Podcast: A Close Read of the Shanghai Communiqué with Martin Gold
President Nixon’s historic handshake with Premier Chou en-Lai upon stepping off Air Force One in Beijing on February 21, 1972 (Richard Nixon Presidential Library).
Martin Gold was counsel to offices of senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Howard Baker.
What are the details of the “Shanghai Communiqué,” the joint diplomatic declaration by President Nixon and China’s leadership, after the American President’s historic trip to China in February 1972? And why is it relevant today?
To examine this consequential document, we are joined by Martin B. Gold, author, attorney, lecturer at George Washington University, and floor advisor and counsel to the offices of senate majority leader Bill Frist and Howard Baker. He is the author of several books, including “Senate Procedure and Practice” and “A Legislative History of the Taiwan Relations Act.”
Click here to read the Shanghai Communique.
Jonathan Movroydis: You’re listening to the “Nixon Now” podcast. I’m Jonathan Movroydis. This is brought to you by the Nixon Foundation. We’re broadcasting from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You could follow us on Twitter @NixonFoundation or at nixonfoundation.org.
What are the details of the “Shanghai Communiqué,” the historic document announced by President Nixon after his historic trip to China in February 1972? And why is it relevant today? To answer these and other questions, we are joined by Martin B. Gold, author, attorney, lecturer at George Washington University, and floor advisor and counsel to office of senate majority leader Bill Frist and Howard Baker. He’s the author of several books, including “Senate Procedure and Practice” and “A Legislative History of the Taiwan Relations Act.” Mr. Gold, welcome.
Martin Gold: Oh, good afternoon to you.
Jonathan Movroydis: Just to start off, to inform about history, October 1st, 1949. This is 70 years ago from yesterday, Mao Zedong declared into existence the People’s Republic of China after a long civil war. Could you give us a background who was fighting in that civil war, and what was this October 1st victory speech all about?
Martin Gold: The Civil War really germinated from the 1920s. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, in 1911, there was a period of feudalism in China, war lords competing for power in China without any essential control. But finally, the Nationalist Party, of which Mao Zedong was a member in the 19 teens, finally was able to secure control of China by the early 1920s. But there was a split in the Nationalist Party between communist elements, Mao, and others, and Chiang Kai-Shek who was in charge of the right wing, essentially, of the Nationalist Party.
And as a result of that split in the middle 1920s, a civil war germinated. It did not go well for the communists in the early stages of the war, and had the potential to result in a communist annihilation by the middle 1930s. But what fundamentally changed was that the Japanese had attacked Manchuria in 1931, were threatening to attack south of the Great Wall, which they did in 1937. And as a result of the Japanese intervention, the Civil War, for a number of reasons, was put on hold. It gave Mao an opportunity to regroup.
After the defeat of Japan in 1945, the Civil War resumed. But this time, Mao was in a much stronger position to a degree with Soviet help. And over a four-year period, he was able to vanquish the Nationalists. So by the time you get to that 70-years-ago moment, October 1st, 1949, Mao was declaring the People’s Republic of China from The Gate of Heavenly Peace on Tiananmen, and Chiang Kai-Shek is in Taiwan, hopeful to return to the mainland, but of course, he never did. So, fundamentally, it is the dispute between the communists and the nationalists that ends up with a decisive communist victory in 1949.
Jonathan Movroydis: What had characterized U.S. relations with China during the Second World War at that period? And even after the war ended between ’45 and ’49, during that Civil War?
Martin Gold: The United States, during World War II, was an ally of China because we had a common enemy, the enemy being Japan. It was highly beneficial for the United States to have China in the war because China absorbed an enormous amount of energy of the Japanese army, tying down the estimate about a million Japanese troops in China that would otherwise have been free to fight us in the Pacific. So, as a consequence, it was in our interest to help China during the war, and we did. As well, it was in China’s interest to remain allied with the United States, and they did.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, during the war, came to the United States to make appeals directly to the U.S. Congress and throughout the United States, trying to make sure that the war had proper degree of support and funding in Asia. But in any event, ultimately, victory was achieved. Franklin Roosevelt had a notion that the world order be policed by policemen, that ultimately wound up becoming the members of the Security Council of the United Nations and China was one of them. He was speaking of the China of Chiang Kai-Shek. What Roosevelt did not count on, and what Harry Truman encountered after the war ended, was the resumption of the Chinese Civil War.
