China Watch Update

On 17 August 1982, the Reagan Administration issued the Joint Communiqué outlining the US position with regard to the Taiwan question, reaffirming the defintion set out in the 1972 Shanhai Communiqué. Doubtless the Communist regime in the People's Republic of China was concerned over the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, which put a damper on their ambition of being proclaimed the sole legitimate government of all China, including Taiwan. Here is the text of the Joint Communiqué, with my emphases:
Joint Communique of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China

August 17, 1982

  1. In the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations on January 1, 1979, issued by the Government of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, the United States of America recognized the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, and it acknowledged the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China. Within that context, the two sides agreed that the people of the United States would continue to maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan. On this basis, relations between the United States and China were normalized.

  2. The question of United States arms sales to Taiwan was not settled in the course of negotiations between the two countries on establishing diplomatic relations. The two sides held differing positions, and the Chinese side stated that it would raise the issue again following normalization. Recognizing that this issue would seriously hamper the development of United States - China relations, they have held further discussions on it, during and since the meetings between President Ronald Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang and between Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr. and Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Huang Hua in October 1981.

  3. Respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other's internal affairs constitute the fundamental principles guiding United States - China relations. These principles were confirmed in the Shanghai Communique of February 28, 1972 and reaffirmed in the Joint Communique on the Establishment Of Diplomatic Relations which came into effect on January 1, 1979. Both sides emphatically state that these principles continue to govern all aspects of their relations.

  4. The Chinese Government reiterates that the question of Taiwan is China's internal affair. The Message to Compatriots in Taiwan issued by China on January 1, 1979 promulgated a fundamental policy of striving for peaceful reunification of the motherland. The Nine-Point Proposal put forward by China on September 30, 1981 represented a further major effort under this fundamental policy to strive for a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question.

  5. The United States Government attaches great importance to its relations with China, and reiterates that it has no intention of infringing on Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, or interfering in China's internal affairs, or pursuing a policy of "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan." The United States Government understands and appreciates the Chinese policy of striving for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question as indicated in China's Message to Compatriots in Taiwan issued on January 1, 1979 and the Nine-Point Proposal put forward by China on September 30, 1981. The new situation which has emerged with regard to the Taiwan question also provides favorable conditions for the settlement of United States - China differences over United States arms sales to Taiwan.

    Having in mind the foregoing statements of both sides, 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 supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale 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.

  6. In order to bring about, over a period of time, a final settlement of the question of United States arms sales to Taiwan, which is an issue rooted in history, the two Governments will make every effort to adopt measures and create conditions conducive to the thorough settlement of this issue.

  7. The development of United States - China relations is not only in the interests of the two peoples but also conducive to peace and stability in the world. The two sides are determined, on the principle of equality and mutual benefit, to strengthen their ties in the economic, cultural, educational, scientific, technological and other fields and make strong, joint efforts for the continued development of relations between the Governments and peoples of the United States and China.

  8. In order to bring about the healthy development of United States - China relations, maintain world peace and oppose aggression and expansion, the two Governments reaffirm the principles agreed on by the two sides in the Shanghai Communique and the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. The two sides will maintain contact and hold appropriate consultations on bilateral and international issues of common interest.

As explored in the previous article, although the Joint Communiqué re-affirmed that the question of Taiwan is an internal affair, and that non-interference in each other's internal affairs constitute the fundamental principles guiding United States China relations, this in no way abrogates the conditions for recognition of the People's Republic, which, according to the Taiwan Relations Act, rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means. This, in addition to the declaration that non-interference is a "guiding principle", sets some wiggle room for slight variations in interpretation.

The recent passage in the People's Republic of the "anti-secession law", by making official the policy of non-renunciation of a resort to force of arms, then potentially calls into play clause 4 of section 2(a) of the Taiwan Relations Act.

Of course, in the long run, this is no more than legal mumble-jumble. The United States, as a nation founded by lawyers (John Adams being only one of the most prominent among them), puts more stock in the value of laws. It is no doubt with an eye toward this that prompted the recent action of the National People's Congress. In the world of geopolitics, the guiding principle is interest rather than law, as Europeans have discovered to their horror twice in the first half of the 20th Century.

It is important also to remember that China itself has had a Legalist (??) tradition, even before the Romans had a codified system of law. According to Wikipedia, this school of thought, while advocating public awareness of the laws, encouraged rulers to be ambiguous about their motivations. Because of the persecution in the Qin Dynasty of scholars who were not purely Legalist, the Confucian reaction has been to characterize it in a negative light. Eventually, Legalism became absorbed into mainstram Confucianism, which in return became a source of inspiration not only for the thoughts of Sun Yat-sen, but also in the Chinese Communist Party's raison d'être as the paternal figure in a Confucian hierarchy. (Ironically, Confucianism was attacked by the early Communists, and during the Cultural Revolution, as being "backward" and "feudal".)

Still, legalisms are effective only to the degree that they can be enforced. In a geopolitical setting this is much more difficult, as there is no agreed-to office for enforcement, and national interests vary widely. Considering that the Taiwan Relations Act directly addresses the question of "other than peaceful means", it is little wonder that China has sought to bide its time, until it can be confident of being able to survive not only the military, but diplomatic consequences of an invasion of Taiwan. Thus the latest moves, coupled with military acquisitions and redeployments over the last several years, hints at a growing confidence on the part of China.

There are, of course, other factors to be considered in estimating China's willingness to pre-emptive war. The gender imbalance in China's population, unemployment, and idleness of the People's Liberation Army all point in dangerous directions. Hu Jintao is reputedly less hawkish than Jiang Zemin was; but if he is unable to control the military, then it is not only Taiwan which has to fear massive chaos.

We will, of course, stay tuned.

[Cross-posted at Naruwan Formosa and Between Worlds]

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