China-U.S. relations have gone through three periods since the founding of the People’s Republic:
Youtube documentary: China 1949-1972
For twenty years (1949-1969), the United States tried to disrupt, destabilize, and weaken China’s communist government. Washington believed that China was an aggressive, expansionist power that threatened the security of its noncommunist neighbors. The United States constructed an off-shore line of military alliances along China’s eastern and southern borders. These included the U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, and the Nationalist government on Taiwan. With its allies, the United States formed the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) that included Thailand, the Philippines, and South Vietnam, and the ANZUS Treaty that linked Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The United States maintained military bases and in some cases stationed significant numbers of troops in many of these countries, especially Japan and South Korea. During these years, the United States also became involved in the war in Vietnam.
Washington encouraged its allies to refrain entering into diplomatic relations with Beijing. The United States prohibited Americans from visiting China. The United States cut off trade and orchestrated an international embargo of China.
By being even tougher on China than on its main communist rival, the Soviet Union, the United States pursued a so-called “wedge strategy.” This strategy aimed to encourage a split between the two communist allies. It was successful, because such a split did occur, becoming evident in around 1960 and worsening thereafter.
China and the United States began to move closer to one another. The Americans were seeking to bring an end to the war in Vietnam while China wanted to find support for its resistance to pressure from the Soviet Union. President Nixon’s visit to China in February 1972 marked the breakthrough to rapprochement. Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the Shanghai Communiqué. The Communiqué said that the United States “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes…”
On this basis, U.S.-China unofficial relations began to develop, with trade, educational, and cultural exchanges.
Full Diplomatic Relations: 1979 to Present
In 1979 the two governments established full diplomatic relations. To do this, the United States had to break its formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, although it maintained informal relations with the people of that island. The U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The Act commits the United States to help maintain Taiwan’s self-defense capacity and to consider coming to its defense if it is attacked by mainland China.
The establishment of normal diplomatic relations coincided with the beginning of China’s “reform and opening” policies. The following period saw rapid development of trade and investment ties with the West, including America. China also opened itself to Western tourism, and developed extensive ties in academic and cultural fields.
The two countries cooperated in a number of issues, such as working for peace in Korea. However, many important issues remained unresolved in U.S.-China relations. On the American side, these included dissatisfaction with Chinese human rights policies, with China’s large trade surpluses with the United States, and with China’s sales of missiles and nuclear technology to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. On the Chinese side, the biggest issue was continued American arms sales to Taiwan. In addition to this, China criticized American global foreign policy as one which tried to enforce American interests and did not pay enough attention to the interests of other countries.
Source: US State Dept. History archive
Rapprochement with China, 1972
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon traveled to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and met with Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and Zhou Enlai, the PRC Premier. Over the course of this visit, the two governments negotiated the Shanghai Communiqué, an important step toward improving relations between the United States and the PRC after many years of hostility.
Diplomatic estrangement between the two countries went back to the 1940s. After the Chinese civil war ended in 1949, the Communists established the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland while many soldiers and officials of the defeated Republic of China (ROC) evacuated to the island of Taiwan. For the 30 years that followed, the United States recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate government of China and had no official diplomatic relations with Communist China.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were indications that the United States and the People’s Republic of China were considering rapprochement. The escalating war in Vietnam led U.S. officials to look for ways to improve relations with Communist governments in Asia in the hopes that such a policy might lessen future conflict, undermine alliances between Communist countries, diplomatically isolate North Vietnam, and increase U.S. leverage against the Soviet Union. Likewise, Sino-Soviet tension contributed to the Chinese leadership’s desire for a rapprochement with the United States. Nixon signaled his interest in improved relations by easing the travel and trade restrictions against China that dated from the Korean War in the early 1950s. Although the Sino-U.S. Ambassadorial Talks, which began in 1955 and continued intermittently over the years that followed, had reached a hiatus, the two sides agreed to reopen them in 1969. Of greater significance, Nixon established a secret channel to the PRC’s leadership through Pakistani President Yahya Khan. In Nixon’s view, Khan was an attractive intermediary since he had good relations with the leaders of both the United States and the PRC, and he also provided a means to circumvent the U.S. Department of State, which Nixon feared might oppose or publicize his initiative.
