The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have reached a fork in the road to normalizing relations. The high-level discussions between Chinese and American officials initiated during Presidential Assistant Henry Kissinger’s July 1971 trip to Peking have been sustained now for six and a half years. Senior U.S. officials, including two Presidents, have made eleven visits to the Chinese capital. There have been less formal contacts at the United Nations, ongoing exchanges through the liaison offices in Washington and Peking, and visits to China and the United States by congressional and semi-official PRC groups promoted under the cultural exchange program. The most recent official discussions, conducted by Secretary of State Vance and Chinese officials in Peking in August 1977 and followed up in New York this past September, explored thinking in Washington and Peking on the basis of the Carter Administration’s reaffirmation of the China policy of the two previous Administrations: a commitment to normalize the U.S.-PRC relationship within the framework of the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, and to develop ties with China as a central element of American foreign policy.

The current period represents a major point of decision not because there is an artificially established deadline, but because the present discussions put to the test the Carter Administration’s commitment to the Shanghai Communiqué, and the willingness of the new Chinese leadership to show flexibility within the policy framework laid down by Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai. Failure to move forward is unlikely to result in an immediate crisis, for both Washington and Peking will see it in their respective interests to maintain the present quasi-normal relationship. Rather, the problem is that the domestic political momentum toward normalization has just about played itself out in both the United States and the PRC.

The present period in U.S.-PRC relations is significant not only for the long-term consequences of decisions to be made in Washington and Peking, but also because if the Chinese and American leaderships are to make further progress in their relations a transition will have to be made from the years of closely held official discussions to a time of public debate. A major consideration that must give pause to the Carter Administration is whether an officially negotiated normalization agreement will elicit sufficient popular support to sustain normal U.S.-PRC relations, or whether compromises reached at the official level will only generate domestic political feuding and loss of public support—even conceivably some form of congressional action that will undercut an agreement. And Americans are too little aware that Hua Kuo-feng and his colleagues face an almost equally difficult problem in sustaining support for the policy from Party and government leaders, and from the Chinese people as a whole.

The political choices associated with normalization are onerous and potentially divisive for both China and the United States. The compromises required to defuse the Taiwan issue touch highly emotional questions in both countries. At stake for the Chinese is a basic issue of sovereignty, and for the Americans the integrity of defense commitments and the welfare of a long-time ally. Part of the challenge facing each government is to justify to its people the risks and compromises necessary to reach an agreement in terms of global interests and gains to national security that are indirect and may not be evident for years to come.

For the United States, a normalization agreement will involve complex and uncertain arrangements for Taiwan. By contrast, Peking’s position is unambiguous: “Taiwan Province is China’s sacred territory. We are determined to liberate Taiwan. When and how is entirely China’s internal affair, which brooks no foreign interference whatsoever.” As the price for normalizing relations with the PRC, the United States is likely to have to make an irreversible political decision regarding its formal ties to the Republic of China on Taiwan. For the Chinese there will be problems of drawing on the immediate symbolic gains of recognition by the United States and acknowledgment of the unity of China to justify a long period of deferred efforts to “liberate” the island.

The advantages associated with such decisions will appear uncertain and thus difficult to rationalize in public debate. But if agreement under present circumstances is unattainable, it is unclear whether, or when, some future common threat (such as the one that resulted from the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia) will impart a new sense of urgency to the idea of normalization, or whether a renewed crisis in bilateral relations (as with the Taiwan Strait confrontation of 1958) will carry the United States and China back into a state of confrontation or even a military conflict.

The following pages explore the mood of the American public and Congress on China policy as revealed in public opinion surveys, editorial opinion and press commentary, and the Congressional Record. These sources provide the context within which normalization will be evaluated. Then, in order to build a more explicit sense of how the policy will be debated, I have set down a series of responses to the ten most common arguments put forward in opposition to normalization. This “dialogue” may establish some sense of how the remaining differences between Washington and Peking might be reconciled, and how the range of objections to normalization might be narrowed in our public debate.


Over the past century American attitudes toward China have been characterized by recurrent swings of mood. Periods of public fascination and respect for a country of great cultural achievements, and friendship for China’s hard-working people, have given way to times of disdain for chaotic political conditions or fear of Chinese aggressiveness. We are now in the midst of one of these periodic swings in the “pendulum” of public mood. The enthusiasm that greeted the Nixon Administration’s opening to China is giving way to frustration with the inaccessibility of Chinese society, concern about the lack of respect in Peking for human rights and other “Western” values, and indignation at the political inflexibility of PRC leaders.

The Nixon Administration’s 1971–72 initiative to normalize relations with Peking drew broad public acceptance as one of the creative departures in America’s post-World War II foreign policy. After two decades of confrontation with “Red China” and costly bloodshed in Korea and Vietnam designed to contain communist expansion in Asia, the American people welcomed efforts to ameliorate tensions with the Chinese—even if they were somewhat skeptical about how much progress might be made.

It has often been noted that Mr. Nixon’s public image of the 1950s and early 1960s as a forceful anti-communist enabled him to hold the support of the American “Right” in the China initiative of 1971. It has been less frequently observed that Mr. Nixon’s first public intimation of a major departure in China policy—expressed in the pages of this journal in the fall of 1967 as a call for the United States to “come urgently to grips with the reality of China,” so as to build a post-Vietnam Asia policy for the United States—occurred in a year when American anxieties about Chinese aggressiveness were at an all-time high.

Despite such fears, the Vietnam War had prepared informed American opinion for a change in China policy. The widely publicized hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966 and 1968 vividly demonstrated that the U.S. involvement in Indochina had grown from a strategy of “containing” a supposedly expansionist China from strong points in Korea, Taiwan and Indochina. With the passage of time, however, Peking’s intervention in Korea and the 1962 border conflict with India no longer appeared to be a replay of the post-World War II military expansionism of the Soviet Army in Eastern Europe. The Chinese had withdrawn their troops from Korea after the Armistice, and had not attempted to overrun India after their victory on the Tibetan border and on the Northeast Frontier. And, despite Peking’s aggressive encouragement of “people’s wars” against the United States, Vietnam seemed a unique and indigenous example of guerrilla warfare that had gained little for the Chinese in other countries of the Third World.

Thus, the July 15, 1971 announcement that an American President would visit Peking met with broad public acceptance, and Mr. Nixon was successful in muting the congressional and public criticism that had undercut efforts in the early 1960s by the Kennedy Administration to formulate a new China policy. Indeed, the Nixon initiative proceeded with more support than Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai appeared to have in China for their opening to the United States. Evidence has gradually accumulated that the Chinese people were quite unprepared for the dramatic shift in Peking’s policy toward “U.S. imperialism,” and that there has been significant opposition to the normalization policy from Chinese military leaders and the political “Left.”

In America, however, the years 1971 and 1972 were a time of “China fever.” The excitement of renewed contact with a distant and esoteric adversary was conveyed to millions of Americans through Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China and the subsequent satellite television coverage of President Nixon’s visit in February 1972. The public mood shifted rapidly from fear of a threatening communist state to fascination with a country of unique cultural achievements and the urbane diplomacy of Chou En-lai.