The United States made early efforts to mediate in that war. President Truman in particular sent General George Marshall to China on a peace mission in 1947 in an effort to try to bring about a negotiated settlement between the communists and the nationalists, but neither side was really willing to relinquish too much or to listen to Marshall, unless it was in its own self-interest. If either side felt as though they could prevail in the war, they really didn’t have much use for coalition governments or American intervention. So at the end of the day, the Marshall mission was a failure. I think it probably could never have succeeded, unless the Chinese themselves came to the conclusion, they couldn’t prevail in the war. And they never reached that conclusion.
So after Marshall left China, the United States was in a position where certain members of Congress and certain elements within American society, known as the China lobby, continued to push support for the Chiang Kai-Shek government. But basically, Truman turned a deaf ear to that. The United States realized that it could not make further investments in China, and communism victory in the Civil War was likely to be inevitable. And that in the end of the day, it was going to be good money after bad, if we continue to remain involved in the war. So, we basically pulled back, Mao prevailed in China, Chiang is in Taiwan. There was anticipation that Mao would make an amphibious assault across the Taiwan Strait against the Zheng regime in Taipei, as soon as it was able to do so. But then there was an intervening moment, and the intervening moment was the Korean War.
And once the Korean War happened, then Truman, Interpol was the Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait, keeping the possibility of an amphibious assault at bay. And Chiang Kai-Shek was then converted from a discarded ally into a central ally of American policy in Asia, culminating ultimately with a mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Republic of China and Taiwan in 1954 under the administration of Dwight Eisenhower. So, American policy toward Taiwan, which essentially had been during Truman’s time to write off Chiang Kai-Shek had been converted because of the Korean War into making him a strong and important ally, and the centerpiece, Taiwan being an unsinkable aircraft carrier, a centerpiece of American policy in the Pacific. So it’s a major change.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had talked about the Marshall mission in the late 1940s, were we willing to accept partial rule by Mao and his forces in China?
Martin Gold: Marshall supported a coalition government of some kind. He never anticipated I think that Mao would simply fold up the tent and go away. What the nature of the coalition government would be was a bit difficult to say because Chiang kept demanding that Mao recognize the Nationalist government as the government of China, and to bring his forces underneath the recognized authority of the nationalist regime. How exactly that was supposed to work is unclear here, again.
If the military situation on the ground were such that it looked as though that was the only thing to keep the communists from being annihilated, as would have been the case, for example, in 1936, perhaps Mao goes for that. But that was absolutely not the case as the Chinese Civil War unfolded, and so therefore, there would have been no reason for Mao to go with agreement like that. But therefore, although the Marshall mission, I don’t believe ever got to the point of proposing the precise contours of a coalition government, certainly, the anticipation was that both Chiang and Mao would be central players in the future Chinese regime, it’s just that neither of them was willing to concede the authority of the other.
Jonathan Movroydis: What after Mainland China falls to communism, what governs U.S.-China relations after that? I mean, it’s been said that we completely cut off relations with each other, but was there some talks between 1949 and through the early 1970s?
Martin Gold: There were talks. They were very modest. There were talks in Europe, actually. I mean, there were U.S. diplomats in Warsaw. I had discussions with Chinese diplomats in Warsaw. When we say discussions, how many discussions? Henry Kissinger, in his first volume of “White House Memoirs,” talks about 168 meetings that had occurred over a period of years in Warsaw to absolutely no consequence because we maintained an open line of communication, but we were talking about a regime that was fundamentally hostile to the United States and suffered, of course, its only internal turmoils during that period, you know, within China. Also, a regime closely allied for much of that period with the Soviet Union, until the Sino-Soviet split occurred as maybe 10, 12 years into the time of the People’s Republic. So as a practical matter, there were communications, but they were not fruitful ones.
