"Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it." The old saw about the weather might well be applied to America's China policy. After the dramatic events of 1971-73 which initiated the long overdue process of "normalization" of relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, the past three years have witnessed a lull in the relationship. At the start of President Richard Nixon's second term, the establishment of formal diplomatic relations was expected before the 1976 presidential election. The Sino-American joint communiqué of February 22, 1973, authorizing the parties to open liaison offices in each other's capital, and the termination of American military operations in Vietnam in early 1973 seemed to clear the path for a serious effort at normalization.

What actually happened thereafter, of course, was rather different. First Watergate, then the collapse of our anti-communist allies in Indochina, and now our presidential election have prevented the Administration from moving forward to complete normalization in accordance with the Shanghai Communiqué of February 1972. Sino-American contacts have cooled and may deteriorate unless carefully nurtured.

What will happen after the November election? The media have been filled with analysis, prediction and speculation. Certain politicians and pundits claim the Ford Administration intends to complete the normalization process immediately after the election, whether it wins or loses. Other rumors suggest that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger may do the deed during a pre-election visit to Peking in a daring effort to capture the voters' imagination. New Chinese Premier Hua Kuo-feng has said that he does not expect progress on normalization prior to the election, but increasing Chinese pressure for post-election normalization has been felt in recent months. There have even been hints that if the United States does not act soon in fulfilling the terms of the Shanghai Communiqué, Peking cannot rule out the possibility of improving its relations with the Soviet Union.

Administration spokesmen reaffirm President Gerald Ford's commitment to complete the normalization process but deny that the United States has any timetable or formula for doing so. The Democratic nominee for the presidency, Governor Jimmy Carter, has announced a similar position, and the Democratic Platform calls only for "early movement toward normalizing diplomatic relations in the context of a peaceful resolution of the future of Taiwan."

High Foreign Ministry officials in Peking have told American journalists that improvement in Sino-American relations is unlikely until the United States severs all formal ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan. But public opinion polls show that while most Americans favor establishment of full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic, they oppose doing so at the price of eliminating U.S. diplomatic relations with the Nationalists on Taiwan. Secretary Kissinger has also been reported as believing that, if Washington yields to Chinese Communist demands that it sever formal diplomatic and defense ties to Taiwan, this would actually harm U.S. relations with the People's Republic because Peking would lose confidence in American resolve to live up to U.S. commitments elsewhere in the world. Seeking to square the circle, the Republican Platform calls for retention of these formal ties with the Nationalists while achieving normalization with the Communists. In the meantime, anxiety on the island grows as the election approaches, and rumors circulate that Taipei is making preparations for resurrecting its long defunct relationship with Moscow.


Ferment over China policy has not been limited to the question of normalization. That problem, of course, must be viewed in terms of the overall relationship with the People's Republic. This bilateral relationship, in turn, cannot be separated from U.S. global concerns, especially how to meet the expanding worldwide power of the U.S.S.R. in ways that will reduce the risks of conflict and enhance international cooperation on a host of urgent matters.

The essential question for American policymakers is this: What general posture should the United States assume toward the militarily mighty Soviet Union and the militarily modest People's Republic of China? Is it wise to pursue an "evenhanded" policy that seeks to improve relations with each while not siding with one against the other? Or do the realities of world politics suggest that the United States should "lean to one side"—that of Peking? Even if concern for fostering détente with the U.S.S.R. requires maintaining the principle of balanced treatment in theory, should the United States depart from it in practice in order to shore up China's defenses against the much stronger and more threatening U.S.S.R. and thereby reduce the likelihood of either armed conflict or rapprochement between Moscow and Peking? If so, how, and to what extent, should such a de facto tilt be carried out?

Although these questions have thus far not received the same degree of public attention as those pertaining to normalization, events have brought them increasingly into view. Because the record of the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger conversations in Peking is so closely held, we do not know whether either the United States or China has officially broached suggestions for forging a tacit entente cordiale among China, the United States and Japan that could block the spread of Soviet influence in Asia. However, such suggestions would follow logically from the Asian policies gradually unveiled by these powers since the start of the 1970s. Moreover, there has been increasing discussion in the press of ideas ranging from the grandiose, such as the formation of a Washington-Peking-Tokyo anti-Soviet Pacific triumvirate, to the concrete, such as sharing of intelligence from satellite cameras, electronic monitors and antisubmarine patrols.

