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Later this week, government officials I have never used the words “one China.” In fact, I have never learned the usage of “one China,” and today I have found that this is not my singular experience. One of the distinguished participants from the United States told us that he did not remember having used the phrase when he was in office during the Reagan-Schultz years.

There are three reasons why I cannot be at ease with this expression. The first reason is that it is a political pose rather than a reality. Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui told us in his July 20 Rotary Club speech that one China does not exist until China and Taiwan are unified under a democratic process in the future. It is not an opinion. It is a simple statement of fact. Under any criteria of existing international law, both China and Taiwan are qualified to be called states, and there are two governments, one in Beijing, and one in Taipei. Anyone who has eyes can see this. For the political pose the criterion is simple; a “friend” of China and not an enemy. The problem is that as Taiwan succeeds in establishing its democratic statehood, the discrepancy between pose and fact is widening.

Lee’s remark is like the story of the emperor with no clothes. A child shouts that the emperor has no clothes on. In the fairy tale, that is the end of the story. However, things do not work that way in the real world. In the real world, the emperor asks his retinue, “Am I not properly dressed?” No one dares to say no. They all assure him, “Yes, your majesty, you are properly dressed.” The emperor even seeks the opinion of somebody on the other side of the globe, someone living in a white building on the other side of the world, and the person says, “Yes, your majesty, you are always properly dressed.” This person is even prepared to assist the emperor in convincing others that the emperor is indeed decently attired. This is what has been happening at the Singapore ASEAN forum.

Therefore, in circumstances such as these, the child will have a hard time shouting out the truth, at least for some time. However, I do hope that Lee will maintain his position. Truth must prevail at some time. In my judgment, after an uneasy one year or so, even though the emperor may not admit that he is naked, he will seldom ever refer to clothes. Things may still be about the same, but everyone will feel more comfortable because they are no longer forced to deny reality.

Second, I am skeptical that Washington has always backed the “one-China policy.” In the 1972 Shanghai Communique, the U.S. acknowledged 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.” Lee, however, said that one China does not exist until it is unified. This implies that the basic premise of the Shanghai Communique is no longer valid. In the 1972 communique, the U.S. had committed to not pursuing a policy of “two Chinas, or one China one Taiwan.” What does the word “pursue” mean? Perhaps it does not prevent the U.S. from recognizing Taiwan’s independence, if that were to happen as a result of the exercise of the free will of the people of Taiwan. So the “one China” policy cannot possibly derive from past U.S. commitments, and there has obviously been a shift in the U.S. position. The biggest shift being the so-called “three no’s.”

It is a peculiar commitment. Nobody is aware of when and where the commitment was made. We are merely told that this is not a new policy, but a repetition of U.S. policies that have been in existence for a long time. Yet, none of the “three no’s” is directly based on Washington’s past commitments. In particular, the third “no,” which denies Taiwanese membership in the United Nations, cannot possibly find its ground in any past commitments. The U.S. has obviously shifted its position. Although the shifts appear to me to be unnecessary unilateral concessions, the U.S. has the right to change its policy. However, when Washington’s “one China” policy is explained as being consistent with past official commitments, it is intellectual dishonesty.

Finally, some say that Taiwan is not allowed to change its status unilaterally. That may have been true at the time of the signing of the Shanghai Communique. At that time, Taiwan was the personal property of Chiang Kai-shek, and was handed down to his successors. If the leader had decided to do so, Kuomintang-Communist collaboration could have been achieved at any moment, as has happened many times in history. Lee, however, revised the constitution, and the president is now democratically elected. Taiwan is no longer the personal property of the president, but of the Taiwanese people. One cannot deny the Taiwanese people the right to democratically decide the status of Taiwan. Nor can one deny the right of a democratically elected president to represent the will of his people. Lee’s remark reflected what he judged to be the consensus of the people of Taiwan. The accuracy of that judgment was borne out by the strong popular support that his remarks attracted.

I support Lee’s remarks, and his maintaining his position in the future. In the short term, Taiwan may have a hard time for having asserted the truth, but I expect that sooner or later, things will return to status quo ante, with the only change being that this time they will be based more on reality than they have been in the past.

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