Jonathan Movroydis: So, during the Nixon administration, Nixon early on tells his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, who you mentioned, to explore ways that the United States can establish rapprochement with the Chinese. They do so through a series of secret negotiations in the…through 1970 and ’71. And then the breakthrough happens on July 15th, ’71, when Nixon announces after Kissinger’s secret trip there that he will be going to the People’s Republic of China in early 1972. The “Shanghai Communiqué” is worked on in some of Kissinger’s early trips with Alexander Haig, and then it’s even worked on during the February 1972 trip after the president arrives in Beijing. Could you take us through how the “Shanghai Communiqué” was crafted? What were the primary considerations on both sides going into these negotiations?
Martin Gold: Well, there were substantive considerations and procedural considerations. So, Kissinger absolutely did not think that the Communiqué could be left for the time of Nixon’s visit. It was not clear exactly how long Nixon was gonna stay in China. The typical length of a presidential visit, up to the time of that trip, had been four days. That’s a lot of pressure, if you leave the negotiation of the Communiqué to the last minute. So, they didn’t work on the Communiqué at all during Kissinger’s secret trip in July of 1971. But then, with the anticipation of Nixon coming in early ’72, Kissinger went back to China for a public trip in October of 1971. And with the idea of getting a lot of the groundwork for the Communiqué out of the way before Nixon ever got to China, Kissinger negotiated very substantially with the Chinese authorities during that October trip so that much of the structure of the Communiqué was actually settled months before Nixon ever got to China with very important language left for settlement at the end.
So two things would not be true. One is that nothing was settled until Nixon got to China because that’s not true. The other thing is that everything was settled before Nixon got to China, because that’s also not true. So, Kissinger, in October, settled most of the issues with the exception of a good language on Taiwan. It is not correct to say that Taiwan was ignored in October because both the Chinese and American sides tabled back and forth eight versions of a Communiqué, and Taiwan is written up in every one of them.
However, the language that appears in the “Shanghai Communiqué” that was issued on February 28th, 1972 is a language that was settled during Nixon’s visit. So much of this done before Nixon’s visit, but that essential language, which is crucial to the future normalization of U.S.-China relations is really only settled at Nixon’s visit. And that was difficult enough, according to all reports. So, one can only imagine what would have been the case if they had left the entire thing to be done at the last minute. Nixon’s trip wound up being a week and not four days, but still it wouldn’t have been enough time to resolve matters.
So, that is at least the process by which this went on. I want to add one more detail on that and then we can talk about the substance. The United States tabled the first draft of the “Shanghai Communiqué” on the evening of October 22nd, 1971. This was prepared by Kissinger and his team, and it was the language of a normal diplomatic Communiqué, where people tamp down differences, stress what they have in common, and indicate that they’re going to work together for world peace. This was given to Zhou Enlai. Zhou Enlai promised to consider it and he came back to them with an answer.
Zhou, according to these reports, that appeared in memoirs and so forth, took it up with Mao. Mao absolutely refused a Communiqué of that nature. He said that it would look false. “We’ve had so many differences over the years, how can we paper them over now? And in order to paper them over, we’ll have to use vague language that can be misinterpreted by friends of China or friends of America. And that ultimately will not look good for either of us. So instead of having something that will appear to be falsely optimistic, we ought to really state what we mean. You take your position and we take our position and so forth, and we state the differences first, then we state what we have in common.”
Kissinger was taken aback by this because it was traditional to do what the Americans had proposed. Here is something that’s really quite far out. And Kissinger is out of touch with the White House, he’s not talking to Nixon at this moment, so he has to decide whether or not Nixon will back him if he goes along with the Chinese approach. He decides that Nixon will, and Nixon does. So, he goes along with the Chinese approach and the Chinese tabled some language that in a number of respects was fairly harsh.
