One-China principle, China’s Diplomacy

Following the civil war in China between 1945 and 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded on 1 October 1949 under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong. The “Chinese Nationalist Party” or Kuomintang (KMT) headed by Chiang Kai-Shek was defeated and retreated to the present Taiwan region. Chiang tried to make Taiwan a separate country from the Chinese mainland.

In explaining about the differences between “the one-China principle” and “the one-China policy”, resources show that “one-China principle is a core belief of the Chinese government, while the one-China policy is a pragmatic approach adopted by few countries to navigate the complex political situation between China and Taiwan”.

Thus, the one-China principle is one of the fundamental parts of the foreign policy of the Government of the PRC. In establishing bilateral relations with the PRC, recognition of the one-China principle is prerequisite. The principle underlines that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.

A government can’t establish official and diplomatic relationships with both China and the Taiwan region at the same time. With the exception of very few, almost all countries have established diplomatic relations with China by accepting the one-China principle. It shows that the Taiwan authority is diplomatically isolated from many countries of the world. It is a success to China’s diplomacy in the international arena.

From the historical, cultural, political and legal perspectives, both sides across the Taiwan Strait belong to one China. Culturally, the people of the mainland and Taiwan region have a lot of similarities. There are families and extended relatives living in both sides. Mandarin language is the most spoken language for both sides. Chinese characters are shared as writing system for both sides. The traditional Chinese customs and cuisine are also common denominators.

Legally, the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, the United Nations Resolution 2758 and other international documents substantiate that Taiwan belongs to China. At its session on 25 October 1971, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758, which stated

…the representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations and that the People’s Republic of China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, …expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.

This resolution has confirmed the one-China principle. Thus, Taiwan has lost both de jure and de facto bases to be an independent country. China is trying to implement One Country Two Systems in Taiwan. It is “China’s Solution to China’s Problem”. Chinese mainland will continue its socialist system, and Taiwan will continue its capitalist system for some years to come.

This approach is working for China in relations to the governance of the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao by giving higher autonomy to them. This is how China achieves peaceful reunification. This method will solve the problem against sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. In a similar manner, the government of China will also respect the social, cultural and governance system of the Taiwan region.

However, separatists are promoting the independence of Taiwan and solving it through the so-called “referendum” and the like. Moreover, they are self-claiming that Taiwan fulfills the criteria of statehood by mentioning the presence of permanent people, defined territory, a government and capacity to enter into relations with other states. Deviating from peaceful solutions to the problem and supporting separatists of Taiwan means creating instability across the Strait and the world at large. China also considers direct and indirect support to Taiwan independence forces as proactive or retroactive interference in the internal affairs of China and violation of its sovereignty.

Supporting the one-China principle will help to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. It will smooth China’s relations with few contending countries which want to provoke China to conflicts and confrontation by making use of Taiwan. China is doing its efforts through soft power instead of hard power. The hard power can be the last resort to solve the problem.

Patience is the culture of the government of China. The handover of Macau from the Portuguese Republic to the PRC was on 20 December 1999. This event ended the 442 years of Portuguese rule that began in 1557. Similarly China got back Hong Kong from Britain on 1 July 1997. This handover event ended the 156 years of British rule that began in 1841. These two examples show that China can succeed through soft power and diplomacy even if it takes longer time.

In my opinion, China will not use military power to solve the Taiwan question. This is because the people of Taiwan are also the people of China. How can China kill its own people whom she will govern later i.e. after military victory? There are relatives in both sides. Attacking one side means attacking both sides of relatives. So China will not use zero sum game in solving the Taiwan question.

The United States established formal diplomatic relationship with China in 1979 during President Jimmy Carter. The U.S. has acknowledged the government of the PRC as the sole legal government of China but maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan. Even if the U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, the government supports Taiwan through arms, military training and advice.

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) is a piece of the U.S legislation passed in 1979 after the U.S. switched formal diplomatic recognition from “the Republic of China in Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China”. The U.S. takes the TRA as its pretext every time it wants to interfere into Taiwan-related issues—China’s internal affairs. Through TRA, the U.S. maintains commercial, cultural and other relations with the Taiwan region.

This interference will escalate tensions and aggravate problems rather than make peace. We are living in the 21st Century. Problems should be solved by negotiations and mediation instead of forces of arms. Respecting agreements is also crucial. The U.S. and China are the first and the second largest economies in the world. Their conflicts and confrontation will be dangerous to the peace and security of the world.

Peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the Chinese mainland means, the former will be part of the big success of China including to be the second largest economy of the world, the permanent member in the Security Council of the United Nations, five thousand years ancient history of China and its philosophy, regional and global power in the world, globally integrated economy and the like.

Almost all African countries have recognized the one-China principle. China’s first and second Africa policy papers in 2006 and 2015, respectively, underline the one-China principle: “the one-China principle is the political precondition and foundation for the establishment and development of China’s relations with African countries and regional organizations.”

Currently, China maintains diplomatic relations with 183 countries around the world. Except for the Kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland), which has the so-called “diplomatic relations” with the Taiwan region, all other African countries have recognized the one-China principle. China has 53 Embassies and 7 Consulates-General in the African continent.

Historically, Ethiopia has always supported China in its lawful seat in the United Nations. Ethiopia, as China’s all-weather strategic partner, is also one of the supporters of the one-China principle. Ethiopia and China have more than half a century of formal diplomatic relations. They have worked for mutual benefits in various sectors. Ethiopia looks forward to China’s peaceful reunification across the Strait.

To sum up, the one-China principle is the backbone of the foreign policy of the PRC. Violating the principle will provoke China for action. In the current nuclear age, diplomatic and peaceful resolution of differences should get priority. The international community should also support the implementation of the guidance of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world at large.

The author is a researcher on Diplomacy and International Relations at the Institute of Foreign Affairs.

Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald



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