US and China

Daniel Cheng is a biomedical engineering junior and has previously contributed to articles published in The Diplomat, a DC-based foreign policy magazine.

What exactly is the One-China Policy? Well, that depends on whom you ask. To understand why the One-China Policy is no longer a policy that benefits American interests, we must revisit the events starting from 1949.

The aftermath of the Chinese Civil War resulted in “Two Chinas”

Before 1949, China was a constitutional republic called the Republic of China (ROC). At the time, it was a de-facto military dictatorship due to the ruling party’s struggles with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

On Oct. 1, 1949, Communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed a new China — The People’s Republic of China (PRC). The remnants of the ROC forces retreated to Taiwan on Dec. 7, 1949.  

Taiwan (ROC) wasn’t the only country fighting against communist threats post-1949; the United States was in a contentious Cold War with the Soviet Union. Due to ideological opposition to communism, military strategy and other reasons, the United States continued to recognize the ROC in Taiwan as the sole legal government of China despite the ROC’s jurisdiction covering only Taiwan, Pescadores Islands, Quemoy, and Matsu islands. 

In 1971, the United Nations passed the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758, stripping the ROC representatives of U.N. representation and their permanent Security Council seat. The passage of the resolution caused an international diplomatic shift as countries started severing ties with the ROC and recognized the PRC as the only China. In 1979, the U.S. did so as well.

Why the United States favored a One-China Policy with the PRC

In the Three Joint Communiqués between the U.S. and the PRC, the U.S. recognized there was only one China. It acknowledged the PRC’s claim of Taiwan as a part of China. Note, the U.S. does not accept Taiwan as a part of China but only acknowledges the PRC’s position. The One-China policy was primarily born out of the desire to normalize relations with China, starting with President Richard Nixon. One major goal was to counteract Soviet influences during the Cold War (as the Sino-Soviet split had started about a decade prior). The U.S. purposely maintained a somewhat ambiguous position on Taiwan to benefit from Chinese allyship and Taiwanese cultural and economic ties (see Taiwan Relation Act 1979 and strategic ambiguity). 

In adherence to the One-China policy, American presidents since 1979 had no direct contact with Taiwanese government officials. However, an unprecedented thing happened in 2016 — then-president-elect Donald Trump took a congratulatory call from Tsai Ing-Wen, the president of Taiwan. That call received backlash from foreign policy experts in Washington D.C. and members of the Obama administration. While I am usually not one to defend Trump, he did no wrong on this matter: The United States regularly sells advanced weaponry to Taiwan. It is laughable that the critics should chastise an American government official for merely speaking to our country’s strategic partner in the Asia-Pacific.

Our relationship with China is no longer beneficial

Throughout the 1990’s, the Clinton administration pushed for the PRC’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization (WTO). As President Bill Clinton argued, giving the Chinese a chance at greater economic freedom would lead to more political freedom while benefiting America’s free-trade agenda. A win-win, right? Wrong. While embracing capitalist practices made China, relatively the world’s eighth-fastest growing economy, the political repressions and aggressive diplomatic games have only worsened. China effectively stripped Hong Kong’s autonomy with the new National Security Law (NSL) in May 2020 and sent over a million (estimated) Uyghurs to re-education camps. China’s domestic repressions should concern the U.S. — Article 38 of the Hong Kong NSL allows the vague application of criminal penalties to anyone, anywhere in the world, including U.S. citizens. Recent investigations also discovered that some face masks and apparels sold in the U.S. came from forced Uyghur labor. China has also been escalating its threats against Taiwan, making illegal claims to international waters in the South China Sea, committing intellectual theft and engaging in disinformation campaigns against other democracies including the U.S. 

Why should college students like you and me care about this? China conducted many intelligence operations on American college campuses, with the arrest of a Harvard University professor and two Chinese nationals in three separate China-related cases serving as examples of China’s technology theft attempts. A few years ago, universities around the country closed Confucius Institutes on campuses, Chinese propaganda operations that masqueraded as “cultural education centers” for many years.

Ditching the One-China Policy

In the last decade, not only did the CCP commit countless human rights abuses domestically, but they have also been attempting to export their authoritarian ideology abroad. The best examples are disinformation campaigns and operations on foreign university campuses aimed at stifling free speech and dissent. Ditching the One-China Policy allows us to formally recognize Taiwan and create a multilateral democratic coalition in the Asia Pacific to counteract China’s expansionist ambitions. 

Suppose we are lucky enough to have leaders who come to their senses. Here are the steps they could take to end the madness known as the One-China Policy officially: 

  1. End our pharmaceutical and technological reliance on China.

  2. Provide incentives for American businesses to shift more production and investment from China to other Southeast Asian countries to further free trade and multilateralism in the area.

  3. Normalize relations with Taiwan. The U.S. severed ties with the ROC on Taiwan, a quasi-military dictatorship in 1979. Since 1987, the Taiwanese people have remade their country into a thriving democracy with one of the highest freedom indexes in the world.

Americans say they are all about freedom, so let’s put our money where our mouths are and end this toxic codependency with one of the world’s most massive dictatorships.

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