Only One China?
The Shanghai Communiqué in the Age of Trump
Richard Nixon Presidential Library
March 28, 2017
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow and Director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative at Stanford University’s Asia-Pacific Research Center, and a Stanford University Professor of Practice. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from May 2009 until July 2011 and had a 35-year career in the United States Army, retiring with the rank of lieutenant general.
John Pomfret served as a correspondent for the Washington Post for many years, and was a Fulbright Senior Scholar living in Beijing. He is the author of the acclaimed book, “Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China,” and has won several awards for his coverage of Asia, including the Osborne Elliot Prize. He’s the author of the newly published book, “The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present.” He was one of the first American students to go to China and study at Nanjing University, and attended Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies as a Fulbright Scholar.
Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy is a Distinguished Scholar and Founding Director Emeritus of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. During a career focused on East Asia and the Soviet Union, Roy’s ambassadorial assignments included Singapore, China, and Indonesia. His final post with the State Department was as Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research.
Clayton Dube heads the USC U.S.-China Institute. It focuses on the multidimensional and evolving U.S.-China relationship and aims to inform public discussion on the importance and evolving nature of that relationship. A historian, Dube has earned teaching awards at three universities and has produced documentaries including Assignment: China about journalists reporting in China since the 1940s.
Clayton Dube: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming. You have chosen well. You’re about to hear three terrific experts discuss one of the most important ideas around this question of a One China principle, One China policy. And we are here, here at the Nixon Library and Birthplace, where, of course, a lot of this is centered. The role of Richard Nixon is absolutely central, and it’s hard to imagine, it’s hard to imagine our world as it is today without Richard Nixon’s important mission to China. And so, we have for you today, three great scholars of U.S.-China relations. Two of these individuals were important practitioners. And so, I’ll ask for each of these individuals to come up as I introduce them.
First we have Ambassador Stapleton Roy. Stapleton Roy is a public servant of the highest order. He retired from the Foreign Service with the highest rank that the Foreign Service has, that of career ambassador. Ambassador Roy was born in China, spent the first 14 years of his life there, going to school before returning to the United States. Ambassador Roy, you will hear in these discussions, was party to the negotiations that led to the normalization of U.S.-China relations back in 1978. But in 1971 and 1972 when the Nixon trip was first announced, and then when the Shanghai Communiqué was being negotiated, he was representing our country in the Soviet Union which, of course, had quite an interest in the subject.
Stapleton Roy, after leaving the Foreign Service, has worked in business consulting for Kissinger Associates, and he was the founding director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. He continues to be a fellow there and we are extremely fortunate to have him with us. Please.
The next member of our panel is Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Ambassador Eikenberry is somebody who has been focused on China for a long time but has served our country in many other places wearing many other hats as well, he’s career army officer who first went to Taiwan as a West Point cadet in 1971. Okay. So he is very early on the scene.
He rose to the rank of lieutenant general and held many command positions, including several tours in Afghanistan. He was also the deputy chair of the military operations part portion of NATO. So he has served in Europe, he has served in Asia. He then became ambassador to Afghanistan. So we’re extremely fortunate to have ambassador Eikenberry with us. He is now a fellow up at Stanford and is running a number of important programs on Asia Pacific there. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.
It’s now a great pleasure to welcome back to Southern California, John Pomfret. John served as the Los Angeles bureau chief for the Washington Post here in Los Angeles region for a number of years, but the reason he’s here today is not to talk about Los Angeles and its booming economy, but rather, because he is one of the foremost journalists and now authors working on China.
In a certain sense, we have a generational story to tell as well. John Pomfret was a student at Stanford and then he went to Nanjing University where he studied for a couple of years. He was able to do that because of the opening that President Nixon engineered, because the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1978. He and I were both part of that generation that got to benefit from the hard work of diplomats such as Stapleton, Stapleton Roy. John spent two years in Nanjing and subsequently told the story of China’s remarkable economic reform period through the lives of some of his classmates. So his first book was, “Chinese Lessons.” I heartily recommend it. But the book that they have out in the front now, and I hope that you get is this one, “Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom.”
It is a magnificent narrative history of U.S.-China relations from the beginning of the United States up through today. We have a truly distinguished panel. Please welcome them.
And friends, so the plan for today is for me to ask a few questions of our group and then to open the floor to your questions. And so, we’re extremely fortunate to have such a distinguished group. Before we jump into those questions though, I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment or two. While we think back, while we think back to the early 1970s, President Nixon, of course, elected in the fall of 1968. It’s the midst of the Cold War. Of course, there had been two hot wars during this time, both on China’s periphery, in Korea where the United States and China faced off, and in Vietnam, a war that was still raging at the time that President Nixon and national security advisor Kissinger go to China.
The Cold War is one of our settings. Richard Nixon however, was not a prisoner of the Cold War, and, in fact, sought to break out of it. For a long time, he had wanted to forge some sort of new relationship with China. He wrote about this in October 1967 as part of his campaign. He wrote, “We simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hate, and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” He was determined, determined to forge a new relationship. And so we get that opening, and we’ll talk about this key role of Richard Nixon but also the key role played by the Chinese leaders at that same time, in just a moment.
One of the things that we wanted to do is to talk about what the Shanghai Communiqué, which raises this question of One China, what it actually says and what its legal standing is. The first point is, a communiqué is not a treaty. It’s not a law. It has no legal force. The Senate has never confirmed it. The Chinese government has never submitted it to its legislature. It’s a declaration of intent. But this communiqué, the Shanghai Communiqué of February 1972 has now, 45 years of historical impact. Without that communiqué, without the opening that Richard Nixon and his associates engineered, we would not have this enormous relationship that allows for so much trade. If today is an average day, 8,600 Chinese will visit America. We have 380,000 students from China in America. So many businesses, so much happening on this front in cooperation, in numerous ways.
Now, that, of course, doesn’t mean that all the problems that were present in 1972 have been solved. What we’re going to do today is to talk about what the communiqué meant and what this One China, this idea of One China means today. And so, our first question for this distinguished panel is, what are we to make of Donald Trump’s delayed embrace of the One China policy? Initially, of course, he said, it was open to negotiation. Subsequently he spoke with Xi Jinping and has asserted that policy. Gentlemen, what are we to make of this? Please?