The enthusiasm of this breakthrough period has long since dissipated. Shirley MacLaine’s view of contemporary China as a harmonious society transforming individuals and establishing standards for America’s future has given way to popularization of Simon Leys’ preoccupation with the manipulative and Orwellian qualities of life in the People’s Republic. For America’s China specialists, initial hopes for normalization have been replaced by realization of the difficulties of completing the process and of the constraints that will limit the development of a constructive U.S.-PRC relationship. Four or five years ago a positive public mood gave the Administration considerable flexibility in promoting a new China policy. Today, further progress toward normalization—if it occurs—will rest on a more secure base of realistic public expectations, thus minimizing the prospect of future swings in public support for a China initiative through excessive hopes which might not be fulfilled. The question, however, is whether this more sober public mood will sustain further diplomatic progress.

What is the American public’s attitude toward China? A number of national public opinion polls conducted during the past two decades, while sporadic and incomplete, suggest the following qualities:

- A legacy of distrust. The enthusiasm with which Americans greeted the Nixon Administration’s China initiative in 1971 reduced but did not eradicate the cold war legacy of fear of an aggressive, expansionist China. A 1976 national Gallup survey of American opinion found that only 20 percent of the public had a favorable view of what was still termed “Communist China.” In April 1977, a poll conducted by Potomac Associates revealed that 58 percent of a national sample felt it would not be in the best interests of the United States for “Mainland China” to become a great power by the end of this century. Most Americans still hold much more favorable views of Taiwan than of the People’s Republic of China.

- An ability to adjust to changing realities. Despite this unpromising basis for U.S.-PRC normalization, there have been significant shifts in public opinion toward China over the past decade as a result of presidential leadership, moderation in Chinese attitudes toward the United States, and the Sino-Soviet conflict. In 1967, a Gallup poll found that 71 percent of the American public saw China as a greater threat to world peace than the Soviet Union (20 percent saw Russia as the greater threat; nine percent were undecided). In the fall of 1971, following the announcement of President Nixon’s forthcoming visit to Peking, 56 percent saw China as the greatest threat, while 27 percent now saw Russia as the greater menace (with 17 percent undecided). By the fall of 1976, however, the U.S.S.R. and the PRC were just about equal in public distrust as suggested by a Gallup poll that found “favorable” ratings of 21 percent and 20 percent for China and the Soviet Union, respectively.

These trends indicate that while doubts about PRC intentions persist, such attitudes are not immutable. The American people are able to adjust over time to changing realities, however unpleasant, as was evident in the gradual trend during the 1960s toward accepting Peking’s admission to the United Nations.

- Support for improved dealings with Peking, for normal relations with the People’s Republic. If one judges by the high level of public approval of President Nixon’s first trip to Peking and the lack of opposition to the numerous subsequent visits to the Chinese capital by President Ford and Secretaries of State Kissinger and Vance, there is a wellspring of popular support for the concept of “negotiation rather than confrontation” in America’s approach to China. More recent opinion polls indicate that, as long as the consequences for Taiwan are not considered, a majority of Americans favor establishing full diplomatic relations with the PRC. This pattern shifts markedly against support for normalization, however, when the cost of a break in formal ties with Taiwan is placed in the balance.

- Ambivalence about America’s relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. The generally favorable view held by most Americans toward the Republic of China on Taiwan finds expression in opposition to breaking diplomatic relations with the island as a price for normalization with the PRC. At the same time, a series of polls indicate that while the American public wishes to sustain its dealings with the island, there is considerable reluctance to become directly involved in Taiwan’s defense. Survey data thus suggest ambivalence in American attitudes toward the Republic of China on Taiwan: a desire to maintain relationships as at present, but reluctance to pay the military price of continuing to secure the island.

- Reluctance to play the “great power game” of balancing China against Russia. If the American public, under present circumstances, is reluctant to see the United States directly involved in the defense of Taiwan, there is even stronger opposition to helping Peking resist the expansion of Soviet power through military assistance. Seventy percent of the public in 1977 was opposed to helping China build up its military capabilities for this purpose, with only 11 percent favorably disposed. As with many national security issues, public opinion can change dramatically as circumstances change; but under present conditions Americans are not inclined to support a highly manipulative foreign policy in dealings with the great powers.

- Limited concern about the China issue, with a substantial measure of misinformed or unformed opinion. Finally, we should note that in the full range of foreign policy issues that concern most Americans, China policy is of relatively limited salience. Moreover, as the opinion surveys cited in this analysis indicate, there is a substantial element of unformed opinion on China questions. As much as a quarter of the American public has no fixed view on such issues as whether or not to break relations with Taiwan as the price for normalization with Peking, whether or not to lend direct American support to the defense of the island, or even whether to supply military assistance to Taiwan without direct U.S. involvement. Recent polls also reveal a high level of misinformation in American views on China. Fully one-third of a recent national sample was uncertain whether “Mainland China” had a communist government, and 56 percent either believed Taiwan’s government was communist or did not know its ideological orientation.

These patterns suggest that there is a significant measure of flexibility in public attitudes toward the China issue: that misinformed or unformed opinion can be shaped through public debate; and that the President has some leeway in the amount of public support he can enlist in behalf of normalization.

It will not be easy to justify normalization to the public strictly in terms of national security interests.

As the Potomac Associates study concludes, “Looking back over the past century, it seems clear that the single most important influence in determining American outlooks on China and Asia generally has been the President himself.”

Our public mood on China, as revealed by these opinion surveys, holds other policy implications. Most Americans would prefer to let the China issue lie rather than face the choices that Peking seeks to impose as terms for a normalization agreement. It will not be easy to justify normalization to the public strictly in terms of America’s national security interests.

It is difficult to predict the sum effect of these aspects of our national China mood on a public debate over normalization. The President, Congress, and the press can shape the terms of argument; and the Chinese, by the conditions they agree to in formal negotiations, or the way they seek to influence American opinion, can complicate or facilitate the building of a public consensus on the value of completing the normalization of U.S.-PRC relations. Further progress must be based on determined leadership in Washington and Peking, and it will proceed within constraints set by public attitudes and political opposition.


What would a national debate on normalization be like given current indications of the terms of argumentation? The Chinese are masters of symbolic politics, and over the past six years they have applied their skills to shaping the terms of our public debate on normalization and moving the official discussions in a direction consonant with their interests. In unofficial statements they have refined their terms for establishing diplomatic relations with the United States as first expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 into three conditions: that the United States sever diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan; that the U.S.-Republic of China Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954 be terminated; and that all U.S. forces and military installations be withdrawn from Taiwan. Since 1973 Chinese officials have asserted and reasserted to American visitors these three conditions, or what they somewhat incongruously term the “Japanese model” of normalization.

In contrast, America’s public discussion of normalization has been anything but well defined. It has proceeded largely without coherence at the initiative of individual Congressmen, editorial writers, and academic specialists on China. Policy guidance has been limited to occasional speeches by the Secretary of State or statements by the President at news conferences. The basic U.S. position remains embodied in the Shanghai Communiqué. In this basic policy document the United States, together with the Chinese, asserted that normalization would contribute to the relaxation of tensions in Asia and the world, and expressed a common opposition to “hegemony.” Regarding the Taiwan question, the United States agreed not to challenge the view of “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait” that “there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” The Communiqué states that America’s interest is in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves, and that as tensions in the area diminish the United States will progressively reduce its military forces and installations on the island. The “ultimate objective” of a complete American military withdrawal from Taiwan is linked to the prospect of a peaceful resolution of the dispute over the island.

