Guest Columnist

John Richard Schrock

The Shanghai Communiqué


   To understand the U.S. position toward the mainland China–Taiwan relationship, we must understand both Chinese history and the current formal relationship established in 1972 by the “Shanghai Communiqué.” It is obvious from recent off-the-cuff remarks from President Biden and many anti-China Senators and Congressmen in both political parties that they are clueless.

    The Shanghai Communiqué signed by President Nixon is a joint statement by China and the U.S. signaling a commitment to pursue formal diplomatic relations. This document stated: “The United States 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. The United States Government does not challenge that position.”

    Before Nixon’s visit, Henry Kissinger and Zhou En-lai worked for two days to negotiate a statement for Nixon’s visit.  When Kissinger submitted the draft including the critical wording “...that there is but one China,” Kissinger indicates that Zhou read the sentence and a wide grin spread over his face, and reports that “I do not think that anything I did or said impressed Zhou as much as this ambiguous formula with which both sides were able to live.” (Quote from “Eldest Son: Zhou En-lai and the Making of Modern China, 1898-1976" by Han SuYin.)

    In history, Taiwan has been part of Imperial China. When the Manchus invaded China and established the Qing Dynasty, the Ming loyalist Koxinga retreated to Taiwan as his base in 1660, one of several times that Taiwan would serve to harbor the remnants of a regime ousted from the mainland.

    As a result of the Sino-Japanese War triggered by Japan’s invasion of Korea, Japan won and took over Taiwan in 1895. Now named Formosa, it served as Japan’s agricultural base while Japan built its industrial war machine in preparation for World War II.

     By 1971, mainland China entered the United Nations as a member of the Security Council and the Republic of China of Taiwan exited at the same time. Martial law finally ended in Taiwan in 1987. In 1991, Taiwan held its first national elections and in 1996, it held its first presidential elections. Year 2000 saw the end of Kuomintang Party rule in Taiwan. Many elderly Kuomintang military officers wanted to return to the mainland to rejoin family and eventually be buried in the old family graveyards.

    In 2005, China announced the anti-succession law, indicating it would use force if there was any attempt by Taiwan to declare itself an independent country.

    U.S. lawmakers passed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 that outlined a plan to maintain close ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. It provided for the U.S. to sell military items to help the island maintain its defense, a policy of “strategic ambiguity.” But Kissinger describes a “Third Communique” of August 17, 1982 as still ambiguous but a gradual decline in military support: “The United States Government states that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplies in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final resolution. In so stating, the United States acknowledges China’s consistent position regarding the thorough settlement of this issue.”  
    I will note that China continues to maintain its position held from the very beginning, that acts passed by the U.S. or other are irrelevant to what it considers is an internal matter. Taiwan is a part of China and therefore not anyone else’s business. They held this position from the first, and the war in Ukraine has done nothing to change their position, despite speculations from U.S. military.

    Henry Kissinger’s book “On China” reveals that, if it had not been distracted by the Korean War, China would have moved ahead to finish its civil war by pursuing Chiang Kai-Shek’s retreat to Taiwan. Indeed, the North Korea leaders knew that if they did not rapidly recruit China to their defense, a China mainland would be too busy taking back Taiwan and not be able to help North Korea. If China had not been diverted to Korea, China would have overtaken Taiwan and it would not be a concern today, and a large amount of looted Chinese historical artifacts would have been returned to the mainland.

    “Leaders cannot choose the options history affords them...” is probably the wisest comment in his book. Kissinger notes how the U.S. is somewhat unable to have continuity in foreign policy because of our periodic changes of government every four or eight years, and the one-year lag that occurs with each changeover. But that is no excuse for politicians being ignorant.