J. Stapleton Roy: The One China policy, which most Americans don’t understand, is simply a reflection of the fact that the Chinese Civil War never formally ended and you still have two governments, the Peoples Republic of China and the Republic of China, who claim to be the sole legal government of China. It’s an either/or proposition. You can’t have full diplomatic relations with one and have an official relationship with the other. And the additional significance is that until democracy emerged in Taiwan, the legitimacy of the government in Taiwan, which was the government of all of China until 1949, and then it was forced to retreat to Taiwan, you couldn’t have elections in all of China. And therefore, it was the One China constitution they brought over with them that established the legitimacy of the government in Taiwan.
Nowadays, we have democratic elections in Taiwan, and so the legitimacy of the Taiwan government rests on an electoral process. But until the late ‘80s, that was simply not the case. So, what held up the ability of the United States to establish diplomatic relations with mainland China, which was universally recognized as the real most important part of China? And we were still in a posture of officially recognizing the government in Taiwan as the government of all of China which it didn’t control. So the problem that President Nixon faced was, how do you get out of that problem? And he had the unbelievable courage and wisdom to figure out that he had to put his personal prestige on the line in order to overcome the horrendous suspicions between China, Beijing, and Washington, in order to break through the fact that the original alliance between China and the Soviet Union which confronted us with an overwhelmingly hostile force, a raid against us in the world, had been replaced by a hostile Soviet Union and a hostile China who had hostile relations with each other.
And President Nixon was able to figure out how to take advantage of that situation in order to break through, and, ultimately, put us on the path to having diplomatic relations with Beijing. Now, how does this relate to what President Trump has done in playing around with the One China policy? The key issue that had to be dealt with in order to get diplomatic relations with Beijing was, essentially, a policy of accepting the fact that the sole legal government of China was the government in Beijing. But the United States was not prepared to abandon Taiwan, and we were never able in the negotiations to resolve the question of continuing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, because those arms sales represented the fact that the United States never was prepared to abandon Taiwan and simply let it be absorbed peacefully or militarily into the mainland. There had to be a process and the Shanghai Communiqué incorporated that process.
But when President Trump, all of a sudden said, well, the One China policy is simply…what do we get from China if we agree to have the One China policy? He was committing what I would call, the opposite of the art of the deal. He was putting on the table an issue that he had to concede on before he could discuss anything else with China. That’s not a good negotiating approach. You don’t want to begin by making a demand you have to back off on, in order to have the significant discussions you have to make. And to President Trump’s credit, he was smart enough to realize that. And following his telephone call with President Xi Jinping of China, he essentially has said, “We will abide by our One China policy.”
So the significance was in facing up to the inevitable, and doing it reasonably, gracefully, and now, we have the potential of a summit meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping in Florida, that will be taking place in the near future. So that despite all of the very negative things said about U.S.-China relations during the campaign and about China during the campaign, the initial steps of the Trump administration have been laying the basis for the possibility of a continuation of the complex relationship between our two countries in which cooperation is actually more dominant than the areas where we have fundamental disagreements. So therefore, it’s a very important fact that the president is no longer claiming that the One China policy can be a bargaining chip in our relationship with Beijing.
Clayton Dube: And so, just to interject, 10 years ago when the U.S.-China Institute was founded at USC, we invited as our inaugural conference speaker, Ambassador Roy, and now you know why. Because the depth of his experience and the clarity of his presentation. One of the things I took away and for Mr. Pomfret and Ambassador Eikenberry, is the notion that, in fact, Donald Trump was negotiating with himself.
Karl Eikenberry: Well, first, if I could, it’s really a privilege to be here at the Nixon Library, my first visit. I wish I had come here many years ago. And seated between one of the greatest diplomats for our generation, one of the greatest journalists and writers of our generation, it is in-deed an honor. So very briefly, if I can come at maybe President Trump in another way, and that is, you tour the Nixon Library and you get an idea of the genius of President Nixon, not only in thinking about China Asia-Pacific but globally. So now, back to President Trump, there’s so much uncertainty in his foreign policy and how did we get ourselves here? I think three points are important.
Number one is that although in modern presidential elections, foreign policy is never a dominant issue. I don’t think we’ve had a recent presidential election were it was such a non-issue unless you talk about international trade as a foreign policy issue, so you can make that argument. But there was just never serious debates that were taking place between the Democrats and the Republicans about foreign policy issues. Secondly, that president candidates normally will gather around them as they get into the campaign. They’ll get a team of advisors around them, steep specialist, and they’ll become a band of brothers and sisters over a grueling campaign. And then, after Election Day, they have got a team that knows the issues that are important, and that will then form the foundation upon which domestic policy gets built and foreign policy gets built.
That did not happen on the Republican side this time, because there was no debate on foreign policy. Candidate Trump just didn’t have a team around him that knew issues well, like China. And then the third point is, no matter who the president is, there’s going to be a steep learning curve, and we’ve seen that in U.S.-China policy. There was a steep learning curve for President Reagan. There was a steep learning curve for President Clinton. So a learning curve for President Trump, but I have to say, that when we’re talking about a learning curve which starts with what is the One China policy, we’re really in unchartered water at this point. As it’s been said, the One China policy has been the bedrock of our China policy for 45 years.
So that kind of learning, I hope that the learning has taken place now, and I agree with Ambassador Roy. It probably has. But it does show you how sharp it is. The final point I’d make of concern right now is that, we’re rapidly entering the month of April, and when you talk about President Trump’s bench at the Department of State, at the Department of Defense, at the National Security Council, that group of people who are going to be helping inform him about consequential decisions on every part of the world, but especially China, we just don’t see it emerging at this point. There’s still months and years ahead, but it should be taking place soon in my view.
Clay Dube: Please?
