The Buzz

What is the U.S. “One China” Policy?

The official U.S. position has tried to be purposely flexible when addressing the relationship between the PRC and Taiwan. To directly quote the Shanghai Communique of 1972: “The US side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China” (emphasis added). As former US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Randy Schriver and former Vice Chairman of the congressionally-mandated US-China Economic and Security Review Commission Dan Blumenthal reminded everyone, to “acknowledge” does not mean the United States accepts that position.

Yet, how Washington conducts its policy towards Taiwan is being manipulated by a fallacy of false choices due in part to gradual and excessive—public and private—deference to Beijing’s “one-China” principle. Beijing’s discursive warfare rests on the power of definitions and, more generally, broadening the applications of its “One China” principle, while narrowly limiting the applicability of core elements of Taiwan policy such as the Taiwan Relations Act, Six Assurances, and the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review in both the public mind and in how policymakers’ conduct policy.

The reactions to the president-elect’s comment has shown a spotlight on the increasing dangers associated with the lack of clarity about the U.S. “One China” policy, especially if it is not distinguished from the PRC’s “One China” principle, which has led to a gradual encroachment of the latter on US’ policy towards Taiwan.

The U.S. approach to the trilateral relationship between Washington, Taipei, and Beijing requires recalibration. At the very least, it behooves the incoming administration to restate the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy as articulated by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly mentioned earlier: “I can tell you what it is not. It is not the One-China policy or the One-China principle that Beijing suggests.” The president-elect could take a page out of Beijing’s playbook by drawing a line around Beijing’s “One China” principle.

In the final analysis, continuation of a passive approach that in effect defers to the PRC’s irredentist claim over Taiwan will lead to a widening sovereignty gap in the Taiwan Strait and greater instability. There is wide latitude for U.S. policymakers to work within the existing framework, but first it requires a clearly stated agenda of soft-balancing in the Taiwan Strait.

Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute, a 501(c)(3) think tank in Washington DC, dedicated to Taiwan policy research. David An is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute. 

Image Credit: Creative Commons.