to Japan, that if China invades Taiwan, the United States will intervene militarily. But later during a White House press briefing, a spokesperson clarified that the U.S. “One China” policy had not changed. Many pundits came to the conclusion that Biden again made an error, but few realized his statement was not a contradiction of the “One China” policy. The deviation from Biden to the White House spokesperson was only a difference between two sides of the same coin. If the Chinese regime breaks the peace in Taiwan Strait, the U.S. military may be left with no other option but to intervene militarily. Policy Versus Principle In order to understand why a military intervention does not contradict the “One China” policy, it is necessary to know the differences between the U.S. “One China” policy and China’s “One China” principle. “One China” policy essentially means that the United States will not establish a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, but the “One China” principle means that Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The common ground between the U.S. policy and China’s principle is there are no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan. But the two sides have not come to any agreement over if Taiwan belongs to China. U.S. President Richard Nixon speaks with Chinese Prime minister Zhou Enlai (R) during an official visit to China in February 1972. (Xinhua/AFP) The United States and the PRC signed and published three joint communiques in 1972, 1979, and 1982 under the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. These communiques were the founding stones of diplomatic relations between the two nations. In the first document signed in 1972, the United States stated: “The government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” In the following two documents signed in 1979 and 1982, the United States reaffirmed the same position. What did the U.S. government admit in this statement? The U.S. government only admitted that it “acknowledges”, neither recognizes nor agrees, that the Chinese believe Taiwan belongs to “China”. The word “China” in this statement did not specifically mean the PRC. There have been two governments in China: The communist government in Beijing—called the People’s Republic of China, and the government of Taiwan—called the Republic of China. It is worth noting that the government of Taiwan declared a national emergency between 1947 and 1991 which included a series of laws that had the purpose of taking back control of mainland China. In other words, the governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait claimed the sovereignty of the other side’s territory. The approach of the U.S. government was not to agree with either side but to choose only one side to establish a formal diplomatic relation with. Therefore, the U.S. government only “acknowledges” the positions of both sides, but neither agrees nor recognizes their positions. Following the formalization of the diplomatic relation between the United States and the PRC, most other Western countries established their relationship with China in a similar way. They only “acknowledged” or “understood” the Chinese position, but did not formally recognize or agree that Taiwan is part of the PRC. This strategy has been called the “strategic ambiguity”. It is also worth noting in that three joint communiques, the U.S. government consistently used the word “acknowledge” in the English version of all three documents. In the Chinese version of these documents, the word “acknowledge” was correctly translated into Chinese only in the first document signed in 1972, but in the two latter documents, the word was translated into Chinese as “recognize” or “agree”. The English version of the three documents was consistent, but the Chinese version wasn’t. It is clear that when these documents were signed, the U.S. government and the Chinese regime held significant disagreements on how to identify the relationship between the PRC and Taiwan. However, the United States and the PRC decided to formalize the relationship between the two nations while keeping their differences. Taiwanese sailors salute the island’s flag on the deck of the Panshih supply ship after taking part in annual drills, at the Tsoying naval base in Kaohsiung on Jan. 31, 2018. (Mandy Cheng/AFP via Getty Images) Bottom Line and Boundary It is important to note that in the three communiques, the U.S. government asked China to keep the peace in the Taiwan Strait in a return for

Beijing’s Claim to Sovereignty of Taiwan Strait Undermines US ‘One China’ Policy

Commentary

The Chinese regime recently claimed sovereign rights on the entire Taiwan Strait, adding that U.S. warships sailing through it were partaking in provocative behavior. Beijing’s new move might have put the U.S. government in a more difficult position to continue its “One China” policy.

On May 23, U.S. President Joe Biden commented during a visit to Japan, that if China invades Taiwan, the United States will intervene militarily. But later during a White House press briefing, a spokesperson clarified that the U.S. “One China” policy had not changed.