John Pomfret: I can just a little bit to that, first, like Ambassador Eikenberry, this is my first visit to the Nixon Library and it’s really a remarkable place. The new exhibit is just extraordinary, and I’m thinking how my 14-year-old son who is, sadly enough, a video game addict would love the interactive exhibits. And I also share…I’m sort of humbled by this panel I’m on. I would say, at one point, under the Donald Trump issue, it’s good that we know that his policy now, at least we know what it’s not, which is he does not reject the One China policy. But as we’re moving into a potential summit, neither side actually has officially confirmed that there will be a meeting, from what I understand. But as we’re moving into a potential summit, we actually still don’t know what his China policy is. And I think that huge question mark is extraordinarily troubling as you enter a potential summit with China’s leader. You have to know what you want from China in order to engage successfully with the Chinese. So that’s something that definitely concerns me. Thank you.
Clayton Dube: Thanks. Well, we began by looking at President Trump and One China, but maybe, it would be useful for us to back up and to go back to the early 1970s and to focus on the people who brought this communiqué to the fore, the people who made this dance move forward: President Nixon, advisor Henry Kissinger, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, and, of course, Premier Zhou Enlai. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit, the three of you, you’ve already heard a little bit from Ambassador Roy about the courage that Richard Nixon showed, the vision that he had. But if the three of you could reflect a little bit on the risks that each of these people took, and why they did it.
Stapleton Roy: Our intelligence community back in the early ‘70s had very accurately tracked the deteriorating relationship between China and the Soviet Union. But it was beyond the imagination of anyone in any government in the world, that the president of the United States would be prepared to visit a hostile country while we had diplomatic relations with the contending government that was existent in Taiwan, and take that type of an action in order to break through in our relationship. Frankly, it took a leader of President Nixon’s stature, and it took a Chairman Mao in China, who couldn’t be challenged by other leaders, and there was enormous skepticism in China about the wisdom of moving to a quasi relationship with the leader of the capitalist imperialism in the world.
And that’s why the Shanghai Communiqué is different from a normal communiqué. Now, you talked a little bit about communiqués. Think of a communiqué, nowadays, it’s the tweet you issue at the end of a meeting.
Stapleton Roy: The press release. And it kind of summarizes, usually emphasizing the points of agreement between the two sides. But in the case of the Shanghai Communiqué, the disagreements between the two sides on everything, except the desirability of having a relationship that would enable us to cooperate against the Soviet threat, was so great that the bulk of the Shanghai Communiqué consists of individual statements by each side of the points where we differ from the other side. This was unprecedented in diplomatic practice, but it was a necessary step. Why was it important? Because President Nixon’s visit to China was the turning point in the Cold War. Some of you may be old enough to remember that while we were the premier military power in the world in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we were psychologically insecure because of the enormous expansion of the area of the world controlled by communist powers.
Right up until 1965, for example, Indonesia, the largest country in Southeast Asia was in danger of going communist. And if you added that to the fact that guerilla wars going on in Southeast Asia, we would have faced a very negative world situation. But once we got that breakthrough with China, we were on the right side of history and became psychologically secure. I was in Moscow at the time, and I can tell you from first-hand experience, the Soviets were totally devastated by the totally unexpected discovery that we had a president who was prepared to go to China in order to break through the hostile relationship that we had, had up to that point. So that communiqué is the symbol of that action which turned the tide of the Cold War. But it had two other significances.
One was, it created the basis for us to maintain that unofficial relationship with China, reflected in our liaison offices, which from 1972 until 1979 were the way that we communicated with each other. And it pointed the way to the compromises that we had to make in the final negotiations in order to overcome the barrier that Taiwan represented in our ability to have the diplomatic relationship. So these are reasons why this is the right place to be talking about the significance of the Shanghai Communiqué, because, frankly, 45 years later, I still have difficulty thinking what would have happened if we hadn’t had a president with President Nixon’s courage to take that action. Would any subsequent president have been prepared to take those actions?
Offering half a loaf wouldn’t do the trick. It was the willingness of the president to go himself that convinced Chairman Mao, who had very grave reservations about dealing with the head of the imperialists, that they were denounced every day in the Beijing press. So this was really an act of enormous statesmanship.
Clayton Dube: Well, what made the joint communiqué is that it was issued jointly, right? It wasn’t a document of complete agreement, simply a document that they were going to find ways to push forward. It included, as Ambassador Roy just said, statements of where we disagree. The disagreements leap out at you, including on the question of One China. And so, it’s very interesting. You just mentioned Chairman Mao. What did Chairman Mao do? He didn’t just receive the invitation, he issued it.
Karl Eikenberry: Yeah, following up on Ambassador Roy, so there’s the Herb Brooks speech to the 1980 American hockey team that great moments are made from great opportunity. And so, a great opportunity, as Ambassador Roy had outlined it, for both the United States and for China but requiring extraordinary leaders on both sides, not only to see that opportunity but to have the courage to act upon it. So in the case of President Richard Nixon, staunch anti-communist, requiring a lot of courage to move forward with what he thought was the right thing to do. On the Chinese side, what I find extraordinary is, with a Chairman Mao Zedong whose son is killed in the Korean War fighting the Americans, with obvious suspicion of the Americans, a degree of hostility towards the Americans, and yet, at his advanced age, [inaudible 00:33:40] advanced age, that they’re able to make such a strategic shift, see the opportunity, and then have the courage to move upon it.
And in terms of the legacy of the Shanghai Communiqué that these leaders had the wisdom and the courage to see through, if you think in the course of diplomatic history in the world, while we’re celebrating now the 45th anniversary in the course of modern diplomacy, or from the 18th century diplomacy on a diplomatic instrument that last 45 years between great powers is extraordinary. You know, the norm is maybe the concert of Europe which last for 30 years and we’re at 45 years and going strong.
John Pomfret: In some ways, I think Mao doesn’t get as much credit for the opening in the United States as Nixon does. But in a way, the same time that Nixon was considering the relationship with China, you’ve talked about his 1967 foreign affairs piece, Mao was also…he actually had a think tank of four Chinese, Chinese marshals which he tasked in the late ‘60s with rethinking China’s foreign policy. The reality, of course, that China was facing a very hostile Soviet Union to its northern border. The Soviets were massing troops on the border. The Soviets…I mean, the Chinese had exploded their first nuclear weapon in 1964, but comparatively speaking, the Soviets had a huge army compared to the Chinese army. And so, Mao tasked four of his marshals including Marshal Chen Yi, the former mayor of Shanghai with rethinking the foreign policy.
