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Thursday, January 27, 2011

China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One China” Policy—Key Statements from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei

Shirley A. Kan
Specialist in Asian Security Affairs

Despite apparently consistent statements in four decades, the U.S. “one China” policy concerning Taiwan remains somewhat ambiguous and subject to different interpretations. Apart from questions about what the “one China” policy entails, issues have arisen about whether U.S. Presidents have stated clear positions and have changed or should change policy, affecting U.S. interests in security and democracy. In Part I, this CRS Report, updated as warranted, discusses the “one China” policy since the United States began in 1971 to reach presidential understandings with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government in Beijing. Part II documents the evolution of policy as affected by legislation and articulated in key statements by Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. Taiwan formally calls itself the Republic of China (ROC), celebrating in 2011 the 100th anniversary of its founding. The policy covers three major issue areas: sovereignty over Taiwan; PRC use of force or coercion against Taiwan; and cross-strait dialogue. The United States recognized the ROC until the end of 1978 and has maintained an official relationship with Taiwan after recognition of the PRC government in 1979. The United States did not explicitly state the sovereign status of Taiwan in the three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiques of 1972, 1979, and 1982. The United States “acknowledged” the “one China” position of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Since 1971, U.S. Presidents—both secretly and publicly—have articulated a “one China” policy in understandings with the PRC. Congressional oversight has watched for any new agreements and any shift in the U.S. stance closer to that of Beijing’s “one China” principle—on questions of sovereignty, arms sales, or dialogue. Not recognizing the PRC’s claim over Taiwan or Taiwan as a sovereign state, U.S. policy has considered Taiwan’s status as unsettled. With added conditions, U.S. policy leaves the Taiwan question to be resolved by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: peacefully, with the assent of Taiwan’s people, and without unilateral changes. In short, U.S. policy focuses on the process of resolution of the Taiwan question, not its outcome.

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, P.L. 96-8, has governed U.S. policy in the absence of a diplomatic relationship or a defense treaty. The TRA stipulates the U.S. expectation that the future of Taiwan “will be determined” by peaceful means. The TRA specifies that it is U.S. policy, among the stipulations: to consider any non-peaceful means to determine Taiwan’s future “a threat” to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and of “grave concern” to the United States; “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character;” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion” jeopardizing the security, or social or economic system of Taiwan’s people. The TRA provides a congressional role in determining security assistance “necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” In addition, just before issuing the August 17, 1982 Communique, President Reagan offered “Six Assurances” to Taipei, covering arms sales and any U.S. role in cross-strait talks.

Policymakers have continued to face unresolved issues, while the political and strategic context of the policy has changed dramatically since the 1970s. Nonetheless, there has been no comprehensive review of U.S. policy since 1994. Since the mid-1990s, U.S. interests in the military balance as well as peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait have been challenged by the PRC’s military buildup (particularly in missiles) and military coercion, resistance in Taiwan by the Kuomintang (KMT) party to raising defense spending, and moves perceived by Beijing for de jure independence under Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Chen Shui-bian (2000- 2008). After May 2008, KMT President Ma Ying-jeou resumed the cross-strait dialogue (after a decade)—beyond seeking detente. With President Obama since 2009, a policy convergence among the three sides has emerged about “peaceful development” of cross-strait engagement.

Date of Report: January 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 85
Order Number: RL30341
Price: $29.95

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