The current public debate on normalization has welled up quite spontaneously from our body politic, and largely since Watergate and the Nixon resignation removed the most determined source of presidential direction from the China issue. In the months preceding President Ford’s late 1975 trip to Peking, a congressional resolution was put forward (but never passed) demanding that the U.S. government, “while engaged in a lessening of tensions with the People’s Republic of China, do nothing to compromise the freedom of our friend and ally, the Republic of China and its people.” And in anticipation of Secretary of State Vance’s August 1977 trip to Peking, a welter of editorial or “op-ed” page commentary in the American press further heightened public awareness of all the putative reasons for not completing normalization.

Very little of the public discussion on this issue has directly challenged Peking’s three conditions for normalization. There seems to be an intuitive recognition that, because of the relationship of the Taiwan question to Chinese sovereignty, Peking is likely to show little flexibility on the matter of American de jure recognition of the Republic of China and the defense treaty with the government in Taipei. Rather, most of the arguments put forward question the importance for American interests of normalization with Peking, or assert reasons for delaying consummation of the policy established in the Shanghai Communiqué.

Peking is likely to show little flexibility on the matter of American recognition of the Republic of China.

The objections to normalization cover a broad range of issues. The following “dialogue” begins with the strategic and security implications of a normalization policy and runs through nine other arguments, the most contentious of which concerns Taiwan’s future security. With the recognition that this form of presentation does not make for the systematic development of a counterargument, its objective is to respond to the issues as they have been raised, and to demonstrate either the costs of inaction or ways in which American concerns might be resolved through negotiations with Peking. Under each heading, the opening paragraph summarizes an objection in its usual form.

1. Strategic and National Security Perspectives: There are no strategic gains for the United States in normalizing relations with the PRC. It is an illusion to think that Peking will cooperate with us on international problems, and it is a dangerous policy to “play” China against the Soviet Union. Chinese leaders now criticize détente because they want to push the United States into a confrontation with the Soviet Union. They will try to gain influence in the Third World at America’s expense, and eventually will seek to exclude U.S. influence from Asia.

For two decades the United States waged a two-front cold war against communist aggression in Europe and Asia. The hottest spots of this strategic confrontation were in the Far East, where Americans fought and died in Korea and Vietnam. The 1954 American Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China on Taiwan was established as part of a global strategy for containing the Russians and their Chinese allies.

The basic assumptions underlying this national defense strategy of the 1950s gradually eroded during the following decade. The Sino-Soviet alliance degenerated into political feuding and then into an outright military confrontation. What had been seen as Chinese expansionism was reassessed as an effort to secure vulnerable border areas (as in Korea or India), as being more rhetorical than real, or as an effort to prevent Moscow from establishing a “collective security” coalition from the Indian subcontinent to Korea that would contain Chinese influence. Despite Peking’s efforts to foment insurgencies in Burma, Indochina, Malaysia, and Africa, Chinese-sponsored subversion in practice has proven to be either ineffective or a restrained attempt to compete with the Soviets for influence in the Third World. The Vietnam experience now seems a special case of “people’s war,” in which Sino-Soviet involvement in an indigenous conflict did more to exacerbate than ease tensions between Moscow and Peking.

The Nixon Administration’s breakthrough to Peking was made possible by these basic transformations in global political alignments of the 1960s. In 1971–72, the United States was able to draw on a concern shared with Peking about the “hegemonic” ambitions of Soviet power to unburden itself of the political and military confrontation with China. For the first time in two decades we no longer faced a two-front strategic challenge. A basic issue that should enter into American public discussion of the pros and cons of U.S.-PRC normalization is the advantages to our national security that have come with elimination, or at least sharp reduction, of the Asian front of the great power confrontations, which grew from World War II.

For a time after the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué the United States derived tangible benefits from the political dialogue with Peking: the pace of détente with Moscow seemed to acquire added momentum; a favorable climate was created for our disengagement from Vietnam; the Chinese, after two decades of criticizing the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, reversed their position and began to lobby for strong ties between Tokyo and Washington; PRC leaders actively encouraged the strengthening of the NATO alliance; and Washington drew quiet but meaningful Chinese backing for its diplomacy on issues ranging from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.

Other fruits of the breakthrough period in U.S.-PRC relations have been less direct but no less advantageous to American foreign relations. At the United Nations and in other international forums the United States is no longer the primary target of Peking’s hostility (although we are hardly immune from Chinese polemical attacks, which most Americans find unjust and offensive). And the Chinese have refrained from criticizing American security ties and base arrangements in the Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia) and Southeast Asia (Thailand and the Philippines).

These gains derived from the process of normalizing U.S.-PRC relations have dissipated somewhat in the past four years, in circumstances where America has appeared to play a less resolute role in world affairs. In 1974, Peking began to criticize détente as representing appeasement of the Soviet Union. More recently, Chinese leaders have complained publicly to visiting Americans that the United States is only “using” China against the Soviet Union—standing on Chinese shoulders to gain leverage in the continuing strategic joust with Moscow. The charge rings hollow in the ears of Americans who remember that in the early years of the U.S. confrontation with Soviet “hegemony” Peking had allied itself to Moscow. They also recall strategic confrontations with the Russians over Berlin, Cuba, and the Middle East, which demonstrated U.S. ability and willingness to meet strategic responsibilities. Chinese fears of those “in the West” who they say are trying to “divert the peril of the new Tsars toward the East in order to preserve themselves at the expense of others” are paralleled by American concerns that the Chinese are only seeking to ease Soviet pressures against them by pushing the United States into renewed conflict with Moscow. Such suspicions bespeak the complexity of “triangular” global politics and the lack of mutual trust that is the legacy of the years of cold war.

Despite such concerns, the United States and China have both gained substantial benefits to their respective security interests by setting aside the confrontation of the past two decades. Americans who doubt the advantages of even the presently modest state of U.S.-PRC relations should consider a world in which we had returned to an active political-military confrontation with China. By the 1980s this will be a China possessing strategic weaponry capable of directly threatening the United States, and building the economic resources to be a more effective force in the Third World. Fully normalized U.S.-PRC relations will not mean the elimination of all American differences with Peking. But to defuse at our own initiative and by political means the most intense source of conflict with the PRC, and thus to minimize the possibility of a return to a two-front confrontation with the nuclear powers, would constitute a major advantage to American security.

Active cooperation with Peking on international security issues is a less certain matter. There will continue to be limited U.S.-PRC common interest in at least parallel foreign policy actions for some time to come. Explicit Sino-American political cooperation on international issues is less likely. And those who advocate the sale of American arms to the PRC overreach the present level of mutual trust in the relationship, and probably heighten Chinese concerns about being used by the United States in a game that has more propaganda than practical value. The heightening of security cooperation between Washington and Peking, even under conditions of normalized relations, will not come about without reason, but as a result of an enhanced sense of shared threat created by the “hegemonic” actions of other powers. The possibility of such cooperation, however, made credible through a stable U.S.-PRC relationship, would serve the security interests of the two countries without being gratuitously provocative to others.

A strategy of trying to pressure the Soviet Union through an active relationship with the Chinese can be justly criticized as being so contrived and manipulative as to be counterproductive. The Chinese are unlikely to be so “used” in any event. But to say that it is dangerous to “play” the Sino-Soviet dispute is not to conclude that one can remain indifferent to its effects. There are dangers in ignoring realities, as well as opportunities to be missed in spurning those with whom one shares common concerns.