Kissinger did not disagree then with the approach that was taken stating the differences, but he did disagree with the harshness of some of the language. And from that, you get the back and forth, the back and forth that leads into a reasonable position by the time Kissinger leaves China in October ’71 and language that can then be massaged when Nixon gets to China in February of ’72. But Nixon, when asked about this, as I’m suggesting here, said, “Well, yes, that’s exactly the right way to approach this problem.” And so the “Shanghai Communiqué” is a diplomatic breakthrough on many levels, including procedural levels.
Jonathan Movroydis: Let’s go through some excerpts of the document. First, they state some of their differences. I’ll go with the U.S. side first, “Peace in Asia and peace in the world requires efforts both to reduce immediate tensions and to eliminate the basic causes of conflict. The United States will work for a just and secure peace. Just, because it fulfills the aspirations of peoples and nations for freedom and progress. Secure, because it removes the danger of foreign aggression.” What does this mean from the United States standpoint?
Martin Gold: Well, frankly speaking, the United States was looking to resolve its problem in Vietnam. By 1972, there’d been negotiations with no conclusion in Vietnam. America is still mired in the war, even though the United States has withdrawn troops. But it doesn’t appear, at this point, that there is an easy end to the war in sight when that language was first tabled. So, what they ultimately were trying to do was to get the Chinese involved in, you can say putting pressure on North Vietnam or trying to get North Vietnam into a position where North Vietnam would negotiate with the United States on a basis that would allow America to withdraw from the war with dignity and honor as America had wanted to do, and to preserve the possibility of a South Vietnamese regime in power.
But let me only say that that is a language that is very much toned down and it’s an American position anyway. The original Chinese language, okay, that Kissinger had to respond to when it was tabled in October of ’71, that talked about the fact that the Chinese people pledged themselves to provide powerful backing for the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, going on here, “The Chinese territory forever remains the reliable rear area of the three Indochinese people. And the Chinese people are prepared to undertake the greatest national sacrifices and firmly support the three Indochinese peoples in fighting to the end for the attainment of their goal.”
Kissinger wouldn’t allow Nixon to sign anything like that. And the language ultimately doesn’t appear even in the Chinese side of the “Shanghai Communiqué.” But ultimately, what I just read to you speaks to the breadth of difference between the United States and China on the conflict in Southeast Asia. And so, what the United States was doing in its language here, is trying to essentially say, “We have a role to play in Southeast Asia. We wanna secure a piece in Southeast Asia, and then we wanna get out of Southeast Asia from a military perspective.”
Jonathan Movroydis: On the Chinese side, the Chinese, as you said, expressed firm support for the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. This is the final version. “It stood for unification of the Korean Peninsula and firmly opposed Japanese militarism and wanted a peace between India and Pakistan in their conflict.” Could you talk about what this meant for China, and also what this meant for the American position as well?
Martin Gold: Well, they also wanted Japanese neutrality. They also wanted to withdraw all of U.S. troops from Japan. In other words, the Chinese, of course, were at this point less than a generation, basically, or perhaps a generation removed from an eight-year war with Japan, a war that they believed was instigated, believe with good reason, was instigated by Japanese militarism. They were terribly concerned about the rise of Japanese militarism, again, particularly in a sense if America exited from Taiwan. In other words, one of the things that they were concerned about in the negotiations with the U.S. was that if America left Taiwan, the Japanese would move back into Taiwan. Move back because between 1895 and 1945, as a result of a war that Japan and China fought at the end of the 19th century, Taiwan actually was controlled by Japan. There were a lot of ties between the Taiwanese and the Japanese.
Would Japan step in and fill the vacuum? So if America leaves Asia, how do we know that the Japanese militarism, which has been kept in check in the post-World War II period because of the American presence in Asia and the American nuclear umbrella, how do we know that if America leaves, the Japanese aren’t going to come back? That was a major concern of theirs. And when Nixon was negotiating with Zhou Enlai on the second day of his trip, he gave Zhou Enlai five assurances about American policy.
And one of them was exactly about this, that the United States would not countenance a rise in Japanese militarism or Japanese coming in to fill any kind of vacuums on Taiwan. And to the degree to which the United States had influence with Japan, and it had plenty, it would make sure that the Japanese did not do that. So, it was a major fear on the part of China, that Japan would once again rise as a military power. So, it had early in the 20th century, and it had to be stopped. And they wanted to get American assurances that America would not only not abet that, would actually stop it.
Jonathan Movroydis: Did they become convinced the Chinese of the idea that U.S. troop presence was somewhat necessary in Japan to stop that, as is to stop any potential aggression against them?
Martin Gold: This is something that Nixon and Kissinger argued, you know? And it appears as though… In fact, they came to exactly that conclusion. But ultimately, the argument was that ultimately, the United States did not have aggressive redesigns on China, but the United States was a stabilizing force in Asia. And if you took the United States out of the equation, you just didn’t know what was going to happen. What would happen on the Korean peninsula, for example? What would happen in Japan? What would happen in Southeast Asia, and so forth? So that you could look at the United States as an interloper or you could look at the United States as a stabilizer. Nixon and Kissinger absolutely emphasized the role of a stabilizer and the Chinese appeared to accept that. They had great concerns, again, about the Japanese. They had great concerns about the Soviets. They had great concerns about Taiwanese independence.
Jumping ahead for a nanosecond to something you didn’t ask, but when Deng Xiaoping came to the White House to talk to President Carter, after the normalization of relations, now we’re talking about January of 1979, the issue was raised as it was during the Nixon and Kissinger negotiations, would the Chinese use force against Taiwan? And the Chinese would never renounce the use of force exactly. Okay?
So, the question then Carter posed as well, “Under what circumstance would you use force?” One of those circumstances that Deng brought out, which is the same as would have been the case in the Zhou Enlai and Nixon-Kissinger talks was, “Taiwan independence. We have to use force to prevent Taiwan independence.” But the second thing that Deng mentioned that was not set in the Zhou Enlai and Nixon-Kissinger talks, was or if the Soviets try to fill the vacuum on Taiwan, and move in where the Americans have left.
So, at the end of the day, I think it’s a very fair way of saying the possibility that Taiwan would try to be free of China or be dominated by a foreign power was a matter of the gravest concern to the Chinese. And the American role on Taiwan was the least maligned and the most stabilizing role of any of the scenarios they could realize, other than the simple rejoinder of Taiwan to the mainland.
Jonathan Movroydis: The two sides then agreed on four fundamental principles that would help govern their relationship. If we could, let’s go through them one by one, but I’ll state them briefly. “Progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interest of all countries.” Two, “Both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict.” Three, “Neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.” And four, “Neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.” Let’s start with the first, progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interest of all countries. Could you describe that a bit?
Martin Gold: Of course, President Nixon, before he was President, Nixon wrote an article in foreign affairs in 1967, in which he talked about the fact that the world could not leave one fourth to one fifth of the human race outside of the normal flow of international relations sitting in angry isolation, is the way he put it, cherishing its hatreds and all the rest of it. That it was not sound international policy to leave China outside the family of nations.
And China, in many respects, had done that to itself, particularly in the period of the Cultural Revolution when Nixon was writing that. But the simple reality of it is, a lot of what happened in the world of the 1950s and 1960s into the 1970s happened because China was in such a hostile and non-communicative position. There’s arguments about whether or not the Korean War would have materialized as it did, if China had not been in that posture. Plenty of arguments that Vietnam would not have materialized as it did, if China were not in that posture.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had hearings in the 1960s making this exact point, that a posture toward China had to be rethought because it was leading us into a position where we were engaged in a land war in Asia that we should never have been in in the first place, but we were there because of what we believe about China.
