Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Letter

Status quo defined by US

The phrase "one China," now ubiquitous, is widely misunderstood and leads to endless problems, as your essay about A-mei (張惠妹) and her travails makes clear (online title: "What does `one China' truly mean?"; print title: "Taiwan not a province of China," July 12, page 8).

The US has never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. This was true even when the US recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate government of all China. Even then, the US acknowledged only administrative control of Taiwan. The whole point of the complex wording of the Shanghai Communique and other documents was to avoid conceding sovereignty, while giving China enough face for the reconciliation process to continue. Our position over sovereignty has been regularly, but quietly, reiterated ever since and is unlikely to change.

So if "one China" does not mean that Taiwan is part of China, what does it mean? I gather that phrase was introduced accidentally during the Clinton administration in the text of a poorly drafted letter to Beijing which has never been made public. This suggests that we did not know what we meant when we introduced the wording; we were above all concerned with mollifying China.

But one interpretation of the phrase does make sense.

Although the US recognized both East and West Germany, and will conceivably recognize both Seoul and Pyongyang, in the case of governments claiming to represent China (as did those of both Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), though Taipei has discarded the latter's claim in practice), the US has instead chosen to impose upon itself the rule that it must choose only one. "One China" thus tells us nothing about territory. It only tells us which government we recognize, given that we can pick only one. This can be compared to the Hallstein Doctrine, which required recognition of only one Germany -- and which was wisely discarded.

The problem with the US position today is that all of our diplomacy -- at least until the important statement made by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly to Congress in April -- has been premised on the expectation that somehow Taiwan and China would work things out, rendering issues of sovereignty moot. As Kelly has now made clear, this outcome seems unlikely, and therefore the US position is to maintain the status quo "as we define it."

This is not ideal and it will completely satisfy neither side, but it does give official recognition to a situation that both can live with, and if they have any sense, they will work within this new framework rather than challenge it. Ultimate resolution, alas, appears as distant as ever.

Arthur Waldron

Lauder Professor of

International Relations,University of Pennsylvania

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