By late 1970, the pace of rapprochement was accelerating. Through the Pakistani channel, the PRC government expressed interest in high level discussions with the United States aimed at improving relations. Mao likewise told U.S. journalist Edgar Snow that he would be happy to talk with Nixon. In 1971, Nixon removed the last remaining restrictions preventing Americans from traveling to mainland China. Following well-publicized fraternization between U.S. and PRC table tennis players during an international competition in Japan, the PRC issued an invitation in April 1971 for the U.S. ping pong team to play a match in Communist China. In April 1972, the PRC ping pong team visited the United States on a good-will tour. This informal “Ping Pong Diplomacy” provided a public face for more serious diplomatic negotiations.
Henry Kissinger, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, traveled to Beijing twice during 1971 to discuss the conditions under which each side would consider a normalization of relations. The first of these trips was conducted in great secrecy and only revealed to the American public during a dramatic speech by President Nixon. Kissinger’s second trip to the PRC, in October 1971, coincided with a vote on Chinese representation in the United Nations. The United States advocated that the United Nations seat delegations from both Communist China and Taiwan. This proposal failed and, instead, the member states of the United Nations voted to seat the PRC delegation in place of the Taiwan delegation. Although the United States unsuccessfully opposed Taiwan’s expulsion from the General Assembly, it supported Communist China’s entrance and assumption of a seat on the Security Council; this contributed to a major diplomatic triumph for the People’s Republic of China.
Nixon travelled to Communist China February 21–28, 1972, becoming the first U.S. President to visit mainland China while in office. Near the end of the trip, the two governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué, in which each articulated its position on a crucial obstacle to normalization, the Taiwan issue. The People’s Republic of China affirmed that Taiwan was a part of China, and that it opposed all attempts to create two Chinas, one China and one Taiwan, or an independent Taiwan. The United States declared that it “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,” and that it did not challenge that position. The United States also noted the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan issue and that it intended to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Taiwan. Over the course of the talks, Mao and Zhou made clear to Nixon that their country would not normalize relations with the United States as long as Washington continued formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan; Nixon stated that the United States did not support Taiwanese independence. The principles established in the Shanghai Communiqué provided the basis for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations [Carter normalization milestone] between the two countries in 1979. On a global scale, rapprochement fundamentally altered the context of the Cold War and influenced the subsequent movement towards détente between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Source: On Sino-U.S. Relations by Huan Xiang
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Sino-U.S. relations have developed by twists and turns. Tying up with the changing postwar international situation, the development passed through different stages each covering roughly a decade.
From the late 1940s to the late 1950s was a period of confrontation between the “two world camps.” Throughout this period, China was blockaded, besieged and looked upon with enmity. For well-known reasons, China and the United States met on the battlefield in Korea.
The next decade saw important changes in the “two world camps.” It was a period in which the Soviets built up their strength while the United States was bogged down in the Vietnam War. Soviet expansionism showed itself with increasing clarity. During this decade, a number of factors making for better U.S.-China relations were already emerging. But there was not yet a fundamental change in their confrontation.
The 1970s was a period in which the United States and the Soviet Union attempted but failed to achieve a new balance of force through “détente.” As Chairman Mao Zedong pointed out, “The United States wants to protect its interests in the world and the Soviet Union wants to expand; this can in no way be changed.” In those ten years, it became increasingly clear that Soviet-U.S. rivalry was intensifying, and it became the source of turmoil and tension in the present-day world. However, the two rivals were in different positions. Strategically, the Soviet Union had already gone onto the offensive on a global scale after an all-round expansion of its strength, mainly its military strength. On the other hand, the United States, as former President Nixon said in his 1971 speech at Kansas City, was “no longer in the position of complete preeminence or predominance.” Faced with Soviet threats and challenges at every turn, it switched over to the strategic defensive step by step.
