Being the World’s second biggest economy is a reason enough to hear a lot about China everyday, but ever since Donald Trump was elected as the President of USA, these decibel levels have just gone up. The most recent of the issues involves One-China policy which Trump says is very much negotiable and in the words of Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, would bring it to the table if China doesn’t work with US on trade and the happenings in South-China sea. On its part, China says One-China policy is non-negotiable and any idea of using the policy as a part negotiating plan would leave Beijing with “no choice but to take  off the gloves.”

What is One-China policy?

One China policy is a diplomatic acknowledgement that any country must accept to, if they want to have a official relationship with Beijing. Countries which accept to this must break their ties with Taiwan, which China considers as a breakaway province to be unified with the mainland China one day. To understand this we need to understand the history between China and Taiwan but before that let’s look at their geography.


Taiwan is a small island nation, 180 km east of China. Taiwan, in a way, acts as a boundary between East China sea and South China sea. Taiwan is also known as Republic of China and controls Taiwan and some nearby island groups. Two Chinas is a term referring to this particular scenario wherein two political entities each name themselves as China.

The People’s Republic of China (PROC) commonly known as China came into effect in 1949 and  it controls mainland China along with Hong Kong and Macau. Republic of China (ROC) controlled mainland China from 1912 to 1949 before losing its control in the Chinese Civil war. Since then, ROC controls only Taiwan and some nearby island groups.

From 1894 to 1945

The First Sino-Japanese war took place from 1 August, 1894 to 17 April, 1895 between the Qing Empire of China and the Empire of Japan, primarily over the control of Korea. Realizing the potential economic benefits of Korea’s coal and iron ore deposits for its industrial base, Japan wanted to block any other power from annexing or dominating Korea. Traditionally Korea had been a tributary state of the Qing Empire of China. Similar to the present day Brexit, people in Korea are divided in their opinions. The conservatives preferred to retain their traditional relationship with China while the reformists wanted to approach Japan & Western Nations.

The ensuing Sino-Japanese war ended with Qing empire recognizing the total independence of Korea and conceding Liaodong Peninsula, Taiwan and Penghu Islands to Japan “in perpetuity”. The period from 1895 to 1930 saw many uprisings from Taiwanese on Japanese troops with last major aboriginal uprising, the Wushe Rebellion, crushed in 1930. In 1942, Chinese government renounced all treaties with Japan and demanded the return of Taiwan.

With the defeat and consequent surrender of Empire of Japan in the second world war which ended in September 1945, US placed Taiwan under Chinese administrative control. After half a century as a Japanese colony, Taiwan had been handed back to China. However, the Taiwanese people found the incoming Chinese administration, Kuomintang (KMT) under Chen Yi, to be more corrupt and cruel than the outgoing Japanese administration.

From 1947: 228 Incident, Martial law, Civil War & emergence of PROC

The Taiwanese who were unhappy with the suppression of the KMT government found their voice when a Taiwanese widow, who stood up against the government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly Bureau agents, was brutally attacked on Feb 27, 1947. And on Feb 28, referred to as 228 Incident, the KMT government launched a crackdown on Taiwanese protesters which lasted for weeks and saw close to 28000 civilian casualties (the official number isn’t confirmed). The ensuing chaos resulted in Chinese authorities imposing martial law in Taiwan.

Back in mainland China, a full scale civil war broke out immediately after the World War II between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT). The 2 sides had been engaging in many on and off conflicts since 1927. Years of corruption and mismanagement eroded the popular support for the Nationalist Party and improved the Communist stronghold. As the civil war gained strength from 1947 to 1949, the Communist victory seemed more likely. Even thought they didn’t hold any major cities at that time, they had strong grassroots support, superior military organization and large stocks of weapons seized from Japanese supplies.

Chiang Kai-shek (L), Mao Zedong (R)

On October 1, 1949, Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of People’s Republic of China (PROC) and marked an end to the full scale civil war. The United Sates suspended diplomatic ties with mainland China for decades since the Communists took over. Fearing a possible attack by Communists, Chiang kai-shek, President of ROC, and his forces fled to Taiwan along with 2 million refugees. These mainlanders dominated the island until the end of martial law in 1987.

Current Scenario

The UN recognizes People’s Republic of China and therefore PROC has a seat on the UN council while Taiwan is the most populous state that is not a member of UN. The One-China policy is an acknowledgement that a country should accept if it wants to have a diplomatic relationship with Beijing. It stipulates the countries to break their ties with Taiwan. The US established formal relationship with Beijing in 1979 and as a result severed its ties with Taiwan and closed their embassy in Taipei, although it still maintains an unofficial presence in Taipei via the American Institute in Taiwan, a private corporation through which it carries out diplomatic activities.

Since its acceptance of One-China policy in 1979, no US President or President-elect  has publicly spoken to a leader of Taiwan until President-elect Donald Trump decided to change the record. On Dec 2, 2016, Trump accepted a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and few weeks later commented that In future talks with China, “everything is under negotiation, including ‘one-China.” As this article points out, Political greats like Wilson, Truman and Stalin all tried their hands to persuade the Chinese to accept a divided China and got burnt. If Trump can persuade the Chinese to give up the idea of political unity, he will truly go down in history as a game-changing president.

It’s over to you Mr.Trump!

References & Some useful links:

228 Incident, Taiwan-Timeline

Taiwan caught in middle