In sum, U.S.-PRC normalization should not be debated as simply a choice between American relations with Peking or Taipei. The risks to the security of Taiwan inherent in normalization must be balanced against the gains to America’s (and Taiwan’s) security that would come with a normal relationship with the PRC. With respect to Taiwan’s future, it is precisely because PRC leaders have come to see their own security as related to improved dealings with the United States and to our role in international affairs that they have an interest in sustaining good relations and in not making normalization appear to be a matter of the United States abandoning others to a violent fate. If Peking cannot be responsive to these concerns, it is most unlikely that normalization will be accomplished. It remains for the negotiating process to test whether these security perspectives can be reconciled.

2. The International Impact: We should not normalize relations with the PRC now because of the disturbing impact it will have on our relations with Japan, Korea, and other states such as Israel which look to the United States for their security. Our Asian allies will doubt the credibility of our defense commitments to them, all the more so given recent U.S. decisions to withdraw troops from Korea and move toward normal relations with Vietnam. American normalization with Peking would just compound the impression of a U.S. “pullback” from Asia.

Since 1971, the formal international position of the Republic of China has gone through a major decline. Apart from Taipei’s expulsion from China’s seat at the United Nations, more than 50 states have severed diplomatic relations with the government of the Republic of China. Today only 23 countries have official ties with Taiwan. This contrasts with Peking’s strengthened international position, in which the number of states recognizing the PRC increased from 47 in 1970 to 114 today. The United States is the only major power that still accords recognition to Taipei. In Asia the only state that still exchanges ambassadors with Taiwan is the Republic of Korea.

In these circumstances it is hard to argue that the United States has rushed precipitously into a relationship with Peking at the expense of its friends and allies. If anything, we are a “holdout” going against the tide of international practice.

Nonetheless, there is latent unease in Japan, Korea, and other states in East and Southeast Asia about the prospect of a break in U.S. relations with Taiwan because of our security role in the region. The United States continues to “cover” Tokyo’s interests on the island, and the Japanese and others, in Asia and elsewhere, who look to the United States to play a stabilizing role in world affairs will draw implications for their own security from the way we handle the Taiwan issue.

The actual impact of U.S.-PRC normalization on Asia and the world will depend on how Taiwan’s security is accounted for (to be discussed under arguments 7–9 below). If the island is “abandoned” or exposed to military pressures it would have a chilling effect on the countries of East Asia. In the absence of an understanding of the terms of a normalization agreement it is hard to weigh the likely impact on our allies and friends. What can be said is that their concerns will have to carry appropriate weight with American decision-makers.

On the other hand, inasmuch as it was shared security concerns that brought Washington and Peking together nearly seven years ago, the Chinese presumably still have some interest in seeing that the credibility of America’s global defense role is not undermined. Indeed, there is almost macabre humor in the spectacle of Chinese leaders baiting American visitors by telling them that the United States does not have the courage to stand up to its responsibility to resist the “hegemony” of Soviet “social-imperialism”—even as Peking’s media continue to castigate the United States as an “imperialist” power. The Chinese cannot have it both ways: they can either facilitate the adjustment of America’s security responsibilities in a way that does not heighten doubts about the value of our commitments; or they can see the erosion of U.S. efforts to work with them on issues of common concern.

As for the unease in Japan and elsewhere about the impact of U.S.-PRC normalization, consideration must also be given to the effects on their interests of a breakdown in the normalization process, with the possibility of a return to Sino-American hostility or confrontation. For two decades Asian international relations were riven by the cross-pressures of the American policy of “containing” China and PRC efforts to assert Chinese influence through “people’s diplomacy,” insurgency, and trade. As noted earlier, the improvement in Washington’s relations with Peking at the beginning of this decade was accompanied by such favorable developments as Chinese support for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, a reduction in political pressures against American bases in Asia, and a significant decline in efforts to promote “people’s wars.” It is hard to see how the security of America’s Asian allies would be enhanced by renewed Sino-American hostility.

The recent American decisions with respect to Korea and Vietnam have indeed created an unfavorable context for an agreement with Peking. It cannot be argued that the time is particularly auspicious for normalization; there will never be a good time to break formal relations with a friendly government. Such a development makes sense only within the context of a global and long-term perspective on national security issues. In practice, of course, the individual elements of American foreign policy are often shaped by factors other than a global security strategy or international priorities. Moreover, Americans are probably too practical-minded and anti-authoritarian in their approach to the world to appreciate the symbolic uses of power. Thus, we discount the unsettling effect on our allies of a decision to withdraw ground troops from Korea by rationalizing the ability of the Republic of Korea to defend itself—even as American political and economic interests in Asia are rapidly developing a weight that now challenges our traditional preoccupation with Europe. This makes it all the more incumbent upon American leaders to articulate and pursue our interests and responsibilities in the region with clarity and a steady hand; and surely one central element among these responsibilities is preventing the relapse of U.S.-PRC relations into a hostility that would have a destabilizing effect throughout East Asia.

3. Why Normalize Now? Why should the United States be in a hurry to recognize the PRC? The Chinese aren’t pressuring us now, and given their strategic vulnerabilities they have no alternative but to maintain at least their present relationship with the United States. They should understand that their interests are served by the United States not taking actions relative to Taiwan that might destabilize Asia. There are no adverse consequences in delaying normalization.

Since the establishment of direct, high-level contacts between Washington and Peking in 1971, Chinese leaders have displayed an attitude of patience, but not indifference, to the pacing of the normalization process. They understood that an American President would need political “running room” to build support for the policy. Except for public expressions of exasperation this last August, following President Carter’s informal welcoming statement to Secretary of State Vance upon his return from Peking—in which the President said that diplomatic recognition of the PRC “is undoubtedly going to be well into the future”—the Chinese have been sensitive to the fact that public pressure will be counterproductive in the negotiating process.

Aside from any concern in Peking that expressions of impatience for an agreement will compromise their negotiating position, PRC leaders undoubtedly are aware of the domestic political rhythms in both China and the United States, which influence the timing of a major political development like normalization. Just as the internal tensions of the Lin Piao affair in the years 1969–1971 retarded Peking’s response to early American expressions of interest in high-level discussions, so U.S. domestic politics have drawn out the Washington-Peking dialogue on normalization.

While PRC leaders can appreciate the effects of such political realities, what would be unacceptable is an attitude of indifference or a feeling of being “strung along” in the normalization process—of not being taken seriously. Thus, it would be a mistake to take expressions of patience on Peking’s part as an excuse for delay or inaction on the normalization issue. Loss of interest in Washington in developing a relationship with the Chinese is likely to dissipate what little may remain of trust in Peking and public support in the United States. And without such qualities it is most unlikely that leaders in Washington and Peking will be able to reconcile their differences.

More to the point, however, further delay—while avoiding difficult decisions for a time—will work against America’s long-term interests. We should not assume that the favorable position the United States has occupied in the strategic “triangle” during most of the 1970s will persist indefinitely. In the post-Mao era, Chinese leaders may very well take steps to ease tensions with the Soviet Union. The earlier phases of post-World War II great power relations—the Sino-Soviet alliance against the United States, political feuding and bitter rivalry between Moscow and Peking, and China’s “tilt” toward America—may now be giving way to a time of “equidistant” strategic relationships and more complex political competition as power diffuses in the international system.

In the post-Mao era, Chinese leaders may very well take steps to ease tensions with the Soviet Union.