So, in the final analysis, the thought was that world politics and the chance for world peace would be in much better shape if China were in the tent and talking to people outside the tent in angry isolation, as Nixon put it. So basically, Nixon believed this was a stabilizing factor in international relations, if you could get China talking and dealing with other nations as a normal nation would. It’s a very major step.
Jonathan Movroydis: Point two, both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict. You talked a little bit about military conflict, but does this speak to the greater cold war with the Soviet Union as well?
Martin Gold: It does, indeed. Because the opening to the United States, when people were talking about Nixon’s opening to China, but of course, you have to have a dance partner there. And the dance partner is also wanting to talk to the United States. So why are they wanting to do that? Because they have got a hostile Soviet Union that is extremely, heavily armed on its border in the north with military conflict already breaking out in 1969, with a potential of major escalations.
But it’s not just what happened in 1969, if you went further back into the 1960s, as China developed its nuclear weapons capability, which it was doing essentially without Soviet help, developed it independently after the Sino-Soviet split. This was a matter of great concern to the Soviet Union. There were proposals from the Soviet Union to the United States about the possibility of preemptive attacks on China, particularly the nuclear facilities.
So the Soviet Union was then a communist country and China was then a communist country too, but that is about all they had in common. And that wasn’t enough. There was great hostility between them and the possibility of war was real. And Mao Zedong, looking at that situation, commissioned a series of very senior Marshalls of the Chinese military to suggest what it is that China might do about this. And what are the things China might do about this was to think about its relationship with the United States.
So China and the United States sent signals to each other. It wasn’t purely a one-way street. But the object was, in any case, to tamp down the possibility of Soviet aggression. Both China being in contact with the U.S. and the U.S. being in contact with China and developing some kind of a reasonable relationship, diminished the prospect that the Soviet Union would take on itself a preemptive strike against China.
Jonathan Movroydis: The third point, neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony. I think here, let’s talk a little bit about the, as opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony, that particular clause, who are they talking about in particular?
Martin Gold: Well, they’re not, you know, talking about Denmark and the Netherlands. They’re talking about the Soviet Union. It is a code word for the Soviet Union. Hegemony was language that the Chinese had used throughout the Cold War. But prior to the time of the opening to the United States, hegemony meant, or hegemonies were the Soviet Union and the United States both. They applied it to us and they applied it to the Soviets. But in the moment of this rapprochement between China and the United States, now it is being applied to the Soviets. So the word Soviet Union does not appear there. But that is the meaning of this term.
And the United States has given China all the assurances it can that it does not seek any kind of role against China’s interest in Asia. They’re not seeking Chinese territory. They’re not trying to return to the period of humiliation where the foreigners were trying to take advantage of China. China doesn’t believe the United States has hostile intent as well. So therefore, they can come to terms with each other on some reasonable basis, particularly if they can solve the Taiwan problem. Therefore, they can both turn against a common enemy. Now, Nixon was careful, didn’t wanna use Soviet Union, didn’t wanna make it look like a Chinese-U.S. cabal against the Soviet Union, but they absolutely got the Soviets attention with that clause.
Kissinger notes in his memoirs, and in subsequent writings that Winston Lord has been responsible for putting together, former Kissinger aide, who became an ambassador to China, notes that the Soviet Union had been stiff-arming the United States on request for a summit meeting in 1972. The United States had wanted a summit meeting to discuss all manner of things, including arms limitation agreements, the Soviets are not cooperating.
Nixon goes to China, and all of a sudden the Soviets are cooperating. And there’s a major summit in Moscow several months after Nixon comes back from China. So, the idea was once the Soviets got the notion that China and the United States might actually have common interest with the Soviet Union being froze out, Soviet Union, then for doesn’t wanna be frozen out and comes back into talks. So that the Nixon trip to China does not only improve U.S.-China relations, it also improves U.S.-Soviet relations.