While both the Chinese and the next Administration in Washington may be hesitant openly to discuss the possibilities of Sino-American cooperation on military matters, these issues—raising fundamental policy questions—have been before us for some time and cannot be avoided. The most obvious and sensitive of these concerns is whether the United States should permit trade that facilitates China's military modernization. Since ending the embargo against all economic relations with China, the United States has sought to achieve a balance in its treatment of Moscow and Peking, refusing to allow private American companies to sell military equipment or strategic technology to either. Yet America's allies have not done the same.

In 1975-76, Britain's sale of Rolls Royce engines and technology for use in Chinese jet fighters, West Germany's sale to Peking of helicopters for "refueling offshore oil platforms," France's sale of "civilian model" helicopters and radar plus aircraft and missile tracking equipment, and Japan's reported negotiations to sell China patrol aircraft, illustrate the involvement of major U.S. allies. These developments indicate that, although the current policy of COCOM, the international committee that coordinates control of strategic exports to the communist countries, purportedly continues to embargo all strategic exports to China, the United States has begun to acquiesce in such sales by its allies, sometimes without even requiring COCOM approval.1

If the United States has begun to permit allied sales of selected actual and potential military equipment—items that often include American components and technology—will American firms themselves make military sales to the People's Republic? In the year that has elapsed since Michael Pillsbury stimulated public discussion of this sensitive question,2 many occurrences have fueled speculation that this may soon take place. For instance, one former Secretary of Defense, Thomas Gates, was appointed chief of the U.S. liaison office in Peking. Another former Secretary, James Schlesinger, was invited to visit China, as were a number of Congressmen whose responsibilities embrace military affairs. And politicians, including Commerce Secretary Elliot Richardson, Senators Mike Mansfield and Robert Taft, Jr., and Governor Ronald Reagan have shown varying degrees of interest in American arms sales to mainland China. Moreover, James Schlesinger and Henry Kissinger have both confirmed that military assistance to China has actually been considered, although only in the context of the contingency of increased Sino-Soviet tension.

Soviet propaganda organs, having long anticipated Sino-American military "collusion" aimed at the U.S.S.R., warned that military aid to China would create a Frankenstein monster endangering peace and threatening Japan and other American allies. Nationalist Chinese Premier Chiang Ching-kuo expressed similar fears that American military aid to Peking would heat up the international arms race and be tantamount to "feeding the tiger so it could later devour the feeders." Chiang also said that "military aid to the Chinese Communist regime which opposes democracy, freedom and humanity would be diametrically opposed to the American national spirit of love for freedom and adherence to democracy."

This raises two additional issues. First, would it be sound for the United States to supply China with military equipment for credit rather than cash or even on a grant basis? This would indeed constitute "military aid." Second, such aid would present the same troublesome questions as have been raised by U.S. military assistance to other regimes that suppress fundamental freedoms, including such Asian nations as South Korea, the Philippines and—of all places—Taiwan itself.

Actually, according to Ford Administration officials, Peking has thus far shown little interest in acquiring finished weapons from the United States. The direct import of American weapons might seriously raise the temperature of the Sino-Soviet conflict. Moreover, other foreign-made weapons are often better and cheaper. And, until its succession crisis is resolved, the degree to which the People's Republic should welcome foreign cooperation of any sort in the badly needed modernization of its forces will remain a divisive political issue. Nevertheless, Forbes magazine, quoting a high-ranking but unidentified U.S. intelligence officer, recently reported that the Chinese have tried to buy American helicopters and have expressed interest in antisubmarine warfare equipment and advanced antitank weapons. And earlier this year, in response to inquiries by visiting Congressmen, Chinese leaders stated that "trade relations include items of a military nature."

What Peking is most interested in acquiring—from the United States as well as from others—is sophisticated technology and machinery capable of either civilian or military application, rather than weapons per se. The extent of China's demand will depend upon the outcome of the internal struggle, the military and economic development strategies of the new leadership, the availability of foreign exchange, and other factors. Although "a top Administration official" has cautioned that "China has its own limits in exposing its need for and increasing its dependence on Western technology," the United States is very likely to have to decide upon many requests for items such as seismic computers, military-related chemicals, communications equipment, electro-optic sensors, and nuclear reactors, that lie in the "gray area" between strictly military and strictly civilian technologies. This will be especially the case if the United States manages to normalize relations and thus becomes more than a residual supplier of China's needs.

