Scrap the One-China Policy?

Dr. Paul Monk, former head of the China division in Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation adds to the ongoing debate about the relevance and validity of the One-China Policy and calls for a radical rethink of the West’s current stance towards China and Taiwan in a new book titled Thunder from the Silent Zone. He also reasons that China might well allow Taiwanese independ3nce.

Dr. Monk suggests that the current status quo, i.e. Taiwan’s de facto independ3nce and Chinese threats over sovereignty, cannot last forever. He says that instead of trying to maintain the status quo, the West should actively work for a sustainable solution that doesn’t contain the seeds of a potential conflict.

The problem is that the One-China Policy implies that Taiwan is, or at least should be, a part of China. However, the West also says that if China uses force, it will defend Taiwan. At the moment, China cannot move against Taiwan for a number of reasons, but what happens when China judges that the odds are shifting in its favour? Excerpt from the latest media interview with Dr. Monk:

Q: You seem to be suggesting that China may in fact voluntarily hand over full independ3nce to Taiwan as Britain did to Australia, but, you know, given the vehemence of the Chinese insistence that Taiwan is part of China, and China is growing in military strength, how realistic is that?

PAUL MONK: I think an analