Since 2016, a situation has continued in which China and Taiwan have not been able to find any compromise concerning “One-China”, and in this context China once again sees maintenance and strengthening of the “One-China” principle in the international community as being important as a means to prevent “Taiwan independence” and encourage “reunification.” In this paper, I give an overview of the background that led to the Xi Jinping regime having to strengthen the “One-China” principle in its foreign policy, and I summarize the trends in the loss of substance in the “One-China” policies of various countries which are contrary to that. In addition, I analyze the new strategies in Chinese diplomacy for strengthening the “One-China” principle which have been developed in recent years.
China’s strengthening of the “One-China” principle
During the period from 2008 to 2016, China restrained its diplomatic struggle with Taiwan in order to show “goodwill” to the friendly political parties and voters in Taiwan who accepted the 1992 Consensus concerning “One-China.” The Kuomintang Ma Ying-jeou government also advocated a “diplomatic truce.” Hence, disputes between China (the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government) and Taiwan (the Republic of China (ROC) government) over diplomatic recognition and disputes over the participation of Taiwan in international organizations rarely came to the surface. For example, The Gambia cut off its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2013 in order to strengthen its relations with China, but China postponed the establishment of diplomatic relations with The Gambia until the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party in the Taiwan presidential election in 2016. However, in the context of China’s growing international influence, the “One-China” principle has de facto been maintained and strengthened in various countries and international organizations.
When Tsai Ing-wen won the presidential election in January 2016, China established diplomatic relations with The Gambia in March of the same year and put pressure on Tsai Ing-wen to accept the 1992 Consensus. However, at the presidential inauguration ceremony in May, Tsai Ing-wen did not mention the 1992 Consensus, and she did not respond to subsequent calls from China either. In response, China went on the offensive against the countries with which the ROC government had diplomatic relations, one after another. Sao Tome and Principe (2016), Panama (2017), Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso, and El Salvador (2018), the Solomon Islands and Kiribati (2019), and Nicaragua (2021) established diplomatic relations with the PRC government, and the countries with which the ROC government had diplomatic relations declined to 14 countries.
China also asserts the “One-China” principle and has sought changes to the treatment of people and representative organizations belonging to the ROC (Taiwan) in countries where China has diplomatic relations and Taiwan has established a representative office, etc. For example, in 2017 China lobbied Nigeria, Ecuador, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to change “the ROC” to “Taipei,” in the names of their representative offices. Furthermore, in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam, etc., a succession of cases occurred in which Taiwanese people arrested locally were deported to China. Moreover, China demanded that the administrative organs of advanced countries such as Canada and Switzerland, etc. add the statement “Taiwan — One Province of the PRC,” etc. when dealing with Taiwan, and some of the organs accepted that.
China has also attempted to strengthen the “One-China” principle in international organizations. From 2009 to 2016, China recognized Taiwan’s participation as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei” in the World Health Assembly (WHA). In 2013 China also recognized Taiwan’s participation as a guest of the chair in the assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). However, in 2016, when WHA was held immediately before Tsai Ing-wen became president, the letter of invitation to Taiwan was delayed. The letter stated that the participation of Taiwan was recognized “recalling the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 and WHA Resolution 25.1, and in line with the One-China principle as reflected therein.” Subsequently, from 2017 onwards, Taiwan was no longer invited to WHA. Taiwan also wanted to participate in the ICAO assembly in 2016, 2019, and 2022 but was not invited. A succession of cases occurred in which meeting participants from Taiwan experienced resistance, and the treatment of Taiwan representatives was downgraded in other United Nations agencies and international NGOs, etc. in addition to the above.
From about 2018, China more actively demanded consent for the “One-China” principle from private companies. A report concerning the status of “compliance” with the “One-China” principle by multinational companies was published in the 2018 edition of the Report on the Development of Internet Law in China edited and published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Around that time, companies began to be asked to clearly state their consent to the “One-China” principle and change their descriptions and treatment of Taiwan. For example, bubble tea shops doing business in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were successively put under pressure to declare political attitudes such as “One-China” or “supporting one country, two systems,” etc. Furthermore, in 2018 airlines and travel agencies in each country and in 2019 a broader range of multinational companies such as apparel companies, were put under pressure to change their descriptions concerning Taiwan to “Taiwan, China” or “Taiwan, Province of the PRC” and to not group Taiwan with “countries.”
The loss of substance of the “One-China” policies of various countries
Until 2019, China’s aggressive attempts to promote the “One-China” principle in the international community were prominent, but the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 greatly changed this trend. Competition between the United States and China over the origin of the pandemic and how to respond to it progressed to disputes over political systems and values. In that context, the evaluation of Taiwan, which was successful in its initial response to COVID-19, improved primarily in advanced democratic countries. As a result, an increasing number of countries raised doubts about and criticized the diplomatic actions of China, which involve forcing the “One-China” principle on the related countries and international organizations. At the WHA held online in May and November 2020, in response to calls from the United States, more advanced democratic countries than in a typical year, including Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, etc., called for Taiwan to be invited to the assembly.