In view of the changed international situation, Chairman Mao Zedong, who had for a long time watched and probed deeply into the development of the various basic contradictions and the relative growth and decline of the various forces in the contemporary world, advanced the thesis differentiating the three worlds, in which he scientifically summed up the world strategic situation and indicated the trends of international conflict in the contemporary world. This thesis has become the guideline underlying China’s foreign policy. The gist of it is that Soviet social-imperialism is pushing a hegemonist policy of aggression and expansion and its spearhead is directed not only at the Third World and at the group of industrialized nations, primarily Japan and Western Europe, which are called in China the Second World, but more importantly right at the United States; that the main source of a new world war is the Soviet Union; and that for the sake of safeguarding world peace, all the countries and peoples opposed to Soviet expansion should unite and wage a tit-for-tat struggle against Soviet hegemonism.
By this time, Washington, too, had come to see that the United States and its allies alone were not strong enough to meet the Soviet challenge. Speaking of U.S. relations with China in a foreign policy report sent to Congress on February 9, 1972, Nixon stated that the United States “could not afford to be cut off from a quarter of the world’s population.” China, for her part, believed that the main threat to her came from the north. In a word, both China and the United States felt the need to change their policies to meet the new challenge. It was against this background and through the joint efforts of the two countries that Sino-U.S. relations began to change, culminating in the Shanghai Communiqué during President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, which ended their 20-odd years’ confrontation. Their relations were normalized six years later, in 1978 during the Carter Administration.
Sino-U.S. relations have now entered a new stage, the fourth since the war. A historic task facing both China and the United States is to consolidate and expand their relations so as to play a more effective role in defense of world peace and security against the threat of war. Provided the two countries keep the situation and their historic task clearly in mind, treasure what they have already achieved, and are good at drawing useful lessons from past twists and turns, it would not be difficult for them to find a way to a successful development of their relations in the 1980s, a decade of unrest and uncertainty.
A review of the past decade shows clearly that China and the United States were brought together again by the growing Soviet menace to world peace and security, which they both have to face. These common strategic interests constitute a very important basis underlying Sino-U.S. relations which, it is hoped, will continue to grow on this basis.
However, when one considers Sino-U.S. relations in the 1980s and beyond, it would not be enough to confine oneself to this point. Relations between two countries like China and the United States should have their own value and their own logic. The development of their relations will greatly facilitate their progress in the economic, cultural and other fields. And, objectively, continuous consolidation and development of their relations are bound to create better conditions for world peace and prosperity. All this provides a solid foundation for Sino-U.S. relations. It is also where the long-term interests of the two peoples lie. This approach may help the two countries solve some present differences with relative ease and improve their relations further.
It is no secret that China and the United States have different social systems, but the difference is no obstacle to their cooperation on the basis of equality and friendship. This is firstly, and naturally, because the two countries on the whole do not constitute a major threat to each other; instead they are faced with a common major threat. The objective situation emphasizes the need for them to cooperate and not to enter into confrontation. Moreover, the two countries have immense common interests in a wide range of other areas and, especially, inherent conditions favorable for developing their relations. For instance, both China and the United States have fairly good geographic conditions and rich resources, and both have a vast domestic market. At present, they are at different levels of development and their needs are different. Therefore, relatively speaking, there is little chance of their getting into a conflict, still less a major conflict, in the economic field, but enormous potentialities for their supplementing each other through economic exchanges.
The Chinese people and the American people are both great peoples, industrious, intelligent and with a great love for peace and freedom. The Chinese people have all along admired the American people for their enterprising spirit and businesslikeness, and the American people, on their part, have always appreciated the Chinese people’s intelligence and hard-working spirit. Historically, many Chinese shed blood and sweat for the development of the New World; today their descendants working in different walks of life are still contributing their share to American society. On the other hand, the American people, the progressive forces in particular, had full sympathy for and gave valuable support to the Chinese people when the latter were engaged in their long struggle against foreign aggression and for victory in their revolution at home. It is on the basis of all this and through long years of cultural exchanges that the two peoples have built up a fast and enduring friendship, which remained alive even in the years when they were cut off from each other.
Our two nations made glorious contributions to humanity in different historical periods. If they can cooperate in the long years to come, they will, together with the people of other countries, help create a brighter future for humanity. With a profound historical perspective, the two governments should take a positive, constructive attitude, and explore all latent possibilities to ensure that Sino-U.S. relations will develop steadily and healthily according to their inner logic, in the long-term interests of the two peoples and for the peace and prosperity of Asia, the Pacific region and the world. This is by no means an extravagant hope.