In the first flush of euphoria of 1971-73, the Nixon Administration took a rather relaxed stance regarding the export of potentially sensitive technology and equipment, as seen in the sale of earth satellite ground receivers and the inertial navigation systems of Boeing 707 airplanes. But the Ford Administration appears to be tighter fisted. Its officials concede that the "essentially evenhanded" policy for trade with Peking and Moscow tends to preserve Moscow's vast strategic superiority. Moreover, in practice the U.S.S.R. has bought American computers that have been denied China.

Because of the U.S.S.R.'s military and industrial superiority over China, the problems of hewing to an evenhanded policy are complex. For example, what if Peking seeks to buy certain "passive" equipment, such as radar systems, which Moscow already has and is not interested in purchasing? Evenhanded policy could either dictate a refusal to sell to either side, thereby harming Peking, or conversely a decision to sell to both, thereby helping Peking. On the other hand, what if the United States should sell both Moscow and Peking a strategic item, such as an advanced computer? Would such a decision actually favor the U.S.S.R. by precluding China from closing the technology gap, or would it constitute a relative gain for Peking? Moreover, the present evenhanded policy, as "a high State Department official" has conceded, might not be as balanced as is professed, if only because current U.S. export control rules do not permit the sale of items, such as computers, which would give the receiving country a sizable advance over its present technological level, and this plainly favors the Soviet Union.

Indeed, even a version of evenhandedness that eliminates current inequities vis-à-vis China may be insufficient. In certain circumstances the United States might surely see the desirability of denying some items to the Soviet Union while selling them to China in order to reduce China's strategic inferiority. Thus reintroduction into U.S. strategic trade of a "China differential"—this time favoring the People's Republic instead of discriminating against it—may make sense. Plainly, with respect to strategic trade as well as normalization, the next Administration faces some difficult decision-making.


Strengthening China's military potential would obviously contribute to the balancing of Soviet power. The problem is how to do so in ways that will not increase tensions with the U.S.S.R., that will not place the United States in the unattractive posture of intimately supporting yet another repressive regime, and that will not increase China's capacity to threaten America or her friends in the uncertain future.

At this stage of U.S. relations with Moscow and Peking it would seem unwise totally to abandon the principle of evenhandedness. Surely there should be no question of a consistent de facto alignment or "quasi-alliance" with China. Institutionalized military cooperation such as systematic sharing of intelligence with China (which would, in any case, be hard to keep secret) would seriously upset the Soviet Union and further stimulate the trend toward a return to the cold war. The United States must make it clear to Peking that it will not sacrifice détente with the U.S.S.R. Our survival and that of much of the world depend upon making more, not less, progress in relaxing tensions between the two superpowers. Nevertheless, the United States need not refrain from less inflammatory actions such as the posting of military attaches at the respective liaison offices (or future embassies), exchanges of visits between groups of defense experts including high officials, and installation of a Sino-American "hot line" similar to that established between Washington and Moscow.

Nor need we be insensitive to Chinese desires for plainly defensive military equipment and related high-level technology. Fortunately, as I have noted, even when U.S. military equipment is competitive in price and quality with that of our allies, China may not wish to purchase it, in order to avoid arousing Soviet concern as well as depending unnecessarily on the United States, especially prior to normalization. Thus the current situation, in which America has begun to acquiesce in Chinese purchase of selected military items from our allies, may constitute a convenient, durable and mutually preferable resolution of the problem. The United States should remain free, of course, to hold up allied sales that raise long-run security concerns for itself or for China's neighbors, and so formal COCOM approval should be required for all future sales. Moreover, another aspect of COCOM should be changed, namely the secrecy of its operations, which only precludes legislators, businessmen, and ordinary citizens from scrutinizing allied export controls over technology transfers to communist countries.

The United States should also reserve the option to make direct sales of defensive military items to China if Soviet-American relations or Sino-Soviet relations deteriorate. Initially the United States could do so simply by interpreting the policy of evenhandedness more loosely. For example, as Michael Pillsbury suggests, the United States might offer both China and the U.S.S.R. defensive equipment that the former—but not the latter—badly needs, such as components for over-the-horizon radar and advanced satellite reconnaissance systems. Even without permanently changing the policy of evenhandedness, ad hoc sales to Peking of defensive items not made available to Moscow can serve as useful signals of American displeasure toward the Soviet Union, while meeting intrinsic Chinese needs. But only a major deterioration of Soviet-American relations or the renewal of Sino-Soviet hostilities would warrant reconsideration of the policy itself.

