One China Policy & US-China Conflict over Taiwan

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One China Policy – US-China Conflict over Taiwan


  • US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is currently in Taiwan which has heightened US-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress because of her high-level position as leader of the House of Representatives as well as for her previous acts of defiance against the totalitarian state.
  • In retaliation, China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments, announced multiple military exercises around the island and issued a series of harsh statements after the delegation touched down in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
  • This has also brought back to focus the United States’ ‘One-China’ policy that the US is 'committed to' which is Beijing's claim to be the sole government of both mainland China and Taiwan.
What is the One China Policy?
  • ‘One China’ is a longstanding US policy that forms the bedrock of its relationship with Beijing.
  • Under the policy, the US snapped formal diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan and established ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing in 1979.
  • The One China policy is a key cornerstone of Sino-US relations.

Key Features of One China Policy:

  • The One-China policy recognises only the People’s Republic of China.
  • It states that there is only one sovereign state under the name China with the PRC serving as the sole legitimate government of that China.
  • The policy opposes two states holding the same name 'China' and the idea that China and Taiwan form two separate countries. 
  • The policy does not recognise the existence of Taiwan. 
  • Any country that wants diplomatic relations with mainland China must break official ties with Taipei. This has resulted in the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan from the international community.

Before analysing the ongoing One China Policy issue, let us understand China-Taiwan History

What Is The Background Of The China-Taiwan Conflict?

  • China and Taiwan separated in 1949 due to civil conflict, and China believes Taiwan to be a portion of its territory that can be seized by force if required. Taiwan's government, on the other hand, asserts that Taiwan is a sovereign state.
  • After decades of hostile intentions and vehement rhetoric, China-Taiwan ties began to improve in the 1980s. China proposed the “one country, two systems” approach, in which Taiwan would be granted extensive autonomy in exchange for accepting Chinese reunification.
  • Although Taiwan's government rejected the offer, it did ease restrictions on trips to and investment in China.
  • There were also limited discussions between the two sides' unofficial representatives, while Beijing's stance on the illegitimacy of Taiwan's Republic of China (ROC) government precluded government-to-government interaction.
  • Many interpreted China's 2020 implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong as another indicator that Beijing was growing much more forcefully in the territory.
How did Taiwan come to be? A Brief History of Taiwan
  • The earliest known settlers in Taiwan are Austronesian tribal people who are thought to have come from modern-day southern China.
  • The island first appeared in Chinese records in AD 239, when China sent an expeditionary force for exploration. This record is often used by Beijing to back its territorial claims.
  • After briefly being a Dutch colony between 1624 and 1661, Taiwan came under the administration of China’s Qing dynasty (1683-1895).
  • At the start of the 17th Century, numerous migrants began arriving from mainland China, often to flee turmoil or hardship.
  • Thus, a large portion of Taiwan’s population consists of descendants of Hoko Chinese from Fujian (Fukien) province or Hakka Chinese, mostly from Guangdong.
  • Following the defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Qing government was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan in 1895.
  • Japan surrendered Taiwan after it was defeated in the Second World War.
  • The Republic of China, one of the victors, began ruling Taiwan with the consent of its allies, the US and the UK.
  • However, in the next few years, the then leader of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek’s troops was defeated by the Communist armies under Mao Zedong.
  • Chiang and the remnants of his Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan in 1949. This group, referred to as Mainland Chinese, makes up 1.5 million people. It dominated Taiwan’s politics for many years even though it accounts for just 14% of the population through dictatorial control.
  • However, due to the pressure from the democratic movement, Chiang Ching-Kuo, Chiang’s son, was forced to allow the process of democratisation. This led to the 2000 election of the island’s first non-Kuomintang president, Chen Shui-bian.
  • Thus, Taiwan, unlike communist China, became a democratic entity.
  • Even though Kuomintang left China after being defeated in 1949, it has not given up its claim over the whole of China and the idea is still enshrined in the island’s constitution.
What are the improvements made in China-Taiwan relations?

  • After decades of tensions, relations between China and Taiwan started improving in the 1980s.
  • China proposed “one country, two systems”, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepts Chinese reunification.
  • Though it rejected the offer, Taiwan did relax rules on visits to and investments in China.
  • In 1991, it proclaimed that the war with the People’s Republic of China was over. However, the One China Policy still remains in force.
Now let us analyse the One China Policy Issue:

Different perspectives: Is the US One China Policy different from the “One China” principle stressed by Beijing?