Of course, the two sides have some different views and even obsessions about each other. This is not surprising, considering their different social systems and the estrangement that once existed between them. However, if we ignore these misgivings and don’t try to dispel them, they may impede or even create new twists and turns or a retreat in the relations between the two countries.
Top on the list of these obsessions are those involving ideological factors. For example, some people always think “the communist China and the capitalist United States would be irreconcilable.”
The relationship between different social systems is indeed a question to be explored and considered carefully, for the question arose right from the day of victory in the Russian October Revolution led by Lenin, and it will remain for a long time to come. This is historically inevitable and no one can write it off even if he tries. However, a serious study of the theory of communism and a concrete analysis of the changes in postwar international relations will show that the above-quoted view is not well founded.
No Marxist would ever hesitate to state that communism will inevitably replace capitalism. He is not a Marxist if he does not believe this, just as a disciple of capitalism would not be what he is if he did not believe in the eternity of capitalism. But Marxists also believe that it is entirely up to the people of a country to choose their own social system and it is futile for any outside force to try to do that on their behalf. Marxists always stand for peaceful coexistence among countries with different social systems; they do not stand for an “export of revolution.” Particularly, they are opposed to any aggression or expansion carried out in the name of “revolution” or of “supporting revolution,” and are opposed to the use of force or any attempt to use force as a means to settle differences arising from the difference in social systems and interests.
China is led by the Chinese Communist Party, a party that cherishes the ideals of communism and adheres to the basic tenets of Marxism. She is today building socialism-not communism, which will be something for the distant future. And a long period of exploration and experimentation is still needed to find the specific road for China to complete her socialist construction. China is not in a position to impose her will upon others. Nor does she intend to do so.
As for capitalism, no one today expects it to pass away overnight. Even in the future, it will still be up to the people of each country to make their own choice.
People may well leave these issues of the future to history and concentrate on the realistic question of how to develop Sino-U.S. relations. Experience shows that overemphasis on ideological differences, mixing them up with state relations, would do more harm than good.
Another obsession involves the relations among China, the Soviet Union and the United States. For example, quite a few people now have worries about an “unavoidable reconciliation some day between China and the Soviet Union.”
In fact, if they observe carefully, it will not be difficult for them to find that Sino-Soviet antagonism is not at all a transient phenomenon arising from a single issue, but has its roots deep down in the soil, past and present. For the antagonism is caused by the Soviet ruling clique which, having inherited the mantle of the old Tsars of global expansion, has for a long time pursued a hegemonist and big-power chauvinist policy toward China and tried hard to bring China under its control politically, militarily and economically.
Sino-Soviet discord goes far beyond the scope of bilateral relations. It is well known that China has all along firmly opposed the Soviet Union’s worldwide expansionism, its aggression against other countries and its sabotage of peace.
The Soviet Union regards China as a major obstacle to its efforts to carry out an an offensive strategy around the world and to seek world hegemony. It has stepped up its anti-China activities. Its set policy is to control China, at least not to allow the presence in the East of an independent, anti-hegemonistic and powerful China. In such circumstances, will Sino-Soviet relations change? A clear-cut answer was given by Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping in an interview with a Christian Science Monitor correspondent on November 15 last year, when he said:
When foreign friends ask me whether there will be any change in Sino-Soviet relations, I ask them whether they expect any change in the Soviet strategy of expansion and hegemonism, whether the Soviet Union will change its social imperialist policy.
The Soviet Union must do something real in order to show that it has changed its strategy, that it has given up hegemonism. For instance, it must reduce its troop level along the Sino-Soviet border from 1 million men at least to the level of Khrushchev’s time. It must withdraw its troops from Mongolia, Afghanistan, from Southeast Asia. . . .
Conversely, if there is no change in the Soviet’s hegemonistic course of action, then there will be no change in Sino-Soviet relations in even as long as a decade or 20 years.1
Others fear that in developing Sino-U.S. relations they might be “drawing fire” against themselves and might “get involved in a Sino-Soviet conflict.” They even suspect China of “deliberately inciting a conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union while China tries to ‘sit on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight.'”