With respect to the sale of sophisticated technology that is capable of being used for both civilian and military purposes, the United States should adhere to the existing practice of examining each request on a case-by-case basis within the guidelines of an evenhanded policy. But creative use should be made of the ambiguities associated with "gray area" technology, which offer considerable opportunity for a non-mechanical application of this policy by the United States and by other COCOM members. The United States should take a generous view of requests to sell China technology which the Soviet Union will not want to purchase, for this will not require departure from the principle of balanced treatment and will reduce China's strategic and technological inferiority. Export controls should surely be administered in ways that will avoid discrimination against China. If anything, in coping with China's reluctance to give details about the end use of purchased technologies and to permit inspections of actual use, the United States should demonstrate more of the flexibility and ingenuity that marked some of the early transactions with Peking, taking due account of China's historically derived sensitivity to foreign interference and her comparatively limited experience in dealing with the United States.

Above all, the United States should rescind those export control rules that permit sales of technologies to the U.S.S.R. but deny them to China on the ground that, given China's lack of technological sophistication in the area, they would add relatively more to China's military potential than to the U.S.S.R.'s. Rather, the United States should approve such exports to China as a means of reducing the technological gap and concomitant risk of a Soviet attack on China. Otherwise the United States will make the strong stronger in a relative as well as absolute sense, which is precisely what it should not want to do if it hopes to balance Soviet power in Asia.

In the case of technology transfers, as in the case of pure military sales, the United States should hold open the option of departing from the principle of evenhandedness on an ad hoc or generalized basis should great power triangular relations make this desirable. In all cases it needs to bear in mind, however, not only Soviet sensitivities but also those of its Asian friends, who are fully aware that China's military potential can still be used against them. Many Asian statesmen, including Japanese, recall the American blunder of selling scrap iron to an expansionist Japan before World War II.

The question of providing "military aid," in the sense of government credits or grants to facilitate Chinese acquisition of weapons and strategic goods, calls for a negative answer at this time. China is unlikely to ask for it, and the Soviet Union would surely be disturbed by such a quasi-alliance. Moreover, because of widespread public and congressional criticism of U.S. military assistance to repressive regimes and the consequent legislation seeking to restrict it, military aid to China would prove an embarrassment to Sino-American relations except in extreme circumstances. However, should Peking seek nongovernmental financing of those military purchases it is permitted to make, it would presumably be free to obtain this on the same basis as for its ordinary trade.

Obviously the United States must be prepared to review the military aid question should renewal of Sino-Soviet hostilities stimulate a Chinese request. Similarly, a serious deterioration of Soviet relations with the West, resulting from such actions as another Angola-type adventure or Soviet aggression against Yugoslavia, might well overcome the arguments against U.S. military aid to China. In fact, if the U.S.S.R. is made aware that in such circumstances the United States might undertake military aid to China, those circumstances may never materialize. Moscow has been trying hard to foreclose this American option by emphasizing its fear of U.S. military aid to China. The United States should make clear that it will regard the option as a live one whenever things go from bad to worse.

By moving cautiously to facilitate China's military modernization under this suggested policy, the United States will reduce the risk of a Soviet attack upon China not only by contributing to the improvement of China's defenses but also by confirming a clear interest in Chinese security and her role in the balance of power. Although the United States must not meddle in China's internal affairs, it can, by these modest steps, attract favorable interest from China's military leaders and bring them into the Sino-American relationship, just as normalization will extend American contacts with other Chinese bureaucracies. Given the uncertainties of the struggle for power among various factions in Peking, this may be a factor of some significance in developing favorable relations with China after the passing of Chairman Mao and his generation. Yet, by remaining within the bounds of an evenhanded approach as long as relations with the U.S.S.R. do not deteriorate further, this policy minimizes the risk that U.S. help to China will unduly disturb Moscow, and, by limiting that help to defensive or passive equipment and technology, it should create no serious threat either to the United States and its friends, or to the Soviet Union.


Whether one advocates an evenhanded approach to the Sino-Soviet rivalry or explicit leaning to Peking's side, it is important to complete the process of normalization by establishing formal diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level. This is, after all, the way that nations—including the United States and the Soviet Union—ordinarily transact their business. The policy of completing the now lengthy process of normalization does not rest upon any preference for the Communist regime over the Nationalists. The United States should maintain formal diplomatic relations with whatever regime commands the obedience of the approximately 950 million people on the China mainland.