And these four marshals basically wrote to the chairman and said, “Can we think anything?” And the chairman said, “Yes.” Because this was, of course, at the height of the Cultural Revolution where thinking anything could throw you into the gulag. And so, Chairman said, “Yes, I will protect you.” And so, the marshals began to write the chairman report saying, well, perhaps you might wanna look at this potential relationship with the great Satan, if you will, with the United States, as a way out of our encirclement by the hostile Soviet Union. At the same time, China’s economy was facing great difficulty. And, of course, in 1959 and 1961, the Chinese had already suffered an enormous famine and the great leap forward, but reports from the counties were indicating that potentially a large famine like that was gonna hit the Chinese again.
The Chinese agricultural situation was difficult because they had thrown so much labor at trying to increase their crops. They couldn’t throw any more labor at it. They had to put capital inputs, for example fertilizer, into the system in order to create agricultural development. And so, faced with this type of difficulty both geopolitically and economically, Mao then took these steps. And I think it was equally extraordinary, from his perspective, to do such a thing, to break out and open United States. So much so that actually if you look at one of the first things the Chinese did after Nixon’s visit, was to spend 360 some odd million dollars to buy 13 of the biggest fertilizer plants the world has ever seen, made by a Texas firm called Kellogg.
Again, an example that the Chinese were looking at the United States not simply as a savior for their geopolitical situation but also as something that would really help them in their economic and agricultural production.
Clayton Dube: Yeah. The shortest paragraph in the Shanghai Communiqué concerns bilateral trade. It simply says it would be a good thing, right? And yet, of course, trade now is at the center of all of our discussions and at the center of this relationship. Maybe we could take a moment now to talk about the communiqué itself. What did it seek to do? What did it do? Both primarily, right now, in the short term. Because, again, we’ve mentioned the war, we’ve mentioned the rivalry with the Soviet Union, Mr. Pomfret just mentioned the massing of troops on the border. There had already been armed skirmishes across that border, and China had relocated much of its industry away from the coast and away from the Soviet border. So this was a very real concern on their part and, of course, we also talked about this political struggle that was raging in China.
So, maybe we could focus on what immediate problems did the communiqué address and what important signals were sent, not just with the communiqué but with what the two governments did after. And perhaps we could begin with Ambassador Eikenberry this time.
Karl Eikenberry: Well, as you know, I guess the copies of the communiqué were passed out to everyone. The communicate talks broadly about U.S.-China relations, and it also talks about a set of relations in the Asia-Pacific region, and specifically with the Soviet Union. So the first half is the latter. And it’s interesting to reflect now on how those relations that are specifically mentioned in the Shanghai Communiqué, how they played out. How did they play out? So Vietnam, the United States, and China clearly on opposite sides of the divide with the Vietnam War still underway in 1972, the United States trying to find a way to extricate itself from the war, part of the hope that President Nixon has with his relations with China as they develop, is perhaps Chinese influence can be brought to bear on Hanoi in order to get Hanoi to the table and the agreement.
So in 1973, then less than a year after the Shanghai Communiqué, we’ll have the Paris Peace Accord, but interesting to note, it’s six years later, China will be at war with Vietnam. The Korea Peninsula is mentioned. By 1972, Beijing had already experienced difficulties in its relationship with Pyongyang, but if you look at the communiqué, how China states its interest in the Korean Peninsula’s stability, broadly, the U.S. shares that, but with different priorities as that’s played out today. Well, more estrangement between Beijing and Pyongyang, but you still see echoes of where we are today in the Korean Peninsula in the communiqué. The third on the India-Pakistan, interesting there with tense relations, not tense but strained relations between New Delhi and Washington, closer relations between Islamabad and Beijing.
You see that, not so much reflected in the communiqué but what you do see is China’s alignment with Pakistan. And you still see echoes of that today. Japan, I think, clearly, what we see in the communiqué is still reflected geopolitically today, concerns of China with Japan, never imagining in 1972 that the Japan-China relations would blossom and develop as they were to, economically. Then the final point with regard to the Soviet Union, so both the United States and China, in the communiqué, expressing opposition to any country gaining hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. That was specifically the Soviet Union, but now moving it forward, the Soviet Union no longer here, but that triangular relationship that starts to develop with the Shanghai Communiqué is fascinating to watch how that has played out now to the year 2017, where the United States, I think, would argue or President Nixon would argue in 1972 China-U.S. relations, and Russia-Soviet-U.S. relations better than China-Soviet relations. And today we’re living in a very different world.
Clayton Dube: Mr. Pomfret, do you have anything to add to that or…
John Pomfret: I just wanna try to look at it a little bit from the Chinese perspective. During the Kennedy administration, when reports reach the White House of the Chinese atomic bomb program, Kennedy floated the idea to be passed to the Russians that perhaps the United States and Russia might wanna get involved in working together to ensure that China never got the bomb. And Kennedy tasked his ambassador to Russia to speak with the Russians over this idea that perhaps…what would the Russians do if the Americans attacked China’s nuclear research institutes? And the Russians were very much against that idea. And the Americans actually finally got the Russians to agree to a comprehensive test ban treaty in part, because they wanted to do something in order to put pressure on the Chinese to stop their nuclear program. It didn’t work.
But flash forward several years, once the Americans and the Chinese had begun speaking with each other, and we see the Russians coming to the United States and floating the idea, what would happen if Russia attacked China? And at which point the Americans were like, that’s a bad idea as well. And so, you see, as this process of increasingly close ties between the United States and China developed, the United States moving clearly leaning to one side, to use Mao’s expression, and with China being the beneficiary of this American, significant American tilt.
Clayton Dube: Ambassador Roy, you were in Moscow and you’ve already said that this caught the attention of the Soviets. And you suggested that this communiqué is the break in the Cold War, or an important break.
Ambassador Roy: It was the turning point.
Clayton Dube: Yeah. Would we…
Stapleton Roy: I’d pull punches on that.
