by Hichem Karoui
Why four sentences – just 75 words – make up one of the most important statements in international relations and helped lay the foundation for our modern world.
“The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan…”
President Nixon inspects his food during a banquet in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, on February 27, 1972. /CFP File Photo
That was the key paragraph in the Shanghai Communique (1972) whereby the US recognized the One China policy. Reflecting on it 40 years later in a book, Henry Kissinger, the architect of the US-China reconciliation, said, “In the 40 years since it was signed, neither China nor the United States has allowed the issue to interrupt the momentum of their relationship.”
The man was not known to be a “dove” or a dreamer. His impact on US politics and international relations is still felt today, as he represents the “realist” philosophy of foreign policy. He never wavered from his belief that the US-China relationship could be a “win-win relationship” for both countries — provided the US remained committed to the One China policy. Recently (December 2016), talking at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, in New York, he reiterated, “The cooperative way will prevail. If China and America are in conflict, the whole world will be divided.”
In fact, the signing of the Shanghai Communique was just the beginning of a slow process of normalization between the two countries, which culminated in the December 1978 announcement that diplomatic relations would be established on January 1, 1979. At the same time, Washington reaffirmed its agreement that the People’s Republic of China was the sole legal government of China and that Taiwan was an unalienable part of China.
President Nixon gestures as he admires televisions and other equipment at the Shanghai Exhibition Hall in Shanghai, on February 27, 1972. With him on the left are Secretary of State William Rogers and Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai. /CFP Photo
Although the relationship between China and the US during the 1980s was sometimes shaky, the peaceful rise of China to the stature of a major, then global power, persuaded US leaders that they have much more to gain from cooperation than from confrontation. Whatever the analysis of US strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific, the common bipartisan view that dominated successive Republican and Democratic administrations, consisted in following Kissinger’s advice to Nixon. In 2005, Kissinger still advised that the US “should not employ a Cold War-era containment policy” vis-a-vis China. That was just after the release of “The Report on the Military Power of the PRC.”
Even without reference to military considerations, whereby all countries may apply all means to defend their core values, there are too many interests at stake to take any other path. The $230 billion of total US foreign direct investment to China, and the so many — and no less important — Chinese contributions to the US economy, would push a deal-maker, as President Donald Trump often likes to portray himself as, to thinking twice before giving up cooperation for chaos.
The Chinese are not against “making America great again”. China even proposes to help it, as we have seen in a recent report by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG). It recalls President Xi Jinping’s proposal to build a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), and China’s invitation for the US to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as several other initiatives that the US has been invited to consider.
The relationship between China and the US is one of the most important ones in the world. Understanding the Shanghai Communique is just as relevant today as it was 45 years ago.
(Dr. Hichem Karoui is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), Beijing, and a diplomatic adviser. The article reflects the author’s opinion, not necessarily the view of CGTN.)