Nothing that has happened during the past five years has invalidated the reasoning that originally led the United States to seek normalization. In fact, China's economic achievements, nuclear capability and political influence have all increased significantly since ping-pong diplomacy captured the world's imagination. Administration spokesmen are correct in reminding us that there can be no stable equilibrium in Asia, and ultimately in the world, without China's constructive participation, and that normalization is a crucial element in preserving this equilibrium. Existing Sino-American contacts have already lessened the danger of conflict in Asia, where Americans have fought three wars since 1941, and the enhanced range of communication following normalization will further reduce the risks of misperception and miscalculation. Both functionally and symbolically, normalization will solidify Sino-American efforts to balance expanding Soviet power at a time when many countries are skeptical about America's capacity and will to do so. It will also improve prospects for cooperative, parallel, or at least compatible actions on many global and regional issues, even while each side competes with and seeks to discredit the other on certain issues. During the decades ahead the United States will need Chinese cooperation in arms control, in trying to remove the sources of conflict in Korea, in stabilizing relations in Southeast and South Asia, in settling Asian territorial disputes, in coping with the energy crisis and the struggle to allocate scarce resources, and in a host of other matters.

Thus it is time to place Sino-American relations on the same formal plane as Soviet-American relations and China's relations with all other important powers. The United States should realize that normalization will put pressure upon Moscow to behave more cautiously, if not more cooperatively, toward the United States. By reassuring China's leaders that the United States can serve as a counterweight to the U.S.S.R., it is also likely to reduce the chances and the extent of a possible Sino-Soviet reconciliation, which would have profoundly adverse implications for the position of the United States and its friends in world politics. Failure to vindicate the Shanghai Communiqué's promise of normalization would intensify foreign policy debate in Peking and would be exploited by those who advocate a harder line toward the United States and movement toward the Soviet Union. Indeed, this may already be happening: while the issues in the recent political upheavals in Peking are unclear to outside observers, foreign policy disputes seem to be involved, and, since the ouster of Teng Hsiao-ping in April, certain Chinese leaders have shown less flexibility when discussing relations between the United States and China.

Normalization will also stimulate progress in more concrete aspects of U.S. relations with Peking. It will improve bilateral trade, which has dropped sharply as relations have cooled, by making the United States more than China's residual supplier. In addition, it will pave the way for the usual infrastructure of agreements that facilitate economic contacts between nations. It should produce the long-awaited settlement of property claims that the two countries have against each other. It will also eliminate a major obstacle to airline and shipping agreements and to a trade agreement that will confer most-favored-nation treatment on Chinese exports to the United States, provide for the registration of trademarks, open up official U.S. credit sources, establish institutions for the resolution of commercial disputes, and allow other steps to develop trade beyond the present modest level.

Normalization will also improve cultural exchange and travel opportunities to a certain extent, although, given Peking's closed political system, meaningful people-to-people contacts will undoubtedly remain quite limited. At a minimum, American officials and journalists should enjoy somewhat greater access to Chinese life after normalization.

To be sure, normalization in and of itself cannot guarantee success in efforts to cooperate with Peking. But it will remove a barrier and enhance prospects for developing smoother contacts, finally putting an end to the long, unhappy era in which the United States refused to acknowledge Peking's legitimacy and sustained the claims of its rival, despite Peking's control of the overwhelming bulk of China's population and territory.

If nothing else, normalization will restore a sense of momentum to Sino-American reconciliation. International politics is a dynamic process. Nothing stands still for long. If the next Administration does not go forward with Sino-American détente, relations may deteriorate and a new, more dangerous situation may develop, giving the U.S.S.R. greater freedom of action on the world scene and introducing new elements of instability on China's periphery. We should not underestimate the risks of inaction. Rather, we should think of what the world will look like ten years hence if a China possessing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of destroying America's cities either renews her Soviet alliance or is hostile to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Dean Rusk's specter of a billion Chinese armed with nuclear weapons would then haunt us all.

Thus, the benefits of normalization are likely to be significant, especially in the long run. Will the costs be reasonable? We will never know unless the United States explores Peking's price in a sustained, serious effort. Essentially there are three obstacles to normalization.

First, both Peking and Taipei insist that there is only one state of China and that only one government can represent that state. Each claims to be that government, and neither can tolerate the prospect of other countries simultaneously maintaining formal relations with both it and its rival. Peking has been successful in persuading the overwhelming majority of the world's nation-states to accept its legitimacy and to break with Taipei. No country has succeeded in both normalizing relations with the People's Republic and long maintaining an embassy in Taipei. The People's Republic is not prepared to make an exception for the only major holdout—the United States—even if Taiwan is.