In fact, the Soviet hegemonists had regarded the United States as their main rival in the world even before the latter began developing its relations with China. The whole world, the American people included, has long acknowledged that the main threat to the United States comes from the Soviet Union. Whether a conflict or even a war will break out between the United States and the Soviet Union will naturally depend on how their contradictions develop according to their intrinsic logic. No outside force is capable of inciting such a conflict or war. Everybody knows that China is making an unprecedentedly arduous endeavor to free her people, i.e., one-fourth of mankind, from poverty and backwardness, and she needs a durable and stable international environment of peace. China is a peace-loving country as is determined by the nature of her society, by her inherent conditions and her foreign policy objectives. It is an incontestable fact that there is no record whatsoever of New China ever engaging in a military adventure in contemporary history. The anxiety that development of Sino-U.S. relations might “draw fire” against oneself probably reflects a cowardly sentiment, a fear of “irritating” the Soviet Union. In reality, “irritated” or “not irritated,” the Soviet Union will remain the same. Nobody has irritated it in Africa or Afghanistan, but it is there all the same.
As for a war between the United States and the Soviet Union, it is impossible for China to derive any benefit out of it, nor has China ever intended to do so. For a country like China or the United States to “sit on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight” in a global conflagration is only an illusion against the common sense of history. The more realistic outcome may be a situation in which “when the city gate catches fire, the fish in the moat suffer.” During World War II, the United States, separated as it was by vast oceans from the European and Asian battlefields, could not manage to stay outside. For China, the possibility would be even less.
Another obsession involves views and appraisals of China’s strength.
One view is that China is both weak and poor and that she does not have enough strength to play a strategic role in containing Soviet expansion, politically or militarily.
Admittedly, China today is less developed than the two superpowers in the economic and other fields. But it would be a mistake to conclude that China is negligible in the endeavor to oppose hegemonism and contain Soviet expansion. As a matter of fact, China is not only the main force holding back Soviet expansion in East Asia, but also an important factor restraining the Soviet Union from taking military actions in other directions. Any underrating of China’s strength is one-sided; it will inevitably lead to strategic errors.
China is poor, but not weak-kneed. She is a big power with rich human and material resources. She has undergone many ordeals in history, which shows that none of her enemies, however strong, ever succeeded in subduing China but they themselves were worn out by China. This was the case with Japan during World War II. What is more, China does not believe there is anything really so frightful. She dares to counterattack any invaders, no matter who, as is due. This is known to all. As for weaponry and equipment, the People’s Liberation Army is not so well equipped as the armed forces of the superpowers. Needless to say, China will strive to bridge the gap in order to lessen the suffering a future war might inflict and to shorten the duration of war. But this does not mean that prior to this China is unable to defend herself or to make contributions to the fight against hegemonism and in defense of world peace. China has always been good at defeating a better-equipped enemy. After all, the arms gap between the Chinese and Soviet armed forces today is not so big as envisaged by casual observers without any serious investigation or detailed analysis.
Another view is that China has no alternative but to rely on the United States and that she “has to implore the United States for help,” both militarily and economically.
The international community has developed to such an extent today that the relations among nations have become closer and closer. This is not only because they need one another in developing their economies and culture, but because the global expansion of Soviet hegemonism has bound the interests in security of the countries concerned more closely. In these circumstances, it is obviously one-sided to think of any unilateral dependence of one nation on another. If one has to speak in terms of dependence, a more appropriate word should be interdependence. As to who has more to ask from whom, it will not be difficult to find through a careful analysis of the needs of the two countries that China has no more to ask from the United States than the other way round.
Since China introduced an economic policy of opening to the outside world, some people there have entertained a view that China, which used to depend on the Soviet Union, will henceforth depend on the United States, as if she had no other alternatives. This is of course also a mistaken impression arising from a habit of overrating oneself and underrating others, an impression that is groundless and has a smack of arrogance in it. China always welcomes all genuine assistance from friends on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. Her contacts with the outside world were limited in the past, chiefly by the then-prevailing international conditions. But China is never in the habit of depending on any foreign country, still less will she put herself at the mercy of others. Khrushchev failed to understand this temperament of the Chinese and tried to apply pressure on China by tearing up contracts and withdrawing Soviet experts. In the end, he had to eat the bitter fruits he himself had sown. In fact, guided by the experience gained over a long period of time, China has followed a path of “relying mainly on one’s own efforts while seeking foreign assistance as an auxiliary.” She has made this choice after a careful analysis of her internal and external conditions.