Jonathan Movroydis: The last point here is neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states. What does this mean?
Martin Gold: The United States had wanted China to lean on Vietnam, to push it into the Vietnam War. I mean, we had a number of interests in the opening to China, not all of which were achieved. We achieved a great deal, tremendous amount, but not everything was achieved. Now, one of the things that was not achieved was to try to get Chinese good officers to lean on Vietnam, to bring about a negotiated settlement to the war. So if you look at this language, neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any other third party. It means Beijing is not going to be negotiating on behalf of Hanoi.
By the way it’s written, it looks very neutral. But Beijing was not asking us to negotiate on behalf of Saigon. So, we were hoping for a greater degree of Chinese intervention in the Vietnam War than we got, but it was as it was. So, that language there just essentially says, “We’re going to deal with each other on a bilateral basis, and neither of us is a proxy for anybody else.”
Jonathan Movroydis: Let’s move to the issue of Taiwan later down this document. China declared that Taiwan should be returned to the Motherland, while the U.S. declared almost ambiguously or very ambiguously, the U.S. side declared, “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China, and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” Could you describe what this means?
Martin Gold: The Chinese, from the very beginning of the negotiations, first of all, to the degree that the United States did not reappoint or reaffirm support for the Taiwan government claimed that if the government of China, and so forth, didn’t show any flexibility on the Taiwan question, these negotiations would have gone absolutely nowhere. When Zhou Enlai first invited a representative of the United States President to come to China, he originally said, “We wanna talk about is Taiwan. That’s the obstacle to U.S.-China relations. We just wanna talk about Taiwan.”
United States said, “Well, we will talk about Taiwan but we also have other things we wanna talk about. We don’t want the agenda limited.” And so, as a result of that, the Chinese agreed, and the agenda was broadened. However, the Chinese took a position from the very outset, from the first time they tabled one of these drafts of the “Shanghai Communiqué,” and really in all the negotiations that we see to that, and back even into Kissinger’s trip in July, a few fundamental principles. Okay?
And I’m quoting now from the Chinese draft, the first draft of the communiqué, “The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of ‘one China, two governments,’ ‘two Chinas,’ ‘one China, one Taiwan,’ and ‘independent Taiwan’ or advocate that the status of Taiwan remains to be determined.” Because that’s what the United States would always say, “The status of Taiwan remains to be determined.” Okay?
And so, they also add that the United States will not carry out or support any activities aimed at separating Taiwan from the mainland and will withdraw the U.S. troops, etc., etc., etc. So what do they want? They want a recognition of one China. They want a recognition that Taiwan is part of China. They do not want the United States to maintain troops on Taiwan. They do not want the United States to encourage Taiwan separation. They do not want the United States to participate in any legal ambiguity about the status of Taiwan by saying the status remains to be determined.
And so, in those positions, those positions, they stuck to and they stuck to and they stuck to. So In the end, they removed the language on, “We won’t support any separatism,” although Nixon has told them we won’t, in the private assurances. They remove…or, they don’t remove, but they soften the language on U.S. troop withdrawals, but they don’t really soften the “one China” policy.
The United States for its part is going to have to acknowledge this or there’s not going to be…we’re not gonna get to first base with the Chinese. So, Kissinger has stated that there was an old State Department document that had been prepared in 1954, at the time of the Geneva summit, by a State Department official, U. Alexis Johnson, who later became Undersecretary of State that could be used in negotiations with the Chinese government. John Foster Dulles had the paper but never used the material.
But in the paper, there was this language about the fact that we understand that all Chinese on either side of the Strait claim that there’s one China, that Taiwan is part of China, you know, and so forth. They borrowed from that 1954 language and used it in these negotiations and used it in the final “Shanghai Communiqué.” The strategic ambiguity comes to this. The Beijing government said, “There’s one China, Taiwan’s part of it.” The Taiwan side said, “There’s one China, Taiwan’s part of it.”