A "two China" solution along the lines of the "two Germanies" model would be splendid from an American viewpoint, and in 1961 or even 1970 this proposal might have had a certain plausibility. But today it is plainly too little and too late.

Peking went as far as it could in being flexible on this point by agreeing to establish a liaison office in Washington and to permit the United States to establish one in Peking, even though the United States failed to withdraw recognition from the Nationalist government. The liaison offices have played a useful role in fostering contacts between the two governments, in promoting trade and in facilitating travel and cultural exchanges. Yet their role has been restricted because of their limited status.

The second obstacle to normalization arises from the fact that U.S. withdrawal of recognition from the Nationalist government will automatically terminate the defense treaty concluded with it in 1954. That treaty has guaranteed the island against a Chinese Communist takeover that would finally end a civil war begun half a century ago. What worries the United States is the impact which termination of this treaty might have on the island, on other allies in Asia, on Moscow and Peking, and on the American people, should it fail to replace the treaty with some functional substitute that would maintain Taiwan's defense.

It should be pointed out, however, that few expect the People's Republic to attempt a violent conquest of Taiwan after termination of the defense treaty, even if the United States should fail to provide a substitute for the treaty. Peking's resort to force would shatter the network of relationships with the United States, Japan and other Asian countries that it has labored so assiduously to construct, weaken China's defenses on the northern borders, and run the risk of triggering radical action by Taiwan, such as a decision to declare itself an independent state, seek ties with the Soviet Union, or "go nuclear." This may well be why Peking has not yet developed the amphibious and air capability required to launch such an attack. Furthermore, Taiwan presents a formidable defense force, one that can be expected to make the military price of any Communist victory unacceptable to Peking. If Taipei, as is now expected, receives a massive infusion of American military equipment before withdrawal of recognition, and if it can continue to purchase such equipment thereafter, it should be able to defend itself as long as morale on the island remains stable.

Here lies the real challenge to American diplomacy—how to terminate the defense treaty without seriously damaging morale on Taiwan and turning prosperity into panic. Psychological factors, after all, are the most crucial, as the collapse of South Vietnam demonstrated. A sudden American termination of the defense treaty, with no functional substitute guaranteeing Taiwan's security, might expose the island to demoralization, flight of capital and subversion.

Can the United States provide a substitute for the present defense treaty-one that is acceptable to Peking? Here we run into the third obstacle to normalization-the legal status of Taiwan, an issue on which there has been considerable ambiguity in the American position. At Shanghai in 1972 the United States stated that it "acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain . . . that Taiwan is part of China." It went on to state that "the United States government does not challenge that position." The meaning of this statement has been widely debated. Many observers believe that it represented a departure from the position the United States maintained from the outbreak of the Korean conflict in mid-1950—that the legal status of Taiwan is undetermined. It was not an explicit return to the position articulated by President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson in January 1950, which treated Taiwan as Chinese territory; yet the statement seemed to move the United States in that direction. Peking, of course, insists, as it has since 1949, that "Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland."3

If the United States legally confirms that Taiwan is Chinese territory and couples this with the establishment of diplomatic relations with Peking as the sole legitimate government of China, how will the United States be able to justify some form of continuing American security guaranty for Taiwan once the 1954 defense treaty lapses? For a quarter of a century Peking has refused to bind itself not to use force to settle China's own civil war. Will it now acquiesce in American words or deeds that continue U.S. interference in that civil war under a new label?


Thus we see that there are three interrelated difficulties, all concerning Taiwan, that must be dealt with if normalization is to be achieved. Nixon and Kissinger took us a long way but left the hardest problems for their successors. Can these problems be solved? I believe they can, if both Washington and Peking have the will to do so.

The 1972 "Japanese formula" for normalization, which both the People's Republic and Secretary Kissinger seem to accept as a basis for Sino-American negotiations, is actually insufficient to meet the rather different circumstances of the American case. Japan, after all, had no defense treaty with Taiwan and was able to rely on the continuing American guaranty of the island's security. Yet the Japanese case does indicate that Peking may be willing to compromise with Washington, as it has with Tokyo, to win formal recognition of its legitimacy.

Peking itself presumably does not want to risk a destabilization of Taiwan's situation that might produce another Bangladesh, either through a declaration of independence by the authorities on the island or a Taiwanese revolt. Neither does it want to act in ways that would lead Taipei to "go nuclear" in a desperate effort to survive. Nor does it wish to drive the Nationalist government into the arms of the Soviet Union in order to obtain a replacement for the American defense guaranty, or to stimulate additional doubts about U.S. willingness to maintain defense commitments to other countries.

