On Feb. 28, 1972, the US and China issued the Shanghai Communique, which states that the US “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”
In other words, the US did not express any diverging opinion on this point. This communique, along with the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) issued on Jan. 1, 1979, and the Joint US-China Communique on Arms Sales issued on Aug. 17, 1982, later came to be known as the Three Joint Communiques that provide the foundation for relations between the US and China.
Now that US President Donald Trump is questioning the “one China” policy, 45 years after the Shanghai Communique was signed and issued during the Cold War, it has become necessary to review it.
According to reports broadcast by Voice of America, former US ambassador to China Winston Lord, who took part in the drafting of the Shanghai Communique, on Tuesday last week said that the US has been vague about its “one China” policy because it does not accept the “one China” principle, according to which Taiwan is a part of China.
Another former US ambassador to China, Stapleton Roy, said that although the US’ “one China” policy has not changed, Taiwan’s political situation has changed considerably, with direct presidential elections having been introduced in 1996 together with changes in how people view their national identity. According to Roy, if the communique was to be a renegotiated today, the conclusion would be different.
The statements of these two former ambassadors show that the US needs to make pragmatic adjustments to its policy toward China, as many changes have taken place since the signing of the Shanghai Communique, which marked the beginning of relations between the two countries.
It is well known that the Shanghai Communique was the beginning of a strategy led by then-US national security adviser Henry Kissinger to co-opt China as part of then-US president Richard Nixon’s strategy to put pressure on the Soviet Union, while at the same time extracting the US from the Vietnam War.
The past 45 years saw the end of the Vietnam War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and although Russia has not been very willing to cooperate with the US, it has been far from a threat to it. More importantly, over the past several decades, Taiwan has moved away from authoritarianism and the party-state system and developed into a free democracy. Considering that, the US’ “one-China” policy based on the Shanghai Communique is clearly outdated.
Meanwhile, China has been using its relations with the US to increase its influence. As suggested by US-based China expert Michael Pillsbury, Beijing has been secretly exploiting the US’ influence to pave the way for China to replace the US as the dominant world power, a goal that it aims to achieve by 2049.
Today, Beijing is still an authoritarian government that allows its citizens little political freedom — and there are no signs it will change anytime soon. It also challenges international security, world order and creates disturbances in the South and East China seas, as well as engaging in unfair trade policies. This makes it clear that the US has been helping an adversary grow stronger and even to become a potential threat that will be detrimental to the US’ strategic interests.
Both before and after taking office, Trump criticized China for its trade policies and militarization of the South China Sea, and even questioned the US’ “one China” policy, which is a reflection of US popular opinion. According to a Gallup survey on Americans’ views on foreign countries conducted early last month, Americans have mixed views on China, which was ranked the 13th-most popular on a list of 21 countries assessed.
Both Japan, ranked third, and Taiwan, ranked seventh, were seen much more favorably. While 73 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Taiwan, only 50 percent feel positively about China.
While Trump is in office, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration should take the opportunity to improve Taiwan’s relations with the US. Former US president Ronald Reagan, whom Trump is said to admire more than anyone else, in 1982 issued the “six assurances.” Among the assurances was a pledge that “the United States would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.”
In other words, the US does not accept the view that Taiwan is part of China. Now that the Trump administration and US Congress have both affirmed the “six assurances” as part of US policy toward Taiwan, relations between the two nations are expected to improve.
In terms of ways to improve Taiwan-US relations, the Project 2049 Institute has provided the best option. According to the Washington-based think tank, Taiwan should not be used as a bargaining chip under the “one China” policy — instead, the US should acknowledge that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have their own legitimate governments, as well as engage Taiwan more often and at a higher level.
The think tank also said that the US should increase the quality and quantity of arms sold to Taiwan and assist Taiwan in developing the ability to build its own submarines and establish bilateral defense cooperation, while at the same time sitting down with Taipei to lay down a plan for long-term cooperation between the two nations with the goal of normalizing and stabilizing bilateral cooperation and maintaining a constructive relationship.
Given this new situation in the Taiwan-US relationship, the Tsai administration must take an active, more aggressive approach.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a good example of how this could be done. As a reflection of the importance of Japan’s relations with the US, Abe has already visited Trump twice after his election. He not only flew to New York to meet Trump shortly after his election, but he was also the second leader of a US ally to meet with Trump after his inauguration. The face-to-face meetings helped establish trust and strengthened strategic cooperation between the US and Japan in a number of areas including security and trade. Abe’s efforts also sent his approval rating soaring in Japan, with a recent poll showing a 66 percent approval rating.
The Tsai administration should learn from Abe, as improving Taiwan-US relations is strategically important and would help increase her status as a leader.
A good and practical way to improve Taiwan’s relations with the US would be through trade. In a report released by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham) last week, governmental bureaucracy, cross-strait relations and the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) were listed among the top three things that have a significant impact on business operations in the nation
In addition to urging the government to help improve the business environment, AmCham also voiced support for Taiwan’s participation in bilateral or multilateral trade agreements, especially the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which still requires much negotiation. In terms of substantively improving Taiwan-US relations, completing TIFA negotiations should be the basic goal.
Trade negotiations require skillful bargaining and can lead to losses, as well as gains. During negotiations, the government should seek to secure the most benefits for the nation, while minimizing losses and avoiding focusing on unimportant issues.
In addition, before negotiations, it should prepare itself by conducting risk management studies and find ways to alleviate negative effects that might result from the agreement. Taiwan must abandon its conservative economic approach and move forward by pushing for market liberalization.
With the inauguration of Trump came opportunities for change, as well as challenges. Taiwan must seize the opportunities and be prepared for the challenges, as they are the key to improving Taiwan-US relations.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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