America’s ability to influence the evolution of these patterns of international power is limited. It can be argued that China will lose interest in dealing with the United States as Soviet pressures against the PRC diminish, or—conversely—if America seems incapable of playing a counterweight role in resisting the expansionist tendencies of a “hegemonic” Soviet Union. U.S.-PRC normalization might give Peking greater incentive to moderate the conflict with Moscow as well, or the political flexibility to cooperate more openly with Washington in response to threatening Soviet actions. What can be said for American interests is that any amelioration in Sino-Soviet hostilities would hold less threatening implications if we had laid aside our most serious point of dispute with the Chinese, and that normalization will make it easier for the Chinese leaders to work with the United States in dealing with the challenges common to security interests. Conversely, failure to make further progress in U.S.-PRC relations will dissipate an important element of flexibility in America’s efforts to adjust to a changing strategic environment.

Moreover, while the delay in completing normalization has been accompanied by erosion of support for the policy in the United States, over time opposition is also likely to increase from allies and friends in Asia, thus making an eventual decision all the more difficult. Given China’s long-term interests in becoming a major influence in Asia and the Third World, America’s own adjustment to shifting relationships in the Pacific and other developing areas will be much easier if we are no longer burdened by a territorial dispute with Peking, which compromises the ability of both sides to collaborate on problems of common interest.

Chinese leaders, however, may see certain advantages in delay. It can be argued that a strategy of “patience” enables the PRC to avoid a difficult decision on normalization until a time when China has further developed its economy and modernized its military forces. The question for Americans is whether they want to face the resolution of the Taiwan issue in future circumstances where the power balance in the Taiwan Strait is likely to be less favorable to the United States and to the island. The choices associated with normalization are unlikely to get easier over time.

4. Human Rights Objections: Given America’s commitment to human rights, we would betray our own principles by granting recognition to the Communist Chinese and withdrawing it from the people of Taiwan who support our values.

For those who feel that the promotion of human rights should occupy a primary place in the determination of American foreign policy, there is little basis for support of normalization. China, as a collectivist society, has values and a political style that are antithetical to fundamental aspects of the American tradition. Peking emphasizes what Americans find the most objectionable aspects of Marxism-Leninism to justify its revolutionary rule, and most visitors to the PRC are incredulous at China’s enduring veneration of Stalin. And if Taiwan is not a model of liberal democracy, the island at least impresses Americans as aspiring to representative political institutions and evincing general acceptance of Western values. To place the island and its population in jeopardy would thus offend principles and traditions held dear by most Americans, if not violate an instinctive sense of loyalty, fair play, and obligation to a friendly people.

The first response to this perspective must be to examine (as is done in later sections) the degree to which normalization would actually jeopardize Taiwan’s ability to pursue its own way. The second can only be recognition that most foreign policy decisions involve a range of (often conflicting) values and principles, and normalization is no exception. Among them are our enduring support for the principle of the unity of China, and the integrity of a political commitment—formally expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué—to seek the normalization of relations with the PRC. And there is no small element of morality in the quest for peaceful resolution of international differences in the nuclear age—for Taiwan’s sake as well as for our own.

In the real world of conflicting cultures and national interests, there is a price to pursuing one’s own way. A realistic national policy must reflect some proportion between personal values and the costs of their pursuit. A China policy that seeks abstract goals irrespective of the consequences will ultimately lose public support—as was the fate of “containment and isolation” in the 1960s. So too, of course, would be the fate of an opportunistic policy that violated basic American values.

5. Bilateral Issues: There are no bilateral advantages for America in normalizing relations with the PRC. Peking is unable to finance a sizable expansion of trade with the United States even if it modifies the principle of “self-reliance.” The PRC is not really interested in cultural contact with the United States, and scientific exchanges will be primarily to the advantage of the Chinese.

The American public’s early response to the prospect of normalization was enthusiasm for direct contact with a country that has long fascinated traders and tourists, educators and journalists. Requests for visas to travel to the PRC numbered in the hundreds of thousands; the academic community eagerly sought the development of scientific and cultural exchanges; and the business world revived the China trader’s enduring vision of “400 million customers” (only now Chinese aspirin-eaters and shirt-wearers number nearly 950 million).

Since 1971 we have become more realistic about the limits of a bilateral relationship with the PRC. Scientific and cultural exchanges have grown slowly because of China’s modest and controlled capacity for hosting foreigners, the political conditions Peking imposes on such contacts, and the limited areas for unfettered intellectual collaboration. The American academic community now complains about the restraints of “scholarly tourism” (that is, no real dialogue, much less cooperative research) and the limited willingness of the Chinese side to reciprocate contacts. Nonetheless, a visa to the PRC remains a valued “special dispensation” for those who have yet to make a pilgrimage to Peking; and Chinese art exhibitions and foreign affairs delegations are eagerly welcomed by the American public.

Trade with the PRC, near zero in 1971, soared to over a billion dollars in value by 1974, only to fall back to the more modest levels of $462 million the following year and $336 million in 1976. While American trade with Taiwan grows steadily at a value more than ten times U.S.-PRC commerce, our economic dealings with Peking remain constrained by limited American markets for hog bristles, textiles, tung oil and Tientsin carpets. Additional limits are set by China’s reluctance to make foreign purchases on credit or to finance trade with the proceeds of petroleum sales abroad (a policy that may now be changing), and the desire to avoid dependence on the United States—or any other country—as a source of food grains or technology. The American economy remains a supplier of last resort for Peking, a situation which is likely to change only modestly if normalization is accomplished. Even if U.S.-PRC trade were to expand as much as tenfold from its present level, it would still represent only about three percent of America’s total foreign trade.

It is thus hard to make the case that trade and cultural contacts with the PRC, in and of themselves, justify the political costs of normalization. Relative to similar dealings with Taiwan, the People’s Republic will remain a limited market and less open to intellectual and social interchange with the United States. Rather, such bilateral ties should constitute the sources of human contact that might erode the misunderstandings and distrust of the past and build a sense of shared purpose. It is not clear, however, that the commercial and cultural exchanges of the last six years have always contributed to this process. Sales of adulterated American grain to China and the contrasting intellectual style of visitors from the United States have probably put off the Chinese as much as American enthusiasms have been dampened by politicized song-and-dance troupes, the commercial rituals of the semiannual Canton Trade Fair, and the intellectual unresponsiveness and inflexibility of PRC foreign affairs delegations.

Ultimately, the rationale for normalization must be grounded on the national security interests of the United States: the costs of an eventual return to confrontation with a major world power, and the advantages of even a limited ability to pursue parallel international interests with Peking. But within the context of normalized relations and shared national security concerns, there can be room for the modest growth of bilateral contacts between two major societies with fundamentally different political and economic systems and contrasting social values.

6. The Self-Determination Arguments: We should not deprive the people of Taiwan of the alternative of proclaiming their independence. Why not at least seek a “German solution” that recognizes the reality of two Chinese states within one nation? How about a “Swiss” or “Hong Kong” solution in which Taiwan would become a neutral state or entity? Why should we accept Peking’s preference for the “Japanese model” as the only way to account for Taiwan’s future?

A muted but significant theme in current public reactions to the China issue is the deeply held American belief in political self-determination. Over the years this issue has not found widespread expression in the case of Taiwan, however. It has been official U.S. policy throughout this century to support the unity of China; we have not encouraged or supported sentiments of independence by the native Taiwanese against the Nationalist government; and we have now directly acknowledged the view expressed in Taipei and Peking that there is but one China. While the legalities of Taiwan’s status may be ambiguous, in political terms the situation is clear enough. There are two rival Chinese governments, each claiming to be the government of all China; and the United States, by according de jure recognition to one of these governments, in effect if not intention, takes sides in the still-unresolved Chinese civil war.

