‘One China’ is a policy by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that requires other nations to accept that the CCP is rightfully in total control of both the Chinese mainland and the nearby island ‘nation’ of Taiwan. The history of how One China came to be is a fascinating one.
Brief History of One China
In the early 1900’s China was ruled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang or KMT) but a civil war began in 1946, after years of the KMT tolerating Japanese aggression and Western domination. Mao Zedong’s (commonly called just Mao) Communist’s quickly won and renamed the country the People’s Republic of China (aka, the PRC).
However, Mao’s communists did not fully defeat the KMT. They took up residence in Taiwan lead by the KMT’s Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1949) and they still claimed to the be the legitimate ruler of all China.
Few countries wanted to support the Communist PRC so until the 1970’s most countries either continued to recognize the KMT as the government of China or did not formally did not recognize any government of China.
Under Mao, China was a backwater that did not care about trade or political relations with other countries so while the Mao-ist PRC government was not thrilled with being ignored by they world, they were not overly concerned about it either.
Canada however had helped China through several famines in the 1950’s and 1960’s including lending them lending them $5 million dollars to buy Western Canadian wheat when other countries turned their backs. SOURCE: Claws of the Panda by Jonathan Manthorpe
Then Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was happy with that relationship and did not pursue relations much beyond continued grain sales because:
- he was concerned US President Lyndon Johnson would be more than angry with Canada supporting a Communist regime that was publicly support the Communist Vietnamese in a bloody war with the US
- he did not recognize China as having immediate economic potential to Canada
Then Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected Canadian Prime Minister and wanted to both:
- show Canadian voters that he was not afraid of American bluster during a time when they were in a losing war that was very unpopular in both Canada and the United States
- help China join the modern world as he had traveled the country extensively in the past believed that it was not a good idea to ignore the government that manages 25% of the worlds population
In 1969 the Canadian Government met with officials of the PRC who came with three demands for any government that wished to establish formal relations:
- A government seeking relations with China must recognize the central People’s Government as the sole and lawful government of the Chinese people.
- a government which wishes to have relations with China must recognize that Tan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and in accordance with this principle must sever all kinds of relationships with the Chiang Kai-shek gang.
- A government seeking relations with China must give support to the restoration of the rightful place and legitimate rights in the United Nations of the PRC and no long give any backing to the so-called representatives of Chiang Kai-shek in any organ of this international body
Canada only saw an issue with the second condition. It took nearly a year of political wrangling to develop the wording that set One China in motion. Canadian negotiators came up with the phase “take note” to solve the problem. Canada agreed to “take note” that the Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan, but does not specifically agree that China does.
On October 10th 1970, Canada became the first notable Western country to recognize the communist People’s Republic of China. The following clause in the statement set a pattern for formal recognition by all other Western countries and set One China as the blurry diplomatic policy around the globe:
“…The Chinese Government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the Peoples Republic of China. The Canadian Government takes note of this position of the Chinese Government… SOURCE: Page 110 ‘Claws of the Panda’ by Jonathan Manthorpe
After high profile trips to China from President Nixon (R), Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (R) others in the early 1970’s, American President Jimmy Carter (D) formally recognized the PRC on December 15, 1978. The US – China agreement further cemented One China by using the stronger word “acknowledged” in place of the Canadian phrase “takes note”.
Even though Taiwan maintains genuinely free elections, maintains its own not-insignificant military and publicly rejects Chinese rule, it’s passports are issued by China. As you can see in the image to the right, it is not uncommon to see passports with “Republic of Taiwan” stickers over top of the Republic of China cover.
It is clear that today, Taiwan is an independent sovereign ‘state’ that is well under the thumb of the PRC.
One China is still the prevailing policy in all countries that want to do business or have diplomatic relations with China today. From Canada’s Justin Trudeau to the US’s Donald Trump, world leaders have falling in line.
For more information on the current state of One-China read our followup article: One China & The United States