Many pundits came to the conclusion that Biden again made an error, but few realized his statement was not a contradiction of the “One China” policy. The deviation from Biden to the White House spokesperson was only a difference between two sides of the same coin.

If the Chinese regime breaks the peace in Taiwan Strait, the U.S. military may be left with no other option but to intervene militarily.

Policy Versus Principle

In order to understand why a military intervention does not contradict the “One China” policy, it is necessary to know the differences between the U.S. “One China” policy and China’s “One China” principle.

“One China” policy essentially means that the United States will not establish a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, but the “One China” principle means that Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The common ground between the U.S. policy and China’s principle is there are no formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan. But the two sides have not come to any agreement over if Taiwan belongs to China.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. President Richard Nixon speaks with Chinese Prime minister Zhou Enlai (R) during an official visit to China in February 1972. (Xinhua/AFP)

The United States and the PRC signed and published three joint communiques in 1972, 1979, and 1982 under the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

These communiques were the founding stones of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

In the first document signed in 1972, the United States stated: “The government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” In the following two documents signed in 1979 and 1982, the United States reaffirmed the same position.

What did the U.S. government admit in this statement?

The U.S. government only admitted that it “acknowledges”, neither recognizes nor agrees, that the Chinese believe Taiwan belongs to “China”. The word “China” in this statement did not specifically mean the PRC.

There have been two governments in China: The communist government in Beijing—called the People’s Republic of China, and the government of Taiwan—called the Republic of China.

It is worth noting that the government of Taiwan declared a national emergency between 1947 and 1991 which included a series of laws that had the purpose of taking back control of mainland China. In other words, the governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait claimed the sovereignty of the other side’s territory.

The approach of the U.S. government was not to agree with either side but to choose only one side to establish a formal diplomatic relation with. Therefore, the U.S. government only “acknowledges” the positions of both sides, but neither agrees nor recognizes their positions.

Following the formalization of the diplomatic relation between the United States and the PRC, most other Western countries established their relationship with China in a similar way. They only “acknowledged” or “understood” the Chinese position, but did not formally recognize or agree that Taiwan is part of the PRC. This strategy has been called the “strategic ambiguity”.

It is also worth noting in that three joint communiques, the U.S. government consistently used the word “acknowledge” in the English version of all three documents. In the Chinese version of these documents, the word “acknowledge” was correctly translated into Chinese only in the first document signed in 1972, but in the two latter documents, the word was translated into Chinese as “recognize” or “agree”. The English version of the three documents was consistent, but the Chinese version wasn’t.

It is clear that when these documents were signed, the U.S. government and the Chinese regime held significant disagreements on how to identify the relationship between the PRC and Taiwan. However, the United States and the PRC decided to formalize the relationship between the two nations while keeping their differences.

TAIWAN-CHINA-MILITARY-DRILL-ARMAMENT
Taiwanese sailors salute the island’s flag on the deck of the Panshih supply ship after taking part in annual drills, at the Tsoying naval base in Kaohsiung on Jan. 31, 2018. (Mandy Cheng/AFP via Getty Images)

Bottom Line and Boundary

It is important to note that in the three communiques, the U.S. government asked China to keep the peace in the Taiwan Strait in a return for the U.S. promise of not establishing a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.

In other words, it was a bargain of quid pro quo: as long as China keeps the peace in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. government would not establish a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.

The bottom line of the U.S. “One China” policy is peace in the Taiwan Strait while establishing no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan is just the boundary of the policy.

In the first joint communique signed in 1972, the U.S. government clearly stated that it “reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan”.

It is clear that the higher principle, or the ultimate U.S. interest presented in the document, was peace.

Peace was also the precondition for the then U.S. government to withdraw its military forces from Taiwan.

The joint communique signed in 1979 further emphasized the purpose of, and the U.S. interests in, the normalization of U.S.-China diplomatic relations: “The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principles agreed on by the two sides … Both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict. Neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region … Both believe that normalization of Sino-American relations is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the cause of peace in Asia and the world”.