Both claimed to be the legal government of China. Neither claimed that there were two Chinas. Neither claimed that Taiwan was separate. So, the United States simply went along with that reality, used this old language from 1954, and said, “We acknowledge that Chinese on both sides of the strait say, ‘There’s one China and Taiwan is part of it.'” They didn’t say that the status of Taiwan remains to be determined. And in fact, Nixon in one of his assurances to Zhou said, “We’ll never use that language again. And I’ll make sure that nobody in our bureaucracy uses it?”
So, it begs a question, one China, Taiwan’s part of it, who’s the legitimate government? During Nixon’s time, an answer to that question would have been, “At least for the moment, Taipei.” Later it became Beijing. But to this day, to this day, the official position of the government on Taiwan is that there is one China, Taiwan is part of it, and that the government of Taipei is a legitimate government. So, those things have not changed. But that’s the basic of it. The strategic ambiguity is that we did not have to accept Beijing’s claim to be the legitimate government, we just had to say, “All Chinese believe that there’s one China and Taiwan’s part of it.”
Jonathan Movroydis: Looking nearly 50 years on, you know, with the Trump administration and with the current Chinese, the Chinese actions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea, their relationship with Taiwan is still very complex today. Taipei and Beijing do have relations, but there are also some friction between the two government bodies. Do you think the “Shanghai Communiqué” has stood the test of time? Do the United States and the Chinese, more or less, adhere to the principles that they had set forth?
Martin Gold: I think it has absolutely stood the test of time. There was going to be a test of whether it stood the test because early on in the first days of the Trump administration, you know, when President Trump was President Elect Trump, there was this phone call from Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan to President Elect Trump, that seemed to be the harbinger of moving away from the One China policy that, of course, wound up stabilizing. If it hadn’t stabilized, you wouldn’t be talking about trade wars. Now, you’d be talking about something that potentially could be a whole lot worse.
You wouldn’t have had Xi Jinping come to Mar-a-Lago, you wouldn’t have had Trump going to Beijing, you wouldn’t have had the back and forth, the highest level negotiators out of the State Council, and the American cabinet. All of those things that happened, you wouldn’t have had that. And the reason you wouldn’t have had it is because the principle that Taiwan is part of China, begging the question of how and when, if ever, it actually rejoins the mainland is a core principle for China? They can absolutely not give up on that, they will say it is a total violation of their territorial integrity and they will not countenance it.
So, if you moved away from the strategic ambiguity of the “Shanghai Communiqué,” and said, “Well, after all this time, let’s just acknowledge the fact Taiwan has not been reunited with the mainland. And let’s just recognize the fact that generations have grown up on Taiwan without direct ties to the mainland because they were not among the people that came over from the mainland. Who are all, by the way, always a minority of the population on Taiwan anyway, let’s just acknowledge the fact that Taiwan is separate.” That might satisfy some interest here, but it would create an enormous complication in U.S.-China relations.
So, if people say the U.S.-China relations are the most important bilateral, that that is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, that I think it is perfectly evident that it is, on what basis is it going to be conducted? They’re not always happy with us, that’s for sure. We’re not always happy with them, that’s for sure. But there are some things that have to be observed, and one of them is the terminology that was put into that “Shanghai Communiqué” back in 1972. That terminology has absolutely stood the test of time and it needs to continue to stand it. That it should have a possibility of having meaningful bilateral relationship with China.
Jonathan Movroydis: Our guest today is Martin Gold, attorney and counsel for Senate Majority leaders and author of several books, including the “Senate Procedure and Practice” and “A Legislative History of the Taiwan Relations Act.” Our topic today was the history and significance of the “Shanghai Communiqué.” Martin Gold, thank you so much for joining us.
Martin Gold: You’re very welcome. Thank you.
Jonathan Movroydis: Please check back for future podcasts at nixonfoundation.org or on your favorite podcast app. This is Jonathan Movroydis in Yorba Linda.