Washington’s “one China” policy has not changed and the US does not take a position on Taiwan’s sovereignty issue, a US Department of State spokesperson has said.
He said that this has been the principle of US policy toward Taiwan since 1979, and the policy has remained in effect. He also said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has privately made this clear to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅). The US’ “one China” policy and China’s “one China” principle recognize China as the “representative of China.”
The two diverge on the issue of Taiwan: Beijing asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, whereas Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty issue. This much was revealed in declassified cables from 1982 regarding the “six assurances” that were posted on the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Web site two years ago: “There has been no change in the US’ longstanding position on the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan.”
However, given that China has become more aggressive and intimidating in the Taiwan Strait, the US has started to express its “position” on sovereignty over Taiwan.
Beijing has always claimed that UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 solved the question of Chinese representation while affirming that Taiwan is a part of China. A few days ago at the general debate of the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden for the first time mentioned the situation across the Taiwan Strait.
He said that the US seeks to uphold peace and stability and remains committed to the “one China” policy, which has helped prevent conflict for 40 years, and that the US continues to oppose unilateral changes to the “status quo” by either side.
In a previous interview, Biden said: “Taiwan makes their own judgements about their independence; we are not encouraging their being independent; that’s their decision.”
In a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in November last year, Biden said that the US upholds the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and that “it [Taiwan] is independent; it makes its own decisions.”
He clarified afterward that the US had not changed its policy: “We are not encouraging independence. We’re encouraging that they do exactly what the Taiwan Relations Act requires. That’s what we’re doing. Let them make up their mind.”
Biden did not give Taiwan the green light, but it was also not a red light.
Washington repeatedly emphasizes that the US’ “one China” policy has not changed. Yet, as far as Beijing is concerned, the US is not what it used to be. The gap between Washington and Beijing indicates that the US’ “one China” policy and China’s “one China” principle are inherently divergent. In the Three Joint Communiques, the US acknowledged the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the representative of China. In the TRA, principles of US-Taiwan communication were specified, and it was expected that the future of Taiwan would be decided peacefully. The act did not agree that “Taiwan belongs to China.”
Likewise, UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 did nothing more than settle the representation of China. Not a single word was about Taiwan. Beijing’s belief that “Taiwan is a part of China” is misleading. The earlier Treaty of San Francisco stipulated Japan’s renouncement of Taiwan and Penghu County, without identifying to which country Taiwan and Penghu should belong. Therefore, although China asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, the claim, lacking any evidence from the above documents, could only be based on “time immemorial.”
The US’ “one China” policy was mainly devised to solve the question of “Chinese representation,” so that the US would be able to “align itself with China and contain the Soviet Union.” At that time, Taiwan was under alien rule, the legitimacy of which was maintained through “reconquering the mainland.” Across the Taiwan Strait, both regimes believed that Taiwan belonged to China. The US “recognized” the situation, and hence did not put forward a dissenting view. Instead, it believed that leading the two sides to compromise with each other was most important.
By the end of the 1980s, Taiwan had undergone democratization and began to imagine the nation anew. Washington’s “one China” policy did not support — and would not help promote — Taiwanese independence. Yet, it did not oppose the independence of Taiwan as a democratic right of Taiwanese.
However, when China became a global factory and market, the “relationship” with China was prioritized. Washington cautioned either side against changing the “status quo.” More often than not, it was an implication directed at Taiwan due to Beijing’s stigmatization of Taiwan as a troublemaker. It was not until 2018 to 2020 that the US-PRC relationship started to reverse.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, contributed to the shifting political climate in the international community. The world pointed fingers at Beijing and valued the good atmosphere of Taiwan. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, the turnaround has been cognitively reinforced.
For a long-term observer of the US’ policy on the Taiwan Strait, an unchangeable iron law is more than noticeable: “Taiwan must be in the hands of friendly countries.”
When former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) devised and promoted China’s economic reforms, the US guided the West to invest in China despite the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The US thought that China’s economic reforms might have given rise to political transformation. China might have embraced universal values and become a responsible country, and from there, the US and China could have established an enduring partnership. Under such circumstances, the so-called “peaceful unification” could have been acceptable to the US.
However, Xi is obsessed with Chinese hegemony and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He intends to substitute democracy with autocracy, planning to topple the dominoes by means of “military unification” with the first piece, Taiwan. Thus, “Taiwan must be in the hands of friendly countries” is now an urgent task.
Looking at the Treaty of San Francisco, UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, the Three Joint Communiques and the TRA, there is a clear trend: The US never asserted that “Taiwan belongs to China.”
The contrast between democratic Taiwan and autocratic China is clear-cut. If China were to annex Taiwan, the consequences would be disastrous to the world. It is only appropriate that Biden has been trying to strengthen the relationship between Taiwan and the US. Regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty issue, it is necessary to clarify how the US is different from China.
The US has repositioned Taiwan on the international chessboard, which has caused a series of geopolitical reshuffles. The first to be affected is the China threat.
Taiwan is on the front line. How it positions itself to become a normal nation is a task shared by all Taiwanese.
Translated by Liu Yi-hung
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