Context: While tensions remain high and a military build-up continues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, China has ratcheted up tensions on its eastern front, with 18 Chinese fighters and bombers crossing the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and flying towards Taiwan in a major show of military force.
- The recent combat drills were aimed to coincide with the visit to Taiwan of U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach, the most senior official to visit the island in four decades, in a major blow to 'One China' policy.
- Under the policy, the US recognises and has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.
- It is the diplomatic acknowledgement of China's position that there is only one Chinese government. The One China policy is a key cornerstone of Sino-US relations.
- However, it is distinct from the One China principle, whereby China insists Taiwan is an inalienable part of one China to be reunified one day.
- The US policy is not an endorsement of Beijing's position and indeed as part of the policy, Washington maintains a "robust unofficial" relationship with Taiwan, including continued arms sales to the island so that it can defend itself.
- Although Taiwan's government claims it is an independent country officially called the "Republic of China", any country that wants diplomatic relations with mainland China must break official ties with Taipei.
- This has resulted in Taiwan's diplomatic isolation from the international community.
How did it come about?
- The policy can be traced back to 1949 and the end of the Chinese civil war. The defeated Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang, retreated to Taiwan and made it their seat of government while the victorious Communists began ruling the mainland as the People's Republic of China. Both sides said they represented all of China.
- Since then China's ruling Communist Party has threatened to use force if Taiwan ever formally declares independence, but it has also pursued a softer diplomatic track with the island in recent years.
- Many however still maintain informal relations with Taiwan through trade offices or cultural institutes, and the US remains Taiwan's most important security ally.
When did the US subscribe to it?
- After years of warming relations, the US established formal diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter.
- As a result, the US had to sever ties with Taiwan and closed its Taipei embassy.
- But that same year it also passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which guarantees support for the island. Crucially, this act states that the US must help Taiwan defend itself - which is why the US continues to sell arms to Taiwan. The US has also said it insists on the peaceful resolution of differences between the two sides and encourages both sides to pursue "constructive dialogue".
- It maintains an unofficial presence in Taipei via the American Institute in Taiwan, a private corporation through which it carries out diplomatic activities.
Who are the winners and losers?
- Beijing has obviously benefited the most from the policy, which has cast Taiwan out into the diplomatic wilderness.
- Taiwan is not recognised as an independent country by much of the world nor even the United Nations.
- It undergoes extraordinary naming contortions just to participate in events and institutions like the Olympic Games and the World Trade Organization.
- But even in its isolation, Taiwan has not entirely lost out.
- It maintains vibrant economic and cultural ties with neighbours, and leverages on its long-term emotional relationship with the US to extract concessions.
- The One China policy is a delicate balancing act that the US has perfected over the decades.