Firstly, China has all the requirements for carrying out a principle of relying primarily on her own efforts. The country is rich in human and material resources and highly self-sufficient and, after 30 years of construction, has built up a sizable industrial base. It is “bulky”; it is imbued with heroism and endowed with other valuable spiritual assets born of a history which has seen a good deal of hardship. No force on earth has ever been able to overpower a billion people who are confident of their strength. Therefore, relatively speaking, China is able to weather the storm and protect her peaceful construction. The Chinese people are determined to regenerate their country through hard struggle and they are no less intelligent than any other people in the world. China’s modernization program may proceed faster with foreign assistance, and slower without it. But with or without such assistance, it will succeed all the same.
Secondly, China has not lost her sense of reality to such an extent as to imagine that there is any foreign country in the world which is capable of satisfying the needs of China’s one billion people.
Thirdly, international cooperation involves many complex factors. The Chinese people have taken note of the fact that as close as the United States and its NATO allies are, they have talked for years fruitlessly about cooperation in the research and development of some tanks, although the issue is by no means a big one.
Thus, self-reliance is China’s only logical choice. To be more accurate, the only way for China to successfully realize her “four modernizations” is to rely mainly on her own efforts while seeking external assistance as an auxiliary.
As far as the situation in the United States is concerned, a great change has occurred since the 1950s. The United States has correctly recognized the need to rebuild and increase its economic, scientific, technological and moral strength. The U.S. government has deeply felt the need to unite with its European and Japanese allies and with the Third World, including China, to meet international challenges. In fact, the United States and China need each other, because in this crisis-ridden world, particularly when the Soviet Union is posing a grave threat to world peace and stability, no country, be it China or the United States, can face these challenges single-handedly. Unity is the need of all anti-hegemonist forces.
Some people are worried that once China becomes powerful, it might seek hegemony and engage in expansionism.
This is a groundless conjecture arising from ignorance of China’s situation. The late Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai pointed out that China would always regard herself as part of the Third World and would never seek hegemony, today or in the future when she becomes a powerful socialist country. This is determined by China’s social system and our foreign policy. China has not only explicitly stipulated this in our Constitution, but also has committed herself internationally. China has no intention to set up any sphere of influence in any region, nor has she ever menaced any foreign country. On the contrary, modern history shows that China was repeatedly invaded and menaced by others. For a long time, China supported Vietnam’s national liberation war to help it win national independence without asking the latter for any remuneration. This is a fact. China has never demanded rights to station her troops in Vietnam or set up military bases there. Nor has China ever asked for “special privileges” or claimed “special relations” with Vietnam, as Vietnam is doing to Laos and Kampuchea and the Soviet Union to Vietnam today.
In a speech at the Sixth Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly in 1974, Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping unequivocally declared: “China is not a superpower, nor will she ever seek to be one.” “If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperalism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.” This is a solemn pledge China made to the whole world.
In recent years, Sino-U.S. relations have by and large developed rather quickly and smoothly, but not without snags. The Taiwan question has remained the major obstacle.
There is no denying that, though with different administrations, since the 1950s the U.S. government has continuously adopted a policy of “two Chinas” on the Taiwan question. This was not surprising in the past. However, it is noteworthy that after the official establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States and after the U.S. government has affirmed that there is only one China, with Taiwan as an integral part of her territory and the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China, the U.S. Congress should have passed a “Taiwan Relations Act,” regarding Taiwan as an “independent political entity,” and stipulating outright that the United States should continue to provide arms to Taiwan in support of the Taiwan local authorities’ opposition to China’s central government. This attempt to arbitrarily impose a country’s domestic law on international relations and to use a domestic law to unilaterally negate its international commitments constitutes a violation of the sovereignty of another country and an interference in another country’s internal affairs; it is unjustifiable in international law. Naturally, it cannot possibly be accepted by the Chinese people. Judging from both short-term and long-term interests of the Chinese and the American people, the policy of “two Chinas” or “one China, two governments,” whatever form it may take, will not produce any good effect, but only sow the seeds of tragedies. This was true in the past and will prove to be so in the future.