Clayton Dube: Would we get the strategic arms talks and these kinds of things without these?
Stapleton Roy: The answer is, no. I was a second secretary in our Embassy in Moscow when secretary…national security advisor Kissinger showed up in Beijing in July, 1971. I was covering the Russian Soviet activities in Asia, and the Russians wouldn’t let me meet any of their Asian specialists. When Dr. Kissinger showed up in Beijing, all of a sudden, their Asian specialists all wanted to meet with me. So I had a transformation in my job in Soviet Union from being frozen out of contacts with the Soviet people. All of a sudden, they had become so nervous about what the United States was up to that they wanted to meet with me. But I wanna just add something on a point that Ambassador Eikenberry referred to, which was within the hopes that Nixon and Kissinger had, had that we would get some help on the Vietnam War from the breakthrough to China. And in fact, we never really got what we had been hoping for.
And just to review the history for you, we announced in mid-December, 1978, that we were going to establish diplomatic relations between the PRC and the United States on January 1st, 1979. We established diplomatic relations on January 1st, but we didn’t open our Embassy until March 1st, to give us two months to close our Embassy in Taiwan. They wouldn’t let us open an embassy and have an embassy in both sides of the Taiwan Strait at the same time. But at the end of February, China attacked Vietnam in order to punish them for having intervened in Cambodia and ousted a terrible, terrible, terrible pro-Chinese government, and substituted a terrible, terrible, terrible pro-Vietnamese government, and that Vietnam had turned to the Soviet Union for a defense pact in 1968.
So this is this war that occurred between China and Vietnam. Well, in 1980 or 1981, I think it was 1981, former President Ford came to Beijing, and Deng Xiaoping hosted a small lunch for him in the Great Hall of the people. And he invited ambassador Woodcock and me to attend the lunch, and it was just one small table. And during the lunch, former President Ford said to Deng Xiaoping, he says, “Don’t you admit that it was a mistake for you to have supported Vietnam against us because here you are attacking Vietnam. You should have been on our side.” Deng Xiaoping didn’t blink an eye. He said, “Absolutely not.” He said, “At that time, Vietnam was an enemy of the United States and an enemy of the United States was our friend because you were our enemy at the time.” He said, “If you had, had a relationship with us at that time, our approach would have been different.”
So in essence, that is an interesting lesson in how diplomacy works. You support enemies of your enemies even if your own relationships with them aren’t particularly good, because it’s in your interest to do so. But you will behave differently if the other side of the equation changes and you have a better relationship. And this is another reason why it was so important to get that breakthrough with China, because it altered the way that China responded to issues where previously, the enmity between China and the United States had determined China’s approach and that factor was removed.
Clayton Dube: We’ve bumped up to 1979, full diplomatic relations, that sort of thing. Let’s talk, for a bit here, about Taiwan. Ambassador Roy just mentioned the closing of the Embassy in Taiwan, and if we could get inside the minds of the participants as a result of the memoirs, as a result of now declassified documents in 1972, what was the expectation on the part of these players as to what would happen in the cross-strait relationship and what role the United States would play in the process. Perhaps, this time we’ll begin down at the end with John Pomfret.
John Pomfret: So in Kissinger’s first several meetings with Zhou Enlai, and when he takes his secret trip in July of 1971 to Beijing, Zhou at a certain point says, “Well, at the end of this process, you know, Taiwan is gonna become ours,” to which point Kissinger replies and I’m going to quote exactly. He said that Taiwan, and what Kissinger said is, “Taiwan’s political evolution is likely to be in the direction which Prime Minister Zhou Enlai indicated to me,” which effectively is an acknowledgment on the American side that Taiwan is gonna become part of China. And I think that throughout the American discussions with the Chinese, if you look at the declassified cables, there is a sense that the American officials are continually reassuring the Chinese that the inevitable reunification between the two sides is gonna happen.
Now, that was not reflected in the memorandums or in the joint statements, but informally in the communications between both countries. The Americans throughout their conversations with the Chinese was telling the Chinese that this reunification was gonna happen. At the same time internally, you have the Americans, for example in July of ‘71, this at the same point where Kissinger is speaking with the Chinese saying, you’re gonna get Taiwan back. Several weeks before that, you have Nixon meeting the ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of China, in which both of them agree at that meeting that Taiwan should never reunite with China. And then you also have internal cables from the national Security Council, a gentleman by the name of Alfred Jenkins saying, you know, we really do not wanna see China unite with Taiwan. We have to encourage an independent Taiwan, but the issue, of course, will really depend on whether the Taiwan’s government wants to continue with its future as what he called a tight little island, which meant the very authoritarian society, or open up to democracy.
So the Americans are clearly not clear about what they wanna see happen. Internally, you see them not very much wishing for Taiwan to cease to exist as an independent political entity. At the same time, in their discussions with the Chinese, you see them raising Chinese expectations for ultimate reunification.
Stapleton Roy: Let me add a cortisol, because Mr. Pomfret has raised a very important part of the discussions. And it illustrates accurately that no one on the U.S. side had a clue as to what was going to happen in the cross-strait relationship and how long it would be, but there is a very important factor. Chairman Mao had told President Nixon, that on Taiwan, China could be patient, and it could wait 100 years. So in other words, neither side was talking about unification in a realistic time frame. And let me tell you as a career diplomat, when you say something will take 100 years, you say it will take forever. Essentially, Chairman Mao was putting the issue of unification outside of the framework of the discussions.
So you can point to things that were said on the U.S. side suggesting that we thought that eventually, unification would take place. But there was no expectation on the Chinese side that unification would take place within a timeframe relevant to the discussions that we were engaged in at the time.
Karl Eikenberry: If I could just add to this. So we’re talking about these great geo-political frameworks and this diplomatic architecture, but, again, Ambassador Roy said it well, how hard to predict how this would play out. So a story in 1971, as Clay had said, I made my first trip to China, the Republic of China. I was a cadet at West Point studying Chinese. So the Chinese club had a trip to Taiwan. And part of that trip, we were flown to [inaudible 00:54:10] Kinmen, and we had an opportunity to see the nationalist troops there on Kinmen. This was serious business. A hundred thousand troops, tanks, fortifications. If anyone has seen the movie, “The Longest Day” about the allied invasion of Normandy, it looked like a scene from that.