Given the enduring reality of an effectively functioning government on Taiwan, however, why should the United States accept Peking’s insistence that as a basis for normal relations with the PRC the legal existence of the Republic of China be repudiated? The U.S. could theoretically extend recognition to Peking as well as Taipei, but that recognition is most unlikely to be reciprocated by the PRC. We can continue to accord the Republic of China legal recognition as the only government of China, but at the almost inevitable cost of an eventual return to confrontation with Peking over the island.

And we could support the idea of Taiwan’s independence from China. But this would put us in opposition to the policy of the present government in Taipei, as well as violating the intention expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué. Moreover, whether a treaty commitment persisted or not, U.S. encouragement for an independent Taiwan would carry with it a heavy moral obligation to defend the island as an independent state.

Apart from all the reasons why America’s strategic interests would not be served by such a development, the interests of the people of the island would not be advanced by U.S. support for self-determination. Such a position would most likely erode whatever chances exist for a peaceful resolution of Taiwan’s future. It would be irresponsible of the United States to encourage the island’s independence if it is likely to lead to violence. There is both realism and responsibility in American efforts to sustain the de facto conditions of life on Taiwan while seeking to ameliorate differences with Peking, and thus create the conditions for an eventual political rather than military resolution of the island’s future.

7. Concern for the Security of Taiwan: We cannot abandon an old friend and ally, the government of the Republic of China, to a violent fate. The people of Taiwan cannot be treated as expendable in our search for a more secure world. We are not the kind of people who go back on solemn treaty commitments to the security of others.

Concern for the security of the people of Taiwan is the core issue impeding a positive U.S. response to Peking’s terms for normalized relations. There is a widespread feeling that “we should not turn our backs on friends” and that the United States would betray its most basic moral values if it “abandoned” Taiwan. One’s sense is that the American public would feel the island had in fact been abandoned under two conditions: (1) if all American contacts with the island were terminated; or (2) if a negotiated arrangement with Peking exposed Taiwan to the prospect of a violent fate, to an involuntary political or military “takeover” by the PRC. It is most unlikely that any American President, under current circumstances, could muster sufficient political support from the public and Congress for normalization with Peking if it meant either of these developments.

The people of Taiwan cannot be treated as expendable in our search for a more secure world.

For those who feel that withdrawing legal recognition of the Republic of China and ending the security treaty amount in themselves to “abandonment,” there is no basis for normalizing with Peking. But if one can accept a change in the legal formalities of America’s relations with the island while the realities of Taiwan’s present situation remained unchanged, an acceptable, if risk-laden, normalization agreement becomes possible.

Under Peking’s own terms for normalization—the “Japanese model”—the United States would maintain trade and social ties with the island. Indeed, since Tokyo broke relations with Taipei and normalized with Peking in late 1972, Japan’s total trade with the island has increased more than two and a half times. Taiwan’s airline service between Tokyo and Taipei, suspended for a period in 1974 and 1975, remains active; and more than 500,000 Japanese tourists visited the island in 1976. Japan’s experience thus implies that U.S. normalization with the PRC would not mean an end to America’s economic and social contacts with Taiwan.

While Japan’s normalization agreement with Peking led to the termination of all official governmental contacts with the Republic of China, unofficial ties are sustained through Taiwan’s East Asian Relations Association in Tokyo, and Japan’s Interchange Association in Taipei—facilities staffed by retired Foreign Ministry personnel. PRC leaders have publicly rejected the idea of the United States maintaining a liaison office in Taiwan after normalization, believing that such an arrangement would imply official relations with the Republic of China. The “Japanese model” does indicate, however, that Peking will not object to some form of unofficial representation that would enable the United States to maintain contact with the authorities and people of the island.

Taiwan’s vulnerability to attack from the mainland is a more complicated issue, for common sense implies that a state controlling 950 million people and a regular military establishment of 3.5 million men should have, or can acquire, the capability to take over Taiwan by force. In practice, the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the mainland by almost 100 miles, constitutes a significant barrier to direct assault. All indications are that Peking at present neither possesses nor is constructing the types of landing craft suitable for an amphibious invasion. Such action would require control of the air, and while the PRC possesses more than 15 times as many aircraft as the Republic of China, Taiwan’s modern air defenses would exact a considerable cost from an invading air force. Moreover, at present Peking does not appear to be training its pilots for such an exercise.

Most basically, however, the PRC’s primary concern remains the security of the Sino-Soviet frontier, along which the Russians have deployed 43 divisions, modern aircraft, missiles, and armor. So long as this is the case, the concept of a direct assault on Taiwan is, for Peking, a right of sovereignty and possibility for the future rather than a practical alternative.

Peking’s air and naval forces do now have the capability to blockade Taiwan and thus to try to “liberate” the island through a combination of military pressure and negotiations. This approach would have the advantage of being a more economical and restrained use of force, although such action would place Peking in confrontation with those countries—primarily Japan and the United States—that maintain an active trade with the island. PRC leaders will be reluctant to do this while their security concerns on other frontiers both divert the attention and resources of the People’s Liberation Army from the Taiwan Strait and place a premium on satisfactory relations with Tokyo and Washington.

The military balance between the island and mainland, and its political context, will evolve over the coming decade. Peking is slowly constructing modern naval and air assets, and an ICBM force capable of reaching the continental United States as well as the Soviet Union. For its part, Taiwan will seek to maintain its defenses, partly through domestic arms production but primarily through purchases of military equipment from abroad—and largely from the United States. While the island is small in size, its remarkable economic growth has now created an industrial base and scientific manpower capable of eventually sustaining important elements of its own defense system. In a public statement in 1975, Premier Chiang Ching-kuo implied that while Taiwan possesses the capability to build atomic bombs it would not do so because “we cannot use nuclear weapons to hurt our own countrymen.” The United States, consistent with its worldwide opposition to nuclear proliferation, has discouraged the sale of nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities to the island by other countries so as to diminish the prospect of proliferation. In so doing, we maintain our global concern with security in the nuclear age, but put ourselves in the position of opposing Taiwan’s enhancement of its own defenses in a political context where our policy of normalization with Peking is likely to lead to termination of the U.S.-Republic of China Mutual Defense Treaty.

The sum effect of these military factors is that whether or not there is normalization, Taiwan is unlikely to be under threat of invasion from the mainland for at least another decade; blockade rather than direct assault is likely to be the primary threat to the island’s security; and, over time, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait will evolve as both Peking and Taipei modernize their defense establishments—although not necessarily in ways that will be to the PRC’s advantage. Thus, U.S.-PRC normalization is unlikely to expose Taiwan to threats of invasion for some time. The immediate pressures of de-recognition will be more psychological than physical. But there is no denying the fact that in a decade or so Peking could create the military capability to take the island by force.

The basic question one must ask of normalization is whether political rather than military means can be used to secure Taiwan’s present circumstances, sustain the island’s social and economic ties abroad, and increase the likelihood that Peking and Taipei will eventually negotiate their differences rather than fight for control of the island. This issue is all the more meaningful for the United States given the reluctance of the American public to become directly involved in Taiwan’s defense—an attitude that is sure to increase with the passage of time and as Peking acquires ICBMs with the range to threaten the United States directly.