Many explanations have been offered for the above-mentioned anomalies. But, it should be pointed out, none is convincing or tenable.
One explanation is that “the United States has interests to protect in Taiwan.”
The question is what the “interests” are that need “protection.” If they are economic interests, the Chinese government has on many occasions clearly stated that after Taiwan’s return to the embrace of the motherland, the investments and other legitimate rights and interests of foreigners shall be protected and respected as before. The various laws enacted by China on absorbing foreign capital have expressed this stand of the Chinese government even more clearly. So this explanation is only a subterfuge.
Another explanation is that “America cannot let her friends down.”
Refusal to forsake a friend in an unprincipled way is a manifestation of faith which no one would oppose. But this cannot serve as a legitimate ground for creating “two Chinas”-because “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” The return of Taiwan to the embrace of the motherland is the common aspiration of all the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This has already been acknowledged openly by the U.S. government in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué. So how can the moves which are detrimental to China’s reunification and run counter to the wishes of the Chinese people, those in Taiwan included, be explained away by “loyalty to friends”? If there are friends abandoned by the United States, they should be the hundreds of millions of Chinese people, whom the United States turned its back on after the founding of New China in 1949 when it hung on to the handful of Chiang Kai-shek elements repudiated by the Chinese people. This historical error should have been corrected long ago. Today, many Americans think that the Chinese in Taiwan are their friends. Why can’t they remain their friends after Taiwan returns to the embrace of the motherland and becomes part of a reunified China? Why should the United States want to make friends only with the tiny number of Chinese in Taiwan who are obstructing Taiwan’s return to the motherland, and not with the far greater number of Chinese on the mainland, and even prefer to hurt the national feeling of these people and offend them?
A third explanation is that “in the interests of security and of peace in Taiwan, the island should not be abandoned.”
This explanation itself gives rise to a question: As far as security is concerned, where do U.S. strategic interests lie? The United States has repeatedly stated that it wants to join other countries in dealing with Soviet expansionism. Does it mean that its holding on to Taiwan is a move against the Soviet Union? At whom does it aim when it sells arms to the Taiwan authorities? The effect is just the opposite. What it does is damaging to the foundation of Sino-U.S. relations, which are vital to its strategic interests. China cannot be less concerned than the United States with the peace and tranquility in Taiwan, which is after all a Chinese province. The Chinese in Taiwan are the kith and kin of the Chinese on the mainland. China has repeatedly stated that she does not want a fratricide and that she will strive for a peaceful reunification. For this purpose, she has on many occasions set forth a series of fundamental principles and policies that respect Taiwan’s reality and take into account Taiwan’s special needs. To begin with, she has proposed such practical steps as the starting of postal exchanges, trade, navigation and air traffic.
Without outside interference, a peaceful reunification is entirely possible and the life of peace in Taiwan can truly be safeguarded. However, if the United States gives the one billion Chinese people a stab in the back by continuing its arms sales to Taiwan and changing in essence the unofficial nature of its relations with Taiwan, it would hurt the Chinese people’s feelings. And this would lead to the conclusion that the United States wants to keep Taiwan under its control and obstruct China’s peaceful reunification and for this purpose it does not hesitate to antagonize the Chinese people. In so doing, the United States will greatly increase the danger of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The reason should be quite obvious.
Evidently, none of the explanations has touched the crux of the question. In reality, there probably is a basic guideline among a number of Americans, that is, to obstruct China’s reunification, to keep Taiwan in the U.S. sphere of influence and to use it to hold China in check. This antiquated sphere-of-influence theory should never be used in Sino-U.S. relations. It is sheer power politics, and is both unwise and unrealistic, to try and place various checks around a country in the hope that this would prevent it from growing too big and independent, from becoming a “potential enemy,” and would keep it perpetually under one’s control.
