The Importance of Clarity on One China Policy and Taiwan

One China Policy and Taiwan

As Beijing entices more countries to establish formal diplomatic relations, the need for clarity on different formulations of “one China” becomes more important. However, the semantic confusion over such differences can obscure their real significance and lead to misinterpretation.

In the past, a policy of strategic ambiguity enabled the United States to pursue diplomacy alongside preparations for military contingencies in the Taiwan Strait. But this environment is changing.

What is one China?

One China is the principle of safeguarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is a key foundation of the Chinese government’s policy on Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any moves that seek to create “two Chinas” or Taiwan independence, as well as any attempts to impose on the Chinese territory the governments of the Republic of China (ROC) or other entities. On Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s initiative, the Chinese government has developed its basic policy of peaceful reunification and the scientific concept of one country, two systems.

One China is a policy that pursues peaceful resolution of differences alongside preparations for military contingencies, and that is balanced between the promotion of people-to-people contact and the promotion of security concerns. This balance is essential for maintaining cross-Strait stability and avoiding the spiral of confrontation that may occur if either side feels it has been threatened by the other. Nevertheless, the United States and Beijing have differing interpretations of what “one China” means.

What is Taiwan?

Taiwan is a unique island nation that is home to a diverse population of more than 570,000. It is known for its vibrant economy, free press and thriving culture. It has long been a democracy, but in recent years it has moved closer to Beijing on some issues. President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed to defend Taiwanese independence, even as she has increased military spending and sought closer economic ties with China.

The Chinese government is committed to the One-China principle and firmly opposes any secessionist activities in Taiwan. It hopes that the Taiwan side will respect and support this basic principle, so that the two sides can hold consultations on an equal footing regarding peaceful reunification.

What is the U.S. position?

The United States’ One China policy has been recalibrated numerous times over the years, reflecting changes in US-China relations and in Beijing’s view of Taiwan. Since the 1990s, the policy has been particularly important because of challenges to US interests in Taiwan’s security and democracy from the PRC military modernization, moves seen by Beijing as promoting de jure independence under the DPP’s presidents (2000-2008), and resistance in Taiwan to raising defense spending and strengthening self-defense.

In guiding its engagement with Taiwan, the United States has stressed the process (peaceful resolution through cross-strait dialogue, with the assent of the people on both sides) over the outcome (unification, independence, or confederation). CFR experts have criticized recent statements by Vice President Joe Biden that appear to contradict the policy’s strategic ambiguity.

This CRS report explores how the policy has evolved through legislation and articulated in key statements by Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. It also outlines congressional influence over the issue, especially with respect to determining arms sales to Taiwan under Section 3 of the TRA of 1979.

What is the Chinese position?

The Chinese Government maintains that both Taiwan and the mainland are parts of China. They also assert that the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of all China. This is known as the One-China principle.

Deng Xiaoping developed the “one country, two systems” concept during negotiations with the United Kingdom over the expiration of Hong Kong’s lease and with Portugal over Macau. It stipulates that upon reunification, Hong Kong and Macau, as special administrative regions, will retain their existing systems while using socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The Chinese Government advocates that the final purpose of cross-Straits negotiations is peaceful reunification, and that talks should be conducted on the basis of equality. It opposes proposals for “Taiwan independence,” “two Chinas” or “two states,” which are aimed at separation instead of reunification. Moreover, it advocates that all countries maintaining diplomatic relations with China should refrain from providing arms to Taiwan under any circumstances.

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