So, had an opportunity to go to one of the Ford outpost where they had the propaganda, loudspeakers, and watched the propaganda battle where it was being shouted back from Shimen that Chiang Kai-shek was a running dog, and then the insults being hurled back about how China…how Mao was enslaving the Chinese people. So deep impression on me, now, 2012, I’m invited back to Taiwan, after leaving the military and government service, I could go back. Invited by the Ministry of Defense, I said, “The one thing I’d really like to do is I wanna go back to Kinmen.” So I went back to Kinmen, and I wanted to go to the propaganda outpost and the concrete was falling into disrepair, things were rusting, no more propaganda broadcast, of course, I knew that. But then saw all kinds of boats out there in the water going by P, waving. I said, “Who is that?” And those were mainlander tourists on their way to Kinmen.
So a deep impression on me, and so, what did we really predict in 1972, not what I saw. But we had a framework that allowed the wisdom of the Chinese people on both sides of the strait to get to the remarkable position they’re in today.
Clayton Dube: And of course, China is very different today than it was in 1972. Taiwan is even more different from what it was in 1972. Taiwan, of course, has had this remarkable economic rise but accompanied by a Democratic transformation, hence our relationship though, is still tied to our One China policy and to the Taiwan relations act which was enacted by Congress, and as the force of law, requiring the United States to treat people from Taiwan as though they are citizens of a country that we have relations with, even though we don’t recognize that country. And we have all kinds of business and these kinds of things. So I have two questions for the panel and then we’ll go to your questions. The first part of that question is, what can be done with regard to furthering U.S.-Taiwan relations so that those relations continue to be stable and in the interests of people in both places. That’s the first question.
The second question is to again think about what the communiqué, this Nixon-Mao-Zhou Enlai-Kissinger communiqué changed, what the visit and the communiqué changed. Remember that for 130 years, the region had been quite unstable going back to the Opium War, and all of the wars that followed. We had the Vietnam War, we had the Korean War, we have all of these things. And this communiqué is part of stabilizing the region. So we can acknowledge this tremendous contribution, not alone, no piece of paper does that. It takes people putting that in place. So we recognize that, but what now should we be doing on U.S.-China relations? So first, Taiwan, and then the big U.S.-China relationship? Ambassador Roy, maybe?
Stapleton Roy: Let’s look quickly at the history. When we established diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China, the cross-strait relationship was completely hostile. The only common interest, you could say, was the shared belief of the government on both…of the governments on each side of the Taiwan Strait that there was only One China, and that Taiwan was part of China. But beginning in 1987, the president of Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo, opened the cross-strait relations, slowly, but then ties across the strait began to grow. And now, the mainland is Taiwan’s number one trading partner. You have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment by Taiwan in the mainland. You have perhaps a million Taiwanese who live on the mainland. You have mainland students who are studying in Taiwan universities.
In other words, from a situation where there were zero common interests except for that One China factor, you now have a Taiwan economy so dependent on the relationship with the mainland that the independence minded forces in Taiwan are frustrated, because they don’t have the domestic support in Taiwan to push independence because it would threaten Taiwan’s economic interests too severely. So this is the framework within which you have to think about this question. The first thing to remember is, Taiwan is unique in the world. It’s not a Tibet, it’s not a Kashmir, it’s not a Crimea, it’s not any of the disputed areas in which one country is controlling the internal affairs of the other entity that wants more independence or autonomy. Taiwan has it.
They carry out free elections, they elect presidents that are anathema to Beijing. In other words, in every respect except being accepted as a full state by the international community, Taiwan runs its own affairs. It’s not Hong Kong. We’ve just seen how you select leaders in Hong Kong. Beijing essentially controls the strings. That’s not the case in Taiwan. So when you think about what you want to do for Taiwan, you have to think, well, how much needs to be done for Taiwan? They’re running their own affairs. How much risk should other countries or particularly the United States take in trying to improve relationship with Taiwan, where there are lines that cannot be crossed without paying a price?
We misjudged those lines in 1995 when we permitted the president of Taiwan to make an unofficial visit to the United States in order to visit his old Alma mater of Cornell. And the Clinton administration thought that was a safe thing to do, but we ended up with missiles being fired into the Taiwan Strait, and it precipitated a fundamental change in China’s position on Taiwan from 1979 until 1995. The mainland never threatened to use force against Taiwan. It always reserved the right to use force against Taiwan if it tried to separate from China, because it considered Taiwan part of China. But it didn’t threaten to use force until ‘95, and the reason they began to threaten to use force against Taiwan was because they lost confidence in the Clinton administration’s willingness to operate within a One China framework.
Here we were permitting the president of the rival government of China to visit the United States, and from China’s standpoint, that was a political action and it was unacceptable, and it was misjudged by the U. S. government, and it had very negative consequences. So, when you think about wanting to do more for Taiwan, you have to think about the problem of moral hazard. What is moral hazard? Moral hazard is when you promote an activity by somebody else in which if the activity goes wrong, the other person pays the price and you sit with no consequences for yourself. That was the problem that President Trump in playing fast and loose with the One China policy was putting Taiwan in. Because it was Taiwan who would pay the price of the retaliation by the mainland, if president Trump had gone too far and Beijing had not been as patient as it was in trying to straighten that issue out.
So this is the problem that the do-gooders on the U.S. side who want to do more for the Taiwan government by promoting more officiality in the relationship. Ultimately, if they misjudge, it’s Taiwan that pays the price, not the United States. So my answer is, we have a very effective relationship with Taiwan as Taiwan has with most of the…it’s a member of APAC for example. It attends the APAC summits but not at the summit level. It has free trade relationships with countries in Asia because its cross-strait relationship has been so open that countries like Singapore and Australia are prepared to have free trade relationships with Taiwan. But there is a line that if crossed will have negative consequences.
