The Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives (FNVA) held a conference titled “The Weaponization of the One China Policy” in Delhi on the 1st and 2nd of August, 2023, one that placed focus on the importance of China not just for States, but also for non-state stakeholders such as Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, South China Sea and Hong Kong. The ubiquitous and rising concern among the participants and speakers centered on the persisting overlapping of two very different concepts i.e. the One China Principle and the One China Policy, the former of which, according to China[i], 181 countries have upheld and one it continues to promote aggressively. The interrogation of these two different entities lies in recognizing the underlying intention, mechanism, and objectives of Beijing to covertly or overtly support its notion of the One China principle. Even though Lodi Gyari Rinpoche spoke of the irrelevance of the One China policy to the Tibet issue, this short piece intends to dissect the anatomy of “One China” itself before discussing the policy or/and the principle attached to it.
The One-China Principle is the position of the People’s Republic of China on Taiwan i.e. Taiwan is an inseparable part of China and the Communist Party of China is the legitimate government of the whole of China i.e. One China. On the other hand, the One-China Policy is the policy that the United States adopted after the 1970s, where it established diplomatic relations with the PRC, accepted Taiwan as a part of China, and continued to maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan. Therefore, it is vital to recognize the difference between the One China Principle and the One China Policy. As the PRC constantly reiterates, the Principle is a normative paradigm of China’s national and foreign policy, one that it has tried to elevate to the status of being a norm of International relations[ii]. The Policy, due to the very nature of policies in general, is susceptible to change and is context-specific, time-specific, and region-specific.
Over the decades, Principle and Policy have often overlapped: the PRC consistently insists on countries to reiterate their commitment to the One China Principle, while nations such as India and the United States push forward their positions on the One China Principle i.e. their One-China Policy. Principles, therefore, are synonymous with norms and are generally accepted by a wide consensus, such as the Principle of Human Rights, religious freedom, sovereignty, etc. The PRC hopes to be able to push forward with their agenda of elevating the One China Principle as a universal norm of international relations i.e. every other country will then have a One China Principle and not just a One China Policy.
The origin of the One China Principle can be traced back to the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang Party in Taiwan, where both agreed that there was only One China but disagreed on who was the legitimate government. With the ascension of the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan, there has been an increasing discussion concerning a sovereign Taiwan and thus the possibility of there being two Chinas. However, over the years, the PRC has focused on also defining the borders of this One China, including not just Taiwan but Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, South China Sea, areas where Beijing has sovereignty issues, legitimacy issues, legal issues, and historical contestation. This entity called “One-China” is assumed to be a historical sovereign and unified territory. The problem, therefore lies in unconsciously or indirectly, subscribing to this narrative when countries or organizations frame their One China Policies only and exclusively about Taiwan, thus playing into the discourse that this “One China” actually exists unproblematically. This leaves in the dark the questions of instability and lack of legitimacy in the regions of Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, etc., and the forceful occupation of these regions by the Communist Party of China.
It is important to note here that, there exists a significant resistance to this narrative of “One China”, whether it be from Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, or India along its Himalayan borders. However, except for Taiwan, these multiple fronts of resistance are rarely discussed in the context of the “One China Principle/Policy”. In other words, if hypothetically, the Taiwan issue is resolved in the future, does it mean that no other problem exists for the realization of the entity known as One China? Similarly, does it mean that there exists the same One China Policy of every country, even though India has a very different set of historical and contemporary issues with China versus the United States or the EU?
Therefore, as these complexities arise an effort must be made to move the focus on the One China Principle or the Policy beyond just Taiwan and rather re-interrogate the very meaning and borders of what the PRC-led narrative of One China means. Such an approach has a significant impact on how other countries position themselves vis-à-vis China, Tibet, and other problematic regions. For India, it would push forward its geopolitical position over the border disputes along the Himalayan region of Aksai Chin, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh. For other countries like the US and support groups, it would allow a wider space for discussing Tibet not just within the contours of human rights and environment but also with regards to the political question of the future of Tibet and Tibetans.
[i]Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjdt_665385/2649_665393/202208/t20220802_10732293.html