  • One China Policy is a fundamental bedrock of Chinese policy-making and diplomacy. However, China's 'One China' principle is different from the United States' 'One China' policy.
  • Washington's policy says it takes no position on the status of the two sides but wants their dispute resolved peacefully.
  • Beijing promotes an alternative principle that says they are one country and the Communist Party is its leader.
  • While the US recognises Beijing, it maintains informal and defence ties with Taiwan's Taipei.
  • The US shifted to using “policy” in place of “principle” in order to differentiate between the US approach and China’s version.
  • 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. This has resulted in Taiwan's diplomatic isolation from the international community.

How does it affect the US-China relationship?

  • The ‘One China’ policy is a longstanding policy by the US that forms the relationship between the two countries.
  • The contours of the policy were explained in the US-PRC joint communique of December 1978, which said, “The People’s Republic of China and the United States of America have agreed to recognise each other and to establish diplomatic relations as of January 1, 1979. The United States of America recognises the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China. Within this context, the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.”
  • In simple words, with the policy, the US is trying to maintain an official relationship with China and an unofficial one with Taiwan.
  • On the other hand, the relations between the US and China are at an all-time low. The two countries are currently engaged in a bitter confrontation over various issues, including trade, the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the communist giant's aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea and human rights.

Why is the US defending Taiwan?

  • The US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but maintained informal relations with the island. Washington is obligated by federal law to see that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
  • In 1979, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The Act made it clear that “the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s
  • The Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means”.
  • The Act established the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private non-governmental organisation to maintain ties with the island.
  • Pelosi portrays her high-profile trip as part of a US obligation to stand with democracies against autocratic countries, and with democratic Taiwan against China.

China’s Concerns:

  • One China Policy Challenged:
    • 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 existing diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and its membership in intergovernmental organisations challenges this policy:
      • The ROC, Taiwan has diplomatic relations with 15 countries and substantive ties with many others such as Australia, Canada, EU nations, Japan and New Zealand.
      • Besides, Taiwan has full membership in 38 intergovernmental organisations and their subsidiary bodies, including the World Trade Organisation, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asian Development Bank and Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
  • Agreements/Exercises Countering China:
    • Recently, the US has announced a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific, between Australia, the UK and the US (AUKUS), which is also seen as an effort to counter China.
    • Malabar Exercise (US, Japan, India and Australia) is also a major step towards building a sustainable Indo-Pacific coalition thereby addressing the massive strategic imbalance generated by an economically and militarily powerful China.
  • Strategic and Defence Support to Taiwan by the US:
    • Taiwan has sought to improve its defences with the purchase of US weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles.
    • A US aircraft carrier group led by the warship Theodore Roosevelt entered the South China Sea to ensure freedom of the seas, and build partnerships that foster maritime security.
One China Policy: India’s perspective
  • India – like most other nations – had been adhering to its One-China policy since 1949. It was routinely reaffirmed in joint statements issued after meetings between the leaders of the two nations, however, it stopped doing so in 2010.
  • Beijing had conveyed to New Delhi that a reiteration of the One-China policy by India would significantly help enhance the mutual trust between the two neighbouring nations. But India declined to reaffirm the One-China policy in the joint statement in response to Beijing's policy of issuing “stapled visas” — instead of regular visas pasted on pages of passports issued by the Government of India — to Jammu and Kashmir residents seeking to travel to China.
  • India and Taiwan currently maintain “trade and cultural exchange” offices in each other’s capitals.
  • With India facing its own problems with China at the LAC, there have been suggestions that it should review its One China Policy — it has in any case long stopped reiterating this officially — and use not just the Tibet card, but also develop more robust relations with Taiwan to send a message to Beijing.
Why Taiwan matters to India and the World – The semiconductor industry in Taiwan

  • When chip shortages first shut down automotive production lines in 2021, the semiconductor industry found itself in an unaccustomed spotlight. Suddenly everyone was talking about the tiny chips that enable so many different car functions, from interior lighting to seat control to blind-spot detection. When some high-tech and consumer-electronics companies began to experience chip shortages or voiced concerns about supply chains, the attention intensified. It’s now clear to all: We are living in a semiconductor world.
  • Taiwan is the biggest supplier of semiconductor Chips across the world.
  • The Taiwanese semiconductor industry, including IC manufacturing, design, and packing, forms a major part of Taiwan's IT industry. Due to its strong capabilities in OEM wafer manufacturing and a complete industry supply chain, Taiwan has been able to distinguish itself from its competitors and dominate the global marketplace.
  • Taiwan's semiconductor sector accounted for US$115 billion, which is ca. 20% of the global semiconductor industry. In selected sectors like foundry operations, Taiwanese companies account for 50% of the world market, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) being the biggest player in the foundry market.

Way Forward:

  • Any sort of escalation between Taiwan and China may have multidimensional impacts. For example, the semiconductor chips supply chain may get affected, resulting in a global slowdown in manufacturing and increased inflation.
  • A peaceful resolution issue by means of diplomacy and talks must be pursued by all participating actors.


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