And so, the question all of us should consider, is, how much do you want to crowd the mainland when you can’t be certain exactly where that line is, and what are the beneficial aspects for the United States and for Taiwan that can result from crowding those lines. And my argument is, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s a good relationship if there are things we can do to enhance our relationship with Taiwan within the bounds of unofficiality, we should do them. But when Congress produces draft laws that said that everybody at the highest level of the U.S. government should be free to travel to Taiwan, they are putting Taiwan in the potential dangerous situation of being punished in ways that the United States cannot be punished, and I consider that, moral hazard at its worst. So that’s the framework within which I look at the issue but my colleagues may have different perspectives.
Karl Eikenberry: Briefly just talking globally, three points. The first two, I think that how much can we attribute to what we’re talking about in your 2017 to the Shanghai Communiqué or to any of the three communiqués. I would say that if we look back over the history, my first two points would say that these are necessary but not necessarily sufficient conditions for, one, the extraordinary growth of wealth in China and Taiwan, China’s economy, number two, in the world today. Some say purchasing power parity, number one, it will overtake the United States by either nominal or PPP terms within the next 10 to 20 years. Taiwan’s economy, purchasing power parity, number 15 in the world. That’s extraordinary as well.
And then, globally, the amount of wealth that’s been generated by the transitions that have occurred in China and broader Asia where over the last several years, if you look at world economic growth, about 40% of world economic growth is getting fueled out of China. Point number two is that what we’re seeing over the arch of the longer history is China returning to its ordinary place in the Asia-Pacific region. For most of our history, China’s economy has been number one in the world. Maybe some periods of time where South Asia in times of Chinese decline exceeded China’s, but that’s been the norm. China is the central power in Asia. So we’re returning to a historical norm. I think these communiqués that we’ve talked about, the way that U.S. and China has managed its relations has enabled this.
And then the third point to get to Ambassador Roy’s managing the relationship with Taiwan, so the three communiqués are predicated upon a relationship. They’re founded upon a geopolitical power relationship that exists between China and the United States at that era. That’s changing dramatically now. Over the course of normalization…since normalization with China, our security relationship with China…with Taiwan has been robust. Since 1979, $30 billion of arms sales from the United States to Taiwan. So that relationship’s been important. It’s grounded in the Taiwan relations act. It should not be abandoned. But to be clear about this, Taiwan currently, is spending about 2% of its GDP on defense. That equals about $11.5 billion.
President Tsai has said she is going to increase that by 50%. They’re going to get up to $15 billion. Good luck in trying to achieve that domestically, politically. But let’s say, she gets it up to $15 billion a year, PRC military spending is at $150 billion a year is probably understated and it’s continuing to go up. So the security relationship we maintain with Taiwan should be maintained. Arms sales will have to be a component of that, but we have to be clear that the imbalance that now and forever will exist between the mainland and Taiwan, it’s significant, and Taiwan arms sales are not going to deter the PRC if it feels compelled to use force against Taiwan.
The restraint on the PRC’s part about using force on Taiwan, it makes absolutely no sense to do so, because they still need stability in the world to keep their economy moving forward to meet their own domestic political expectations, and a disruption across the Taiwan Strait would be disastrous. And then the idea about longer-term, how would you really then integrate the Chinese state after a conflict over the Taiwan Strait, or across the Taiwan Strait.
John Pomfret: Those were two such excellent presentations that I think if I added anything, I’d be wasting oxygen, so.
Clayton Dube: Now, we have such an extraordinary panel. John Pomfret has just written this magnificent history, Ambassador Eikenberry has military service and the diplomatic experience, Ambassador Roy, when he mentioned missiles and Lee Teng-hui’s visit to New York, he was on the ground in Beijing, the second of his ambassadorships after Singapore and before Indonesia. We now have just a few minutes for your questions. And what I’d like to do is to maybe get two or three questions for the panel.
Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you Clay. Thank you to our panel. Just as a brief reminder, “The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom” is available for purchase in the bookstore and John Pomfret has been nice enough to sign books if you purchase them. So our first question is from a student at…a political science student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
David (audience member): Thank you so much for being here today ambassadors and Mr. Pomfret. My name is David. I go to UCSB, political science major. And so my question to you, all three of you today would be, we talked a lot about the One China policy and Nixon’s courage in putting that in place, and how President Trump kind of toyed with it and thought about maybe getting rid of it but decided to keep it. So, my question to all three of you would be, under what set of circumstances would it ever be acceptable or wise for the United States to abandon its One China policy?
Clayton Dube: It’s 45 years old, why throw it out? Let’s get a couple of more questions for the panel.
Bill (audience member): Hi, Bill Walkman, [inaudible 01:11:23] work center. Hi, Clay. A question for the panel, if we’re looking at a 2017 communiqué between President Trump and President Xi, what would be the key elements? And then, secondly, what advice would you give to each president with regards to dealing with this strong personality of their counterpart?
Clayton Dube: And perhaps one more question, up here in the front.
Man (audience member): Another question about how the President Trump’s domestic policy affect the U.S.-China relation in the future?
Clayton Dube: That’s a good question. We have touched on the fact that domestic politics often drives what’s done externally. So our three questions, one is, what would be the circumstances in which we would drop the One China policy, what would a 2017 communiqué look like, and how the leaders should deal with each other. And then this question about President Trump’s domestic agenda and what that might mean for U.S.-China relations. Feel free to address one or all of the questions. Any of you. Ambassador Eikenberry?
Karl Eikenberry: Let me take one very briefly. So if I were giving advice to President Trump and President Xi, maybe two pieces of advice, one would be to watch carefully the nationalist rhetoric on both sides. We see in China, very inflamed at times, anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric. The argument on the Chinese side, that’s just Free Press. I don’t subscribe to that view because there’s other aspects of what you would think would be Free Press that would appear, maybe complaints about the Communist Party and that doesn’t appear. So I don’t buy the Free Press argument. Having said that, the strong nationalist rhetoric and the strong nationalist feelings are out there on the street. I think it’s exacerbated by schooling and textbooks, but the fact is that there is a sense in the Chinese people that America has become the nation of complainers and we’re trying to deny China’s place in the sun right now.