This is a reminder that China's major preoccupation is its struggle against the U.S.S.R. Although eager for the long-awaited normalization with Washington, Peking wants to achieve it without prejudicing China's effort to forge a "united front" capable of resisting the expanding power of the Soviet Union. A strong American posture toward Moscow and a continuing American presence in Asia are crucial, at least for the time being, to Peking's anti-Soviet strategy.

Thus, despite the inflexible tenor of certain recent Chinese statements, the next Administration may find the People's Republic reasonable about negotiating the terms of normalization. Surely the United States should move forward in good faith to explore this possibility with the new leadership in Peking, as indeed it is committed to do under the Shanghai Communiqué. At the same time it must assure the authorities in Taiwan that the United States is not bent upon normalization at any price, that it will not cut the island adrift but will maintain security by a new type of guaranty, that it will cushion the island against the shock of diplomatic change, and that it will maintain economic, cultural, touristic and other contacts with Taiwan.

It is difficult to anticipate the precise terms of a settlement. Peking's stance will reflect the parameters of a debate we only dimly perceive. A number of formulas are possible. The most challenging problem, of course, will be to agree upon the substance and form of a substitute guaranty of Taiwan's security to be announced at the same time as the joint communiqué establishing full diplomatic relations. Some type of public assurance from Peking that would rule out the use of force against Taiwan, while not indispensable, would be desirable even though that alone will be insufficient to maintain confidence among the people on Taiwan, in neighboring countries, and in the United States. The prospects for obtaining such an assurance are not bright, and it can only be forthcoming if it does not contradict Peking's claim to sovereignty over Taiwan. Although this severely limits the options, the United States should nevertheless explore the possibilities of eliciting either a unilateral or bilateral assurance. The former, for example, might consist of a statement by the Premier or Foreign Minister that would reiterate Peking's claim to Taiwan and its right to use force to complete China's civil war, but would make clear that it sees no need to use force and has no intention of doing so. The latter might consist of a Sino-American agreement declaring the international waters and airspace between Taiwan and mainland China a bilateral zone of peace and binding the two sides not to resort to force in this international area, but without spelling out the implications of this move for Taiwan.

Whether or not any public assurance from Peking is forthcoming, the United States will want to make clear its continuing concern for Taiwan's security while, at the same time, neither clarifying the island's legal status nor raising any doubts about prospects for Taiwan's eventual reunification with the rest of China. If a bilateral agreement with the People's Republic cannot be reached, some specific form of unilateral American commitment will be necessary. One prominent possibility would be a statement expressing American determination to maintain security in the western Pacific and reaffirming, as in the Shanghai Communiqué, "interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue by the Chinese themselves." Anything less specific might be too little to maintain confidence on the island and among foreign investors and others whose continuing support will be necessary. Anything more specific might be too objectionable to allow Peking to look the other way as it did when, following Sino-Japanese normalization, Japan made certain unilateral statements preserving her legal position that the status of Taiwan remains undetermined.

Whether the new U.S. commitment will prove effective will depend not only on its substance but also on both its form and the actions taken to confer credibility upon the words selected. A solemn policy declaration by the President will be essential, explaining the reasons for and significance of the action and pointing out that, as in the case of Israel, the depth of the American commitment to the security of an area cannot always be judged by the presence or absence of a formal defense treaty. This presidential commitment might subsequently be bolstered by a congressional resolution authorizing in advance any action in defense of Taiwan that might, at the discretion of the President, prove necessary. Although normalization will probably be accompanied by the withdrawal of the remaining American military personnel from Taiwan, this need not preclude any necessary joint planning for the island's defense. Moreover, arrangements must be made both for continuing sale, under private auspices, of the American military equipment upon which Taiwan places virtually exclusive reliance and for expanding Taiwan's access to other suppliers.

Similarly, measures must be taken to continue the flourishing American trade with and investment in Taiwan. For example, Export-Import Bank credits and Overseas Private Investment Corporation guaranties must not be cut off, and institutions must be created to maintain the sale of nuclear fuel for peaceful uses under appropriate safeguards. Arrangements must also be made to preserve unimpeded airline, shipping and other communications, as well as touristic and cultural contacts. And questions of protecting property rights in the United States and Taiwan will have to be dealt with.