Officials of the PRC have made it clear, under repeated prodding from American visitors, that they will not make a commitment to the United States to renounce the use of force in achieving Taiwan’s “liberation.” Is there any way to reconcile Peking’s claim of sovereignty on this issue and the substance of America’s defense commitment to the island? The Chinese, in various public statements, have pointed toward two approaches to resolving this most delicate issue. One would be a unilateral and conditional PRC statement (not a commitment to any foreign power) of the intention to resolve Taiwan’s future relationship with the mainland by peaceful means. As the late Premier Chou En-lai told China’s National People’s Congress in the summer of 1955:

There are two possible ways for the Chinese people to liberate Taiwan, namely, by war or peaceful means. Conditions permitting, the Chinese people are ready to seek the liberation of Taiwan by peaceful means. . .Provided that the United States does not interfere with China’s internal affairs, the possibility of peaceful liberation of Taiwan will continue to increase.

The United States no longer maintains regular naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait and has reduced its military presence on the island from 10,000 men in 1972 to just over 1,000 today. It remains to be seen whether the negotiating process can reconcile Chou En-lai’s perspective—recently reaffirmed by Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping—and the American position expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué that the United States will achieve the ultimate goal of a complete withdrawal from Taiwan of all its military forces and installations when there is the “prospect” of a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.

Another opportunity for compromise could lie in the timing rather than the mode of “liberation.” The Chinese are skilled in the use of timing in politics, and have shown an ability to be “patient” when their interests are served by setting aside an issue for more propitious circumstances. Perhaps the most relevant current sample of “political patience” is Peking’s willingness to tolerate the continuing existence of the colonies of Hong Kong and Macao. Regarding Taiwan, senior PRC leaders have told American visitors on a number of occasions that they are prepared to wait a century to achieve direct control over the island. In the summer of 1975, Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping asserted to a private American international affairs group headed by Cyrus Vance that China could wait as long as a hundred years to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

The combined effect of Peking’s apparent willingness to be “patient” and to make a unilateral expression of restraint in recognition of Taiwan’s “special conditions” would be to defer action on the Taiwan issue for future generations of leaders in Peking and Taipei. What political and military circumstances would then prevail no one can now foretell. As the basis for a U.S.-PRC normalization agreement, this approach would preserve China’s sovereign rights, reinforce the legitimacy of the PRC, and sustain the principle of the unity of China, yet allow the United States to end de jure recognition of the Republic of China in a way that could sustain the de facto realities of life on Taiwan and unofficial American ties to the island for decades to come.

It cannot be denied, however, that such an approach to resolving the impasse between Washington and Peking is not without risks for the United States, or for Taiwan. Peking would not be formally obligated to use peaceful measures alone in its approach to the island, and the timing of its “liberating” efforts would remain under its sovereign control. The United States would have made an irreversible political move in withdrawing recognition from the Republic of China. We would have to assume that whatever public expressions of patience and restraint the PRC might make would be “guaranteed” by a combination of Peking’s concern about its security on other frontiers, a desire to sustain good relations with the United States and Japan, and Taiwan’s capabilities and determination to defend itself (and perhaps eventually to show a measure of flexibility in negotiating some form of association with the mainland).

In weighing the uncertainties about the future security of Taiwan, the American public, as it debates normalization, must consider the alternative risks and costs of inaction. If efforts to resolve differences with Peking through negotiations break down—or simply atrophy—the result is likely to be more than just a cooling of the atmosphere of the U.S.-PRC relationship. Chinese leaders will have little domestic political support for promoting even limited forms of cooperation with the United States on international issues—especially in circumstances where they feel a less immediate threat to their security from other powers. And over time, an unresolved conflict about Taiwan, with a U.S. defense commitment still in force, is likely to be the most specific cause of a return to outright hostility or even direct confrontation. A situation in which the United States continues as the military guarantor of Taiwan is surely the one in which Peking will feel its only recourse is the use of political and military pressures. This raises the prospect of the United States eventually having to make good on its defense commitment to Taiwan, but in future circumstances where the conventional and nuclear-military balance is likely to be much less favorable to the United States and to the island. Having now all but dismantled our defense establishment on Taiwan, an end to the normalization process would imply the need to rebuild it. Otherwise, the United States will remain in the most vulnerable position of all, of having a commitment to Taiwan’s defense without the means at hand to meet its obligation.

8. The Internal Stability of Taiwan: Taiwan could not cope with the shock of normalization. Foreign trade and investment would decline, causing an economic crisis. The authority of the government would be undermined, producing political chaos.

Taiwan has met with considerable adversity since the onset of American efforts to normalize relations with Peking and the expulsion of the government of the Republic of China from the United Nations. The authorities on the island have skillfully coped with their difficulties, however. The diminution in formal recognition has been replaced with functioning trade and cultural missions in more than 20 countries. While foreign investment on Taiwan declined slightly for a year after the Nixon visit and Sino-Japanese normalization, it has been sustained at a level of well over $100 million per year throughout the 1970s, thus helping to accelerate the island’s remarkable economic growth. The island’s total foreign trade of nearly $16 billion in 1976 was almost three times greater than in the year of the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué. At the same time, numerous observers of the Taiwan scene have remarked at the heightened sense of political unity on the island as both “mainlanders” and the Taiwanese majority, in the face of shared adversity, cope together with the uncertainties of the future.

This experience of the past seven years does not prove that Taiwan can accommodate to an unlimited range of pressures and changed circumstances. If anything, the island’s future is increasingly vulnerable to disruption of its growing economic ties abroad, as the value of imports now approaches 50 percent of GNP. What it does reveal is an effective leadership in Taipei able to cope with changing and difficult circumstances—able to adjust if given time—and a strong popular will to sustain a pattern of life built with decades of personal effort. In this sense, the established authority and proven flexibility of the Chiang Ching-kuo government may provide a more effective context for adjusting to an American normalization agreement with Peking than some future administration of less tested competence.

Ultimately, of course, Taiwan’s ability to cope with normalization will depend in substantial measure on the terms of an agreement. If Peking in fact will make good on its expressed interest in recognizing Taiwan’s “special conditions,” and if the United States meets its fundamental responsibilities by normalizing with the PRC in a way that sustains the island’s economic and administrative viability, it seems likely that Taiwan can continue to adjust to changes it has dealt with effectively since 1971.

9. The Administrative and Legal Complexities of Maintaining America’s Ties with a De-recognized Taiwan: Given the legal complexities of our presently normal relationship with the Republic of China, we could not adequately sustain commercial and social contacts with Taiwan under conditions where we have broken diplomatic relations with the government of the Republic of China.

American dealings with Taiwan are presently facilitated by a web of 59 treaties and executive agreements covering such diverse issues as defense and military assistance, commerce, air transport, civil uses of atomic energy, and immigration. In addition, the regulations of such governmental agencies as the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Military Assistance Program under the Foreign Assistance Act affect our official relations with the island. Many of these arrangements, which help maintain the health of Taiwan’s economy (through trade with the United States, which constitutes nearly a third of the island’s imports and exports) could be called into question if the United States broke diplomatic relations with the government of the Republic of China.

One study of the effects of normalization on American ties to Taiwan has concluded that despite the ambiguities of existing international law and domestic U.S. legislation, “it is possible to construct a legal framework for dealing with Taiwan as the ‘de facto government of an entity having international personality,’ which would permit continued economic and other dealings after the withdrawal of de jure recognition.”