I think, on the same hand, I would give President Trump that kind of advice about, be careful of demonizing China. It’s true if we had, had a President Clinton, we’d still be looking at trade issues right now, but to have the rhetoric that all of our problems in the United States, our lack in competitiveness, is due to unfair trade with China is nonsense. We gotta hold the mirror to our face and look at our own problems and deal with these. So that’d be number one, cool the rhetoric. And number two is the simple advice, get to know each other, and sit down behind closed doors without endless number of staff around and take stock of the other side, try to gain confidence from what their interests are, what their hopes are, and what their fears are. Now, more difficult as we approach what could be the first summit in that, frankly, I don’t think, because as I mentioned before, President Trump does not yet have a team. I’m not confident he deeply understands the issues. So I would worry about a session between President Xi and President Trump right now where they’re trying to make deals. I think there’s an asymmetry right now of the knowledge that would work against the United States side.
John Pomfret: Yeah. I completely agree with Karl that I’m definitely for the two sides getting to know each other at the highest levels but I think only when the United States has figured out its China policy, can we actually have a constructive meeting with the Chinese. We can have this type of get to know you meeting with, for example, Prime Minister Abé from Japan because we are allies but we’re not yet allies. We’re no longer, in a way, allies with the Chinese. We’re not enemies either but we’re in this bizarre gray zone, and if you go to a meeting potentially unprepared, it could actually do more harm than good to the relationship. And that’s what I worry about in this upcoming alleged summit.
Clayton Dube: Hopefully they’ll watch video of this session as part of the preparation. Ambassador Roy?
Stapleton Roy: The U.S. position on the Taiwan question has always been that we supported peaceful resolution, which means, in a sense, the resolution has to be acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait. We do not say we oppose independence. We do not say we oppose unification. Why? Because that would be imposing an American view on what the outcome should be. So what we say is we don’t support independence and we don’t support unification, because it’s up to the Chinese to decide which it should be. To answer the question of when the One China policy is no longer relevant, the answer is, when the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have decided that the One China policy is no longer relevant, then the United States doesn’t need to have a One China policy.
But if we try to do it before that, we’re imposing a U.S. view on the outcome of the relationship across the strait, and that’s an outcome that should be determined by the Chinese themselves. Point number two, if we were to have a fourth communiqué, what should the content be? Well, there is a debate about a fourth communiqué right now, and there’s no consensus on either side, A, that one is necessary, and B, what it should deal with. But I’m not constrained by such constraints. If we were to have a fourth communiqué, the answer is, it should deal with the issue of the Thucydides Trap. Now, what’s the Thucydides Trap? History shows that when a rising country, expanding power, deals with the established superpower, most of the time that produces conflict.
Look at Japan’s rise, look at Germany’s rise, look at the rise of France, the Napoleonic wars that took place etc., etc. And both sides have been struggling with the question of establishing a new type of great power relationship which is the terminology that President Xi Jinping has used, and what that new type of great power relationship is supposed to be is one in which we don’t fall into the Thucydides Trap. China is the rising power, we’re the established power. Can we manage that relationship so that we don’t get into conflict with each other? And the Chinese position, which I think is sensible, is, the strategy of both sides should be identical, which is that we don’t want to get into conflict with each other because the consequences for both countries would be unacceptable.
Are we afraid to say that? Well, actually, the Obama administration endorsed the concept of a new type of great power relationship, Japan hated it. Japan thought that this meant the United States and Chinese will establish a condominium to rule the world and East Asia, and they didn’t like. And so, they persuaded the administration to back away from referring to a new type of great power relationship which had been endorsed both by Obama and by Secretary Clinton. The problem was that in backing away from that language, the Americans didn’t substitute anything for it. Well, Secretary of State, Tillerson, just visited Beijing, and while he was there he talked about, we need a relationship with China, no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. It doesn’t sound bad, does it? Except that’s Chinese language.
That’s what President Xi has said the new type of great power relationship should be. And so, President…Secretary Tillerson was criticized soundly in many publications for using Chinese language, even though the Chinese language is something that we ought to agree is desirable in the U.S.-China relationship. The problem with those who are critical of using that type of language is, they don’t substitute anything for it. They’re essentially saying they don’t wanna talk about having a relationship with China that doesn’t result in ultimate conflict between the two sides. So in my view, the desirability of a joint communiqué would be to deal with that problem. We don’t have to use Chinese language. We can use American language to express the same concept, but the concept needs to be expressed. Because if the United States and China are not willing, each, for their own reasons, to agree that we have a strategy that is designed to keep us out of conflict with the other, then we are going to be heading in a disastrous direction, because China is really becoming a incipient major superpower. And we don’t want to get into a conflict with a superpower.
So if you were to have a new joint communiqué, if it doesn’t deal with that problem, it’s avoiding the central problem of our relationship with China which is, whether or not war is inevitable. And nothing in President Nixon demonstrates how you can actually control the direction of history instead of being a victim of the direction of history. And I would hope that President Trump and his successors will be up to that task.
Domestic policy, how do they affect it? Every leader is viewed by the international community in terms of how successful that leader is in managing domestic affairs, and whether people res… Let’s look at the CEO of a big company. If the company is doing well, then that CEO has a lot of stature in the business community. If the company is heading for bankruptcy, you don’t have a lot of respect in the business community. Well, national leaders are no different. If President Trump has a record of failing on everything he touches, that will lower his prestige in the international community and make it more difficult for the United States to exercise soft power in the world. But if he is successful in managing domestic affairs, then his prestige will increase, and anybody who knows anything about prestige knows it’s helpful to have that on your side in dealing with others. And that has normally been the case for the United States, and at the moment, it’s unclear whether our domestic circumstances are going to enhance our ability to exercise leadership in the world.
So I think it’s a very important question and the answer is very important in terms of the stature of the United States as a world leader, and as a world leader in the period ahead.
Clayton Dube: Well, two of our panelists have just said that the United States needs to get its own house in order. All three panelists have suggested that the Trump administration needs to bring together a China team and to figure out what it wants. And we’ve heard suggestions for what a new communiqué might look like. I’ve learned a lot, have you?
Clayton Dube: Ladies and gentlemen, please thank our distinguished panel.