These arrangements with an unrecognized government will require complex legislative and administrative innovations, even more challenging to legal ingenuity than those which the United States has made to initiate much more limited contacts with the People's Republic. The extent of the challenge will depend in part upon the kind of political representation maintained by the United States and Taiwan. Peking's refusal to exchange ambassadors so long as Great Britain retained a consulate on Taiwan suggests that American consular representation on the island may be impossible; nor will Peking want a Taiwan consulate in Washington. Establishment of diplomatic liaison offices similar to those now used by the United States and the People's Republic would be an optimal arrangement for Washington and Taipei, but Secretary Kissinger seems to have given up hope for so official a representation. Here the Japanese formula is likely to be applied, providing for the exchange of supposedly unofficial trade offices which would actually be staffed by diplomats and other officials. This would offer the maximum challenge to the legal ingenuity and energy of bureaucrats and legislators but would present no insuperable difficulties to retaining contacts.

Plainly, close attention must be devoted to the sequence and timing of the elements of this compromise. Although the negotiations with Peking must be kept confidential, the Administration should take pains to discuss the broad outlines of the U.S. approach in advance with congressional leaders, Asian allies and even Taiwan, and to do its best to take account of their concerns. Whatever formula may eventually emerge from the negotiations should not be announced until the executive branch is prepared to promulgate the program of necessary adjustments in U.S. diplomatic and administrative arrangements, to propose to Congress the detailed legislative changes required, and, preferably, to make known the first fruits of normalization, such as a settlement of U.S.-Chinese property claims and a scheduled visit to Washington of China's leaders. Efficient cooperation with Congress, the authorities on Taiwan, and American business will then be essential in order to maintain public confidence in the island's future. The United States will also have to obtain Peking's advance understanding of, and tacit acquiescence in, the various steps planned so that no surprise or discordance mars the transition. The aim of the exercise, after all, is to improve Sino-American relations, and the United States must not allow implementation of the arrangement to produce mistrust, as has happened in the past.

The approach suggested here does not dispose of Taiwan's fate. It does not rule out any of a number of possible outcomes, such as reunification, autonomy or independence. It recognizes, as the late Premier Chou En-lai was fond of saying, that decades may be necessary to resolve Taiwan's status. And it reflects the American position, adopted in the Shanghai Communiqué, that the United States is prepared to accommodate to whatever outcome can be peacefully arrived at "by the Chinese themselves" on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This approach seeks a compromise-one that grants the People's Republic the legitimate treatment it has long deserved, but that does not lead to forcible integration of Taiwan with the mainland.

Of course, the new leadership in Peking may prove to be unwilling or unable to strike what the United States would regard as a reasonable compromise concerning Taiwan. If so, Washington will have no choice but to be patient and attempt to improve other aspects of its relationship with the People's Republic while awaiting a more flexible position on normalization. In these circumstances every effort should continue to be made to persuade Peking that it is in its interest as well to achieve normalization without destabilizing Taiwan and that this can be done without undermining Peking's long-standing principles.

Implementation of the policy suggested above is not likely to undermine Taiwan, discredit the United States, harm U.S. security or divide opinion at home, as some critics fear. Such a policy surely does not constitute an "abandonment of Taiwan" or "selling Taiwan into Communist subjugation." Nor can it be characterized as "a heedless rush to recognition," 27 years after the founding of the People's Republic. And if Peking does not accept the offer at this time, the Administration will at least have demonstrated good faith in trying to fulfill the expectations generated by the Shanghai Communiqué.

Whether Washington will be able to establish diplomatic relations with Peking and negotiate satisfactory arrangements concerning Taiwan will depend, of course, on a number of factors besides those relating to the island. The United States should continue to offer strong support to NATO, Japan and other nations that wish to avoid Soviet pressures, and demonstrate that it will not be naively taken in by Soviet stratagems in bilateral relations with the U.S.S.R. and that it will cooperate in strengthening China by a variety of direct and indirect means, including certain forms of strategic trade.

If the next Administration thus normalizes relations with Peking, accompanying this with a policy of flexible evenhandedness in strategic trade with China and the Soviet Union, it will have engaged in statesmanship of a high order and fostered the Sino-American reconciliation to which so many toasts have been offered.


1 The Consultative Group Coordinating Committee (COCOM) is an informal working group established at the end of 1949. Its members now include Japan and all NATO countries except Iceland.

3 For background on this question, see my article, "Recognizing China," Foreign Affairs, October 1971.

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  • Jerome Alan Cohen is Professor of Law, Director of East Asian Legal Studies, and Associate Dean of the Harvard Law School. He is the author of The Criminal Process in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1963 and co-author of People's China and International Law and China Today.
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