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Foreign Policy

Principles of Joint Communiqué Guide China-US Relations

Mar 02 , 2017
  • Tao Wenzhao

    Researcher, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the China-US Joint Communique (Shanghai Communique) that laid down the foundation for normalization of relations between the two countries. Forty-five years ago, Chinese and American leaders showed great strategic foresight with President Nixon’s ice-breaking visit to China. The historic Shanghai Communique opened a process towards normalization of relations. The rich interactions between these two countries in the over four decades since then have confirmed the validity of those basic principles on the basis of which ice had been broken and diplomatic ties had been established. Meanwhile, the principles have also been further developed, enriched and distilled in the course of the very rich and colorful exchanges between China and the US.

Safeguarding world peace and handling the state-to-state relationship according to the principle of peaceful coexistence was stressed in the Joint Communique. China and the US moved towards reconciliation only after going to war on the Korean Peninsula and through 20 years of confrontation and isolation. Conflict or confrontation between them is a blessing for neither country, leading to regional tension detrimental to world peace. In the past decades, a basically stable China-US relationship has contributed to world peace. By pursuing a path of peaceful development, China has greatly expanded its strength and its influence in international affairs, becoming a firm guardian of world peace. The ‘no conflict, no confrontation’ principle advocated by China is based on historical experiences of China-US relations and will remain the bottom line of bilateral relations.

Mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs is another principle reiterated in the Joint Communique. The document did not deny the fact that the two countries had major differences in social system and foreign policy. Without mutual respect, it would be impossible for the two countries to come together. In this relationship, the US is a superpower while China is a developing country, and their strength gap is wide. For quite some time after the end of the Cold War in particular, as the US became the sole superpower, it did not always respect China and at time acted in interference in internal Chinese affairs. Bumps in bilateral relations were often caused by American behavior that had harmed Chinese interests. China has tried its best to take care of the overall interest of bilateral relations while protecting its own interests by combining principle with flexibility. The mutual respect principle was reconfirmed in the 2009 Joint Statement and during many leaders’ meetings. Light of reason still shines in this principle.

The Shanghai Communique stressed equality and mutual benefits, and vowed to facilitate people-to-people exchanges and bilateral trade. After 20 years of mutual isolation, the two countries had very few contacts and very little trade. Since establishment of diplomatic ties, however, exchanges have advanced irresistibly. Since the beginning of this century in particular, cooperation at bilateral, regional and international levels has become increasingly extensive and profound. Both sides have benefited from their cooperation and the relationship has indeed been cooperative and win-win. China-US cooperation has also played a material role in steering global governance towards a multi-polar world, such as the cooperation in the G20 to advance global economic growth and cooperation in climate change.

The communique made it clear that the Taiwan question had been critical to prevent them from normalizing relations. The American side was fully aware that it would be impossible to reach reconciliation with China without changing its policy on this question. When secretly visiting Beijing for the first time in July 1971, Henry Kissinger confided that the US would not support Taiwan independence, two Chinas or one China, one Taiwan. When in Beijing, Nixon made further commitment on this question by recognizing that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The most critical content in the Shanghai Communique was the US elaboration of its one-China policy, which was repeated in the 1978 Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the 1982 August 17 Communique. It was further recognized in the latter two documents that the government of the People’s Republic of China was the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China. In this connection, it is fair to say that the one-China principle (or the one-China policy in the American expression) is the political foundation of China-US relations and that the Taiwan question is the most important and most sensitive question in China-US relations. Now the connotations of China-US relations are extremely rich. They jointly face many bilateral, regional and global issues and share vast common interests. But the one-China policy remains the political foundation of bilateral relations and it brooks no erosion, violation or negotiation. According to the understanding reached in China-US negotiations on establishment of diplomatic ties, the US would only maintain ‘unofficial’ ties with Taiwan in terms of economic, trade, cultural and personnel exchanges. There is no denying that the US policy towards Taiwan remains mixed as it continues selling arms to Taiwan and from time to time moves to break the restrictions with regard to ‘unofficial’ exchanges, which remains the biggest destabilizing factor in China-US relations.

China-US relations represent the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century, developed under the guidance of those principles enshrined in the Joint Communique. With the experience of the past 40 years and more and with China’s growth and prosperity today, we remain confident in the future of China-US relations.

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