At this time, US President Donald Trump, who was approaching an election in which he sought re-election, dispatched Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and other serving, high-ranking officials to Taiwan and also planned the dispatch of the United Nations ambassador. Furthermore, the US continued with words and actions that could be understood to deny the “One-China” policy. For example, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo stated that “Taiwan is not part of China.” Subsequently, the Joseph Biden administration inaugurated in January 2021 repeatedly expressed the position that it did not deny the “One-China” policy, while continuing the strengthening of cooperation between the United States and Taiwan which was accelerated during the Trump administration, including actions to deter the activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the vicinity of Taiwan, the strengthening of practical relations through the channel between the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), the establishment of a bill to support Taiwan in the Congress, etc. In addition to these measures, the Biden administration is coordinating with allies such as Japan and willing partners to attempt to oppose changes to the status quo by China.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the policies of the European countries with respect to China and Taiwan policy changed even more than the policy of the United States. The Xi Jinping regime has developed the Belt and Road Initiative and was forging closer relations with European countries, but the COVID-19 pandemic began when Europe started to feel cautious about the expanding influence of China, and European countries’ distrust of China grew. Furthermore, the European countries strengthened their criticism of China over human rights problems in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In contrast to these developments, the presence of Taiwan gained attention because it showed the maturity of its democracy to the world through its response to COVID-19, and it occupies an important position in the semiconductor industry and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European countries’ support for and closeness to Taiwan accelerated.
Since the summer of 2020, a succession of high-level visiting delegations of lawmakers from Europe have visited Taiwan, including a delegation led by the Senate President of the Czech Republic (August 2020), a delegation of the European Parliament (November 2021), a Baltic states delegation (November 2021), a joint visiting delegation of the Swedish Parliament and the European Parliament (April 2022), a visiting delegation led by the Slovak National Council Deputy Speaker (June 2022), a delegation of French senators (June 2022), a visiting delegation led by the Vice-President of the European Parliament (July 2022), etc. Furthermore, these parliaments have passed resolutions and published reports concerning the participation of Taiwan in international organizations such as the WHO, etc. and political and economic cooperation with Taiwan. These moves by the European countries do not directly challenge the “One-China” policy, so it is difficult for China to criticize them. Despite that, China has downgraded its diplomatic relations with and imposed sanctions such as stopping transactions in specified sectors, etc. on Lithuania for rapidly becoming closer to Taiwan. For example, Lithuania established a representative office named “Taiwan.” However, these moves by China conversely invited a backlash from the EU countries.
In early August 2022, China protested the visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and held “special military exercises” in the vicinity of Taiwan. The purposes of the exercises announced by the Eastern Theater Command of the PLA were to “strictly deter the large increase in negative behavior by the United States with respect to the Taiwan question, and to send a stern warning concerning the actions of “Taiwan independence” forces scheming for “independence.” The “negative behavior by the United States regarding the Taiwan question” is nothing other than the loss of substance of its “One-China” policy. It is thought that Xi Jinping used the opportunity of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan to escalate its previous warnings to the United States and also attempt to warn the countries that were strengthening their relations with Taiwan. However, even though China conducted military exercises, no change was seen in the loss of substance of the “One-China” policies by the United States and the other countries. On the contrary, the conviction that it was necessary to actively visit Taiwan without succumbing to China’s military intimidation gained momentum, and visits to Taiwan by VIPs from the United States, Japan, and European countries continued unabated.
New strategies for strengthening the “One-China” principle
How will China fight against the loss of substance of the “One-China” policy going forward? A clue for predicting the policy of Xi Jinping going forward is in “The Taiwan Question and China's Reunification in the New Era,” a new white paper concerning policy with respect to Taiwan announced by the Chinese government in the closing days of the military exercises.
As a basis for the assertion that the “One-China” principle is broadly accepted in the international community, the white paper brings up the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 (hereafter Resolution 2758) adopted in the United Nations General Assembly in 1971 and devotes much space to an explanation of the resolution. At that time, with the adoption of the resolution, the PRC government recovered the right to be a Security Council country as “the only legitimate representative of China.” Furthermore, the resolution undertook to “expel” the “representatives of Chiang Kai-shek,” and the representatives of the ROC government, which protested this decision, walked out of the debating chamber. However, the implication that “Taiwan is part of the PRC,” which is the core of the “One-China” principle, is not in the resolution.
Therefore, how can Resolution 2758 be the grounds for an argument for the “One-China” principle? The white paper emphasizes the results of the activities carried out by China in the United Nations to broaden the perception that “Taiwan is part of the PRC” based on the resolution. For example, China has cited the memorandum of 2010 in which the United Nations Secretariat expressed the position that “since Resolution 2758, the United Nations considers “Taiwan” as a province of China with no separate status, and the Secretariat strictly abides by this decision in the exercise of its responsibilities.” This is a judgment that exceeds the implication of the original resolution, but as stated earlier in the context of the growing international influence of China, in recent years, United Nations organizations have accepted the assertions of China and judgments and expressions of attitudes similar to this have been made several times. In contrast to this, there have also been cases in which the missions to the United Nations of the Western countries and Japan have protested; for example, when in 2007 the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the “Resolution 2758 asserts that Taiwan is part of the PRC,” which he used as the basis for rejecting United Nations membership under the name “Taiwan.” However, a situation in which it is difficult to ascertain the individual situations in the United Nations Secretariat and specialized agencies continues.