It should be noted that a weak and chaotic China will only make things easier for Soviet hegemonism while a powerful and prosperous China will contribute to world peace and stability and, therefore, is truly in the national interests of the United States. This is a point many Americans of insight have shared and quite a number of U.S. government leaders have repeatedly stated. A glance at the history of New China’s growth and a serious analysis of China’s internal and external conditions will show that the emergence of a growingly prosperous and powerful China in the East will be an inevitable corollary of twentieth-century history. Whether others endorse it or obstruct it is not likely to make a great difference. The best choice would be to go with the tide, try to adapt to it and find ways of cooperation instead of going against it.
In fact, history has long arrived at its own conclusion about how the policy of containing China fared. In the 1960s, precisely because it intended to prevent China from becoming powerful, the United States pinned itself down in the Vietnam War and sapped its own energy while its major rival, the Soviet Union, grew in strength. In the 1980s, if the United States should want to cause friction with China on the Taiwan issue in order to prevent it from becoming powerful, the outcome might be disastrous.
Still another view is: “Isn’t China opposed to hegemonism? As long as the United States is tough with the Soviet Union, China will swallow the bitter pill of Taiwan.” It is too rash to come to this conclusion. Surely, China has always been very considerate of the overall situation. In the past, she made such generous allowances for others as were necessary and possible in the interest of opposing Soviet hegemonism-the major threat to world peace and stability. But China would never barter away her sovereignty, nor will she bow to pressure and swallow a “bitter pill” that is detrimental to her national interests and dignity.
For more than a century, the Chinese people have fought against foreign aggression and interference and for national independence and unity. Countless numbers of them have shed the last drop of their blood in this struggle. Since the founding of the People’s Republic, the complete unification of the motherland has been a strong and unshakable determination of the one billion Chinese people, including those in Taiwan. To them, the Taiwan question is a highly sensitive issue. Past experience shows that no one should miscalculate in any way the strong sentiment of the Chinese nation, which went through untold tribulations in a hundred vicissitudinous years.
Sino-U.S. relations, which were resumed only recently, can hardly stand such emotional upheavals. When one side makes a move, the other side will not go without a countermove. Insisting on occupying Taiwan as a means to pin China down or to hold it in check will start a vicious cycle leading to continuous escalation. Such insistence presupposes China as a “potential enemy.” If this is allowed to continue for long, it might create a tragedy between the two nations. All those with an insight, particularly the statesmen among them, should have a sober evaluation of the issue.
The situation is critical. In the interest of world peace, China and the United States need to develop their relations in a joint endeavor against hegemonist expansion, and not to dilly-dally or complicate the matter. The history of international relations shows that overall strategic unity must be based on healthy bilateral relations. It is inconceivable that the Sino-U.S. relationship, strategically a relationship “of overriding importance,”2 can be strengthened by damaging their bilateral relations. Any damage to or retrogression in Sino-U.S. relations will have grave repercussions in Asia and the Pacific region; it is bound to affect the world situation in opposing hegemonism. On the other hand, once such interferences as the “Taiwan Relations Act” are removed, Sino-U.S. relations will develop with new vitality. This would be a major contribution to world peace and to the fight against hegemonism.
To ensure a stable and healthy development of Sino-U.S. relations in and after the 1980s, it is important to keep enriching and strengthening the substance of these relations in all aspects. Prior to a detailed discussion of the real possibilities, it would be useful to make clear the nature of the relations to be strengthened and the proper attitude the two parties should adopt towards each other.
At present, a rumor is circulating that China is seeking a military alliance with the United States. This is entirely groundless. In fact, neither China nor the United States has ever had such an intention. Judging from existing conditions, it would be more desirable for them to develop a relationship that will enable them to take concerted actions in international affairs on the basis of common strategic interests and to engage in friendly bilateral exchanges according to the principle of equality and mutual benefit. They may consult each other and cooperate on political issues without automatically assuming any obligations such as those between allies. This will help to tap the potential of Sino-U.S. relations to the maximum. In their contacts, the two countries should treat each other as equals and respect each other’s national interests and sentiments; we should adopt a sincere and not a “card-playing” attitude. “Card-playing” will not win the respect of the other party; on the contrary, it will cause a confidence crisis. What’s more, instead of helping to contain Soviet expansionism, it might furnish an opportunity for the Soviet hegemonists.