Solving the China Problem

China and America: The Search for a New Relationship

edited by William J. Barnds
A Council on Foreign Relations Book, New York University Press, 254 pp., $15.00

China, Oil, and Asia: Conflict Ahead?

a study from The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, by Selig S. Harrison
Columbia University Press, 317 pp., $10.95

Both the persistent charm and the occasional hostility of American-Chinese relations come from our cultural separation, our subtly different expectations and reactions. Chou En-lai and Henry Kissinger, as supra-cultural negotiators, could bridge those differences with more success than we can expect from our Congress, bound as it is to the electorate, or from the less traveled Peking leadership of today. Lacking dominant leaders on either side, we may fall into a people-to-people Sino-American confrontation of emotional reactions, hurt pride, fear, and hostility. The People’s Republic is remote and self-sufficient enough to get Mr. Carter’s least attention. When it does come up, understanding our China problem may be too big a task for a public already overburdened by foreign policy. Our last two wars were on the periphery of the Chinese revolution. Now that it is settling down, can we work out a stable relationship? Can we recognize that Taiwan is part of One China, in theory under Peking, and still maintain our close contacts with Taiwan in fact? This is a challenge we can meet only if we have more than our usual modicum of will and wit.

However, Taiwan is the only Chinese province surrounded by water. The fact is undeniable. Can we base a policy on it?

Normalizing our relations with Peking, our current policy, means denormalizing those with Taiwan. The exact shape of each operation remains to be worked out. Some would like Peking normalized without Taiwan denormalized (or demoralized), but this possibility was foreclosed long ago by the One China doctrine that Taiwan is a province of China, the one thing on which Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung agreed. Chinese leaders thus set the ground rules for American policymakers, who are obliged to find logic in a situation contrary to fact and sell the American public on a Chinese political myth.

Since One China is the primary item of national faith for 900 million Chinese, we did well to “acknowledge” it in the Nixon-Chou Shanghai communiqué of 1972. We thereby backed away, after twenty-three years, from the even less logical myth that our ally the Nationalist government on Taiwan constitutes the One China; but after twenty-eight years we still recognize it as such. Why are we so hung up?

We should not underrate the American emotional attachment to Taiwan, the part of China that seems to be coming our way, that still receives our missionaries and their good works, sends us students, welcomes our tourists, and grows apace in our international trading world. Taiwan is not a place with which the American people will willingly break off contact. Yet it is undeniably a part of the great realm of China—detached, to be sure, but still umbilically connected with the mainland in language, culture, history, and race. We are hung up because we want to develop a future with all China while retaining our inherited contact with part of it. How are we to deal in American style with so Chinese a problem? Can …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.