It is thought that the reasons that China is now emphasizing Resolution 2758 and the subsequent developments in the United Nations as the basis for the “One-China” principle can be broadly divided into two. The first is China’s sense of crisis regarding the previous agreement with countries such as the United States and Japan, which was supporting the assertion of the “One-China” principle. In other words, these countries' “One-China” policies are losing substance. In the new white paper, descriptions concerning the agreement with the United States and Japan over “One-China” significantly decreased in a form inversely proportional to the increase in descriptions concerning Resolution 2758 and the agreements in the various agencies of the United Nations. The other reason is to oppose the developments that, prompted by the question of the participation of Taiwan in WHO, the Biden administration has started to support the participation of Taiwan in international organizations in general, and European countries are also lining up with this position.
Given this situation, Chinese diplomacy is not focusing its efforts on the advanced democratic countries. Instead, it focuses on strengthening the “One-China” principle in its relations with friendly Asian-Pacific countries, the Middle East, Africa, South America, etc. Even when China carried out special military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in August 2022, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that “more than 170 countries in the international community have voiced staunch support for China on the Taiwan question through various means. They form an overwhelming majority versus the US and its few followers.” Furthermore, Xi Jinping went on a tour of Central Asian countries in September, and in the joint statements with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, the “One-China” principle and the fact that it was a decision of Resolution 2758, were expressly stated. Moreover, during the tour of Southeast Asia that Xi Jinping went on after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, there were very few mentions of the Taiwan question in the records of talks with the leaders of the advanced democratic countries, whereas in summit meetings in Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. firm adherence to the “One-China” policy was confirmed, and in talks with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Manuel Guterres the Secretary-General asserted that “the ‘One-China’ principle is a red line for China that must be respected and not crossed.” It is predicted that this kind of lobbying aimed at developing countries and international organizations will be strengthened further going forward and these countries will be increasingly asked to act in accordance with the “One-China” principle.
As argued in this paper, friction between the “One-China” principle asserted by China and the “One-China” policies of various countries is getting stronger. In particular, the treatment of Taiwan in the United Nations is becoming a point of contention. Since the 1990s, China has continuously monitored and been involved in not only the participation of Taiwan but also what Taiwan should be called in the United Nations and the various related agencies from the perspective of the “One-China” principle. As a result, even if the advanced democratic countries want the participation of Taiwan, the current situation will not change easily, as vividly shown by the question of Taiwan’s participation in WHA. Going beyond that, as can be seen in China’s new white paper, in recent years China has been emphasizing this current situation as the basis of the “One-China” principle in the international community overall. In addition, China is strengthening its tendency to confirm and strengthen the “One-China” principle in diplomatic relations with friendly countries. This kind of strengthening of the “One-China” principle by China goes beyond maintaining the orthodoxy of “reunification” with Taiwan and can have the nuance of legitimizing the exercising of force against Taiwan, so it is necessary to closely monitor those trends and strategies.
(This discussion expands and revises a part of Madoka Fukuda, “Conflict between the ‘One-China’ Principle and the ‘One-China’ Policies of Various Countries ― Historical Background and Current Situation,” CISTEC Journal, No.202 (November 2022), p.111-122.)
4 Ayaka Yamamoto, “Taiwan's bid to participate in the UN system” in National Diet Library Issue Brief No. 1164 (December 2021), pp. 7-8.
5 Jessica Drun and Bonnie Glaser, “The Distortion of UN Resolution 2758 to Limit Taiwan’s Access to the United Nations,” pp.19-20. The source text of this document (a copy image) was published under “WHA supports One-China principle” in the Liberty Times (electronic edition) on May 10, 2016, etc.
6 “Instances of China’s Interference with Taiwan’s International Presence,” op. cit.
7 Task Force on Observation on the Status Compliance of Foreign Companies with the One-China Principle, “Observation on the Status of Compliance of Multinational Enterprises with the One-China Principle (2018)”, “Report on the Development of Internet Law in China (2018)” edited by Zai Li-lin et al., (Social Sciences Academic Press, 2018), pp. 243-261.
8 “The One Country Two Systems has put the Tea Drinks Industry in a Dilemma. Tsai calls for China’s end of manipulations,” United Daily News, August 11, 2019.
9 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan), “Instances of China’s Interference with Taiwan’s International Presence”.
16 The intentions of the Xi Jinping administration in carrying out the special military exercises, the background to the military exercises, and the results they produced, etc. are described in detail in Madoka Fukuda, “The Three Problems Faced by China as the Party Congress Approaches,” Voice, November 2022 issue, pp. 76-83.
18 “Interoffice memorandum to the Chief, Human Rights Council Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), concerning the publication of the national report of [State 1] with reference to “Republic of China (Taiwan)” in the report,” United Nations, United Nations Juridical Yearbook 2010, (United Nations Publications, 2011) p.516.