Leaders of the Communist Party of China have resolved to base the foundation of modern China on one principle and one policy: The ‘One China Principle’ and the policy of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’
Brandishing the ‘One China Principle,’ it wants to occupy the island of Taiwan. At the same time, ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is a lullaby to promise that the island of Hong Kong would enjoy after its transfer to China the same democratic traditions and institutions that its residents used to enjoy under British rule.
With whichever third country Beijing has an interaction of any kind, it makes them sign a declaration that it adheres to the ‘One China Principle.’ The principle suits the Communist Party of China, while the policy does not. Invoking the ‘One China Principle,’ Beijing has been routinely sending warships and combat aircraft to the coastal region of Taiwan to threaten Taipei into submission. On the other hand, in Hong Kong, with the promulgation of the National Security Law in July 2020, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy has been given a rather indecent burial.
What China promised way back in 1984 in elaborating the policy of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ now sounds like little more than mockery. “We are pursuing a policy of ‘one country two systems,'” said an article in China Internet Information Centre, a state-run web portal in China, carried in June 1984. “The Chinese government is firm in its position, principles and policies on Hong Kong. After China resumes the exercise of its sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, Hong Kong’s current social and economic systems will remain unchanged, its legal system will remain basically unchanged. Our policies with regard to Hong Kong will remain unchanged for 50 years, and we mean this.”
In 1984, the Sino – British Joint Declaration was signed, paving the way for the handover of Hong Kong from the U. K. to China in 1997. Under the Declaration, Hong Kong was to be constituted as a Special Administrative Region under the People’s Republic of China, enjoying a “high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs.” The Special Administrative Region would be vested with “executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.” The existing rights, freedoms, and lifestyle would remain unchanged for 50 years from 1997, including rights and freedoms of the person, of speech, of the Press, of assembly, of travel, of strike, of academic research, and of religious belief.” According to a House of Commons Briefing Paper issued on July 5, 2019, the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty. It was registered in the United Nations on May 27, 1985.
China has not taken, however, long to renege on the Joint Declaration. Officials of the Foreign Ministry of China, as the House of Commons Briefing Paper says, in 2017 suggested that the arrangements under the Joint Declaration were “now history.”
Following the concern of the United Kingdom Government about the police crackdown on protests in Hong Kong in June – July 2019, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the affairs of Hong Kong were “purely China’s internal affair.” The protests were mainly against a Bill to allow the extradition of individuals to mainland China to face criminal charges. The ambassador of China in London, Liu Xiaoming, accused the U. K. Government of interfering in China’s affairs.
The promulgation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in June 2020 has rung the death knell of the ‘One Country Two Systems’ policy. The law gives the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong government sweeping powers to control schools, social organizations, the media, and the internet. Amnesty International has pointed out that “Under this new law, ‘secession,’ ‘subversion,’ ‘terrorism,’ and ‘collusion with foreign forces’ that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment” are broadly defined and can be used in “politically motivated prosecutions.” People attending peaceful protests and criticizing the government have been charged for colluding with ‘foreign forces.’ Suspects could be removed to mainland China and tried under mainland law.
As opposed to this is the ‘One China Principle,’ which the Peoples Republic of China describes as “the foundation stone for the Chinese government’s policy on Taiwan.” Armed with this unilateral “principle,” China wants to achieve a “peaceful reunification” of Taiwan with mainland China but could resort to the “use of force” either. It matters little to the mandarins in Beijing what the people of Taiwan want. The Chinese government has since turned this ‘One China Principle’ into a ‘mantra.’ Any third country entering into any agreement with the Chinese government – be it the Belt and Road Initiative or any other bilateral tie with Beijing – has to sign a declaration that it adheres to the ‘One China Principle.’ As a recent example, the text of the joint statement issued by Pakistan and China after Imran Khan met with President of China Xi Jinping in Beijing in February 2022 during the Winter Olympics said: “The Pakistan side expressed its commitment to One China Policy and support for China on Taiwan, South China Sea, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet.”
There is little historical justification for the PRC to claim sovereignty over the island of Taiwan. PRC had never extended its authority over Taiwan or any other island now administered by the Republic of China. The Qing dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895. Before 1885, when Taiwan was declared a province of the Qing empire, there was a history of Dutch and Spanish presence in Taiwan. European sailors passing through Taiwan used to call the island Formosa. The span of effective Chinese control over Taiwan was, thus, only ten years.
The ROC government of Chiang Kai-shek started exercising control over Taiwan after Japan surrendered in 1945 to mark the end of World War II. The ROC government relocated to Taiwan while fighting a civil war in mainland China. Since then, ROC has continued to exercise effective jurisdiction over the island of Taiwan and a number of other outlying islands, leaving Taiwan and mainland China each under the rule of a different government.
Though designed for the Taiwan issue, there is also an attempt on the part of the satraps in Beijing to use the so-called ‘One China Principle’ to legitimize their illegal occupation of Tibet.
The assertion made in the joint statement issued by China and Nepal after President of China Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu in October 2019 is noteworthy. “Nepal and China take the Belt and Road Initiative as an important opportunity to deepen mutually beneficial co-operation in all fields. The Nepali side reiterates its firm commitment to One China Policy, acknowledging that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory and Tibet Affairs are China’s internal affairs, and the determination on not allowing any anti-China activities on its soil.” This is a formal extension of the ‘One China Policy’ to Tibet.
A large number of Tibetan refugees are sheltered in Nepal. China wants to ensure that they do not take any initiative to assert the rights of Tibetans in Tibet. China has also thrust upon Nepal an extradition treaty to ensure that Tibetans escaping from Tibet via Nepal are returned.
Notably, when Prime Minister of India Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Beijing in June 2003, the joint declaration issued by the two sides after his meeting with Prime Minister of China Wen Jiabao clubbed the Tibet issue and the ‘One China Principle.’ “The Indian side recognizes that the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese side reiterates that it is firmly opposed to any attempt and action aimed at splitting China and bringing about ‘independence of Tibet.'” The Indian side recalled that India was among the first countries to recognize that there is one China and its one China policy remains unaltered. Significantly, there is no mention of Taiwan in this. India had also approved Chinese control of Tibet in the Panchsheel Agreement of 1954. This was widely interpreted as Indian approval of the ‘One China Principle’ as well.
Beijing should draw no comfort that Washington’s recognition of the ‘One China Principle’ means America recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. When the United States moved to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government in China, it only acknowledged the Chinese claim that Taiwan was a part of China; it did not accept it. When, in the Chinese text, Beijing attempted to change the word ‘acknowledged’ to ‘recognized,’ US Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher made it clear that the English text correctly stated the American position, as explained in a paper in Strategic and International Studies. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the US is committed to providing Taiwan with arms for its defense. The US is opposed to unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Since the Chinese offensive in the Doklam plateau near the Sikkim border in 2017 and the Chinese incursions in Ladakh in 2020, public opinion is mounting in India that Delhi should move away from its recognition of the ‘One China Principle.’ The nuance of this shift in the Indian stand is directed more towards Tibet than Taiwan. The Times of India, on September 9, 2014, quoted Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, “For India to agree to a One China Policy, China should reaffirm a One India Policy. When they raised with us the issue of Tibet and Taiwan, we shared their sensitivities. So, we want they should understand and appreciate our sensitivities regarding Arunachal Pradesh.”
The statement came before a visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India. A reference to the ‘One China Principle’ was removed from a joint statement issued in 2010 during Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to India.