In the joint communiques signed in 1982, the U.S. government once again affirmed its peacekeeping principle when it comes to resolving the Taiwan question.

The basis of U.S.-China relations has always been the three communiques, which unmistakably stated the ultimate principle of U.S.-China relations is to keep the peace over the Taiwan Strait. An invasion of Taiwan by the PRC’s military will breach the three communiques, resulting in the end of U.S.-China relations. The U.S. president and the U.S. Congress shall then have every right to militarily intervene in China’s invasion of Taiwan.

This means that a U.S. military intervention in any war that China could impose on Taiwan would not contradict the U.S. “One China” policy.

Taiwan’s Importance

Since joining WTO in 2001, there has been a continuous development of China’s economy, its military, and its tech industry. It has enabled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime to become aggressive as it expands its global power.

The CCP’s record of human rights violations, and coercive behavior in trade, economic, and foreign relations has been a concern for some Western leaders.

To counter the regime’s global expansion, the United States government under President Barack Obama started its “rebalancing strategy” in the Asia-Pacific region in 2011.

President Donald Trump, in the first year of his leadership, put into use a much more proactive approach known as the Indo-Pacific Strategy with Biden continuing in the same direction.

Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at a joint news conference following the bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan, on May 23, 2022. Biden reiterated U.S. commitment to defending Taiwan in case of an attack by Beijing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

As stated in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, the region stretches from the U.S. Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean, covering more than half of the world’s population, and nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy. The strategy calls this region “the world’s center of gravity”.

Amid all this, China, through its rapid and coercive expansion, has shown that it’s the main threat to the peace in the region and countries have been subsequently banding together.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy has three important arms: Japan, Australia, and India. While Japan and Australia are traditional allies of the United States, India is a new ally.

But among the three Japan is the most important.

Japan has the world’s third-largest economy and it is geographically located to provide support to two frontline U.S. allies facing China’s escalating threat: South Korea in Northeast Asia, and Taiwan in East Asia.

But Japan has a fatal weakness. It is an island nation, and its economy heavily relies on imports and exports. Japan is the world’s fourth-largest export country and fifth-largest importer. Almost one-third of its economy relies on foreign trade, which makes the South China Sea the lifeline of Japan’s economy. About one-third of global trade currently is transported through there.

Beijing has been making man-made islands from atolls in the South China Sea since 2013.

China’s leader Xi Jinping made a promise to Obama in 2015 that the PRC would not militarise these islands but what occurred was the opposite.

If the Chinese regime controls Taiwan, along with those man-made islands, it will hold a master hand over the South China Sea, and, in that, greatly control an important element of Japan’s economy.

Taiwan is also a key part of the supply chain of the U.S. semiconductor industry with the island nation processing the world’s most advanced semiconductor chip-making factories.

Epoch Times Photo
A Taiwanese landing ship is surrounded by amphibious assault vehicles during a life-fire drill, some 4 miles from the city of Magong on the outlying Penghu islands on May 25, 2017. (Sam Yeh/AFP)

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Dulles under President Dwight D. Eisenhower conceived the Island Chain Strategy in 1951. The strategy was designed to surround the Soviet Union and the PRC in the West Pacific using three chains of islands in the Pacific Ocean. In this strategy, Taiwan bears great importance.

After U.S.-China diplomatic relation was formalized in the 1970s, the Island Chain concept was no longer a major theme in U.S. foreign policy as China had a falling out with the Soviet Union. However, with the current continuous building of the China-Russia alliance, the Island Chain strategy and the importance of Taiwan have once again become important.

Taiwan, although only about one-sixteenth of Ukraine’s size and nearly half of Ukraine’s population, bears an irreplaceable role in defending the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

Therefore, as the “One China” policy continues in the foreseeable future, it may be wise for the leaders of the Western world, especially U.S. leaders, to reaffirm their solid support to Taiwan, including military intervention if the PRC leadership decides to break the peace of the Taiwan Strait.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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