To give effect to this judgment, however, the Congress will have to cooperate with the executive branch in passing enabling or amending legislation that would sustain the present web of relationships—and thus enable Taiwan to adjust to circumstances of de facto rather than de jure relations with the United States. The Senate and House are also likely to express America’s continuing interest in a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, and the terms of such an expression could conflict with Peking’s position on the island’s future.

Will congressional action be supportive of this aspect of the normalization process? The level of cooperation is likely to reflect reactions “on the Hill” to Peking’s terms for normalization. No President is likely to proceed with the policy if he is not reasonably confident of congressional backing, and this requires not only clear articulation of the value to the United States of normal relations with the PRC, but also convincing answers to the arguments against normalization. Such answers can be formulated only when the terms of a normalization agreement have been negotiated, and Peking must be aware of these constraints on presidential action.

A thus far unspoken cause for concern in Peking, as well as in Washington, about proceeding with normalization is the possibility that terms for an agreement negotiated between the Administration and PRC leaders might be blocked by actions of the Congress. The now-pending Senate action on the Panama Canal treaty will do much to either heighten or ease this concern, for it is a bellwether of America’s ability to adapt treaty commitments of an earlier era to the new challenges of a changing political and strategic environment.

10. Lack of Trust of PRC Intentions: Even if we can negotiate an acceptable normalization agreement with Peking, we cannot count on the Communist Chinese to keep their word. They would eventually go back on any promises or understandings, if not through deviousness then as a result of political chaos in their leadership in which one faction would repudiate the policies of their rivals.

The cold war experience of unsuccessful negotiations or violated agreements with communist governments has left a difficult legacy for those who would promote reconciliation rather than confrontation with Peking. There is the argument, for example, that once normalization has been accomplished Peking might cast aside any expressions of “patience” about Taiwan and apply pressures to the island. Such a concern can only be responded to with a recital of all the reasons noted earlier why PRC leaders are unlikely to see it in their interests to do so, enumeration of possible American counteractions, and the observation that the Chinese place weight on their given word. The assertion, “We Chinese mean what we say,” expresses a basic sense of integrity and determination, just as the words of Chairman Mao carry a particular burden of authority.

Where trust is lacking, however, the language of political agreement seems a flimsy reed; and even the Chairman’s words can be quoted selectively or edited to convey varying impressions. There are no sure bets in politics, only enduring values and interests, degrees of risk, and opportunities to be grasped or wasted. But apart from the constraints of reality and national interest that would help to sustain verbal understanding or a written agreement with Peking, it is at least worth considering which words of the Chairman his successors might choose to draw upon to legitimate elements of a normalization agreement. A quotation from Mao or the late Premier Chou En-lai on such matters as patience or restraint in resolving Taiwan’s future would have special legitimacy for the Chinese and would provide at least some basis for building support for normalization with Americans.

As for the “chaos in the leadership” argument, one might make the self-critical observation that since Watergate this argument could as readily apply to the American political scene and the continuity of U.S. China policy as to the succession struggle in China following Mao’s death and the purge of the “Gang of Four.” Yet despite our own quadrennial foreign policy revisionism, campaign rhetoric, and congressional horse-trading, which induce some uncertainty into America’s conduct of international affairs, there is an underlying consistency to U.S. foreign policy reflecting the continuity of our security concerns and national interests.

The same can be said for the foreign policy of a major country like China. The words that Peking will ultimately put forward as part of a normalization agreement will reflect enduring realities that China can ignore only at its own peril. Apart from the historically unique problem of Taiwan, basic Chinese and American interests on matters of security do not clash. Geography imparts a helpful distance to contact between two great, but contrasting, nations. The challenge to our negotiators is to find the words of agreement that will express the common concerns and interests that brought Peking and Washington together in the first place, as well as language which might reconcile the differences that continue to make normalization an elusive prospect.


Every American will have to evaluate for himself, or herself, the merits of the various arguments for and against normalization. It would be feckless to assert that there is a totally convincing case for consummation of the process initiated with the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué. It would be wrong to overstress the positive benefits of the policy—or to ignore the long-range cost of its dissipation. Normalization will not mean the end of all our differences with Peking. A composite judgment must weigh the terms of an agreement yet to be negotiated with Peking, the gains to American interests associated with it, and the risks and costs of either inaction or a breakdown in efforts to resolve U.S.-PRC differences by political means.

The most powerful tendency at present is to drift along in the current, quasi-normal relationship with Peking. Why normalize now; why not wait? The answer must be based on a judgment of likely developments in this country, China, and abroad; from the limited evidence available, public and leadership support for the policy is eroding in both countries. In the post-Mao era China is likely to ease tensions with the Soviet Union, and great power relations would thus evolve toward greater strategic “equidistance” (although China is unlikely to be the primary threat to American security). For the United States to enter such a period having laid aside the primary point of contention with the PRC would mean enhanced foreign policy flexibility, greater likelihood of being able to take coordinated action with Peking in response to threats affecting common interests, and a less burdened position for adapting to changing relationships in East Asia and the Third World. It would mean diminished likelihood of an eventual return to Sino-American confrontation over Taiwan.

Given our public mood on China, however, as revealed in the opinion data and arguments discussed earlier, there cannot be normalization at any price. An agreement must bridge Peking’s principle of sovereignty and the credibility of American security relationships. This is most likely to come through a shift in U.S. legal recognition from Taipei to Peking and affirmation of the unity of China, accompanied by arrangements that will sustain for an indefinite period the realities of life on Taiwan, America’s social and economic ties to the island, some form of nongovernmental representation, and Taiwan’s ability to maintain its own defenses. Above all, normalization must preserve the prospect of an eventual peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, presumably based on parallel expressions of patience and restraint by the PRC and American concern for the island’s future. Without this prospect, normalization is unlikely to be accomplished.

In sum, the normalization issue tests the ability of the American political process to adjust to a changing world without compromising basic principles, to promote “preventive politics” and plan for the long term and global perspective by accepting short-run uncertainties, and to “move without being kicked.” It hardly needs to be said that if Peking comes to believe that the only way to move the United States on Taiwan is with a “kick” in the Strait, we will be back in a period of military confrontation with the PRC. Similarly, a PRC diplomatic “feint to the north”—some gesture on Sino-Soviet relations designed to move us on normalization—is more likely to harden attitudes than to induce flexibility.

The major risks of the present period are precisely that with continuing delay there is ever more dissipation of public support for normalization and concurrent erosion of interest in the policy as the leadership in Washington and Peking begin to explore other alternatives. We are already in a period of some public bickering and recrimination. Senior American foreign policy opinion-makers now speak out against “cravenly yielding” to Peking’s terms for normalization, or threaten impeachment if the President abrogates the defense treaty with the Republic of China. Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, who in late 1975 toasted President Ford’s arrival in Peking with the statement that normalization “will eventually be realized through the joint efforts of our two sides,” told American newspaper editors last September that the United States alone will have to make the moves necessary to normalize relations. Are the Chinese telling us they no longer support the approach to the United States initiated by Chairman Mao and Premier Chou En-lai? Inflexibility in Peking, or indifference and jingoism in Washington, could portend not a period of public debate on normalization, but an eventual return to the political and military burdens of the past, for the United States and for the People’s Republic of China.

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  • RICHARD H. SOLOMON  was President of the United States Institute for Peace, and Director of Policy Planning from 1986 to 1989. He served on the staff of the National Security Council from 1972 to 1976.
  • More By Richard H. Solomon