One China Policy | One China Principle

The One-China Policy refers to the policy or view that there is only one state called “China”, despite the existence of two governments that claim to be “China”. As a policy, this means that countries seeking diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC, Mainland China) must break official relations with the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) and vice versa.

The One China policy is also different from the One China Principle, which is the principle that insists both Taiwan and mainland China are inalienable parts of a single “China”.  A modified form of the “One China” principle known as the “1992 Consensus” is the current policy of the PRC government, and at times, the policy of the ROC government, depending on which major political party is in power. Under this “consensus”, both governments “agree” that there is only one sovereign state encompassing both mainland China and Taiwan, but disagree about which of the two governments is the legitimate government of this state. An analogous situation exists with Korea.


The One-China principle faces opposition from supporters of the Taiwan independence movement, which pushes to establish the “Republic of Taiwan” and cultivate a separate identity apart from China called “Taiwanization“. Taiwanization’s influence on the government of the ROC has caused instability: after the Communist Party of China expelled the ROC in the Chinese Civil War from most of Chinese territory in 1949 and founded the PRC, the ROC’s Chinese Nationalist government, which still held Taiwan, continued to claim legitimacy as the government of all of China. Under former President Lee Teng-hui, additional articles were appended to the ROC constitution in 1991 so that it applied effectively only to the Taiwan Area prior to national unification. However, recent ROC President Ma Ying-jeou has re-asserted claims on mainland China as late as October 8, 2008.


In questioning the “One China” policy that’s governed U.S.-China relations for nearly four decades, President-elect Donald Trump seems to believe he’s wielding powerful leverage to persuade leaders in Beijing to give the U.S. a better deal on trade. In fact, he’s setting himself up to fail — and ignoring the more effective tools at his disposal.

The 1979 decision to withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan and acknowledge the Beijing regime as the “sole legal government” of China has benefited the U.S. as much as anyone.

It’s enabled a relationship that has grown into the world’s most important, both economically and geopolitically. By leaving Taiwan’s status ambiguous, it’s also allowed the U.S. to sell arms to its government and deter any Chinese attempt to retake the island by force.

The policy has largely neutered what had been one of Asia’s most dangerous flashpoints and has allowed Taiwan’s democracy and economy to flourish. The alternative — to risk a break in ties with China in favor of Taiwan — would hardly further U.S. interests.

It’s not even clear that such an outcome would benefit Taiwan. The island’s leaders make a strong case for greater legitimacy and security: membership in international organizations, the freedom to meet with U.S. and other foreign officials, more sophisticated weapons and a stronger affirmation of the U.S. commitment to defend the island in case of attack.

And there is room for the U.S. and other countries to provide Taiwan greater support, despite Chinese protests. But while most Taiwanese reject the idea of reunification with the mainland, they’re not asking for formal recognition from the U.S., which would almost certainly provoke hostilities with China.

More to the point, they don’t want their fate to be a bargaining chip in Sino-U.S. negotiations — up for sale if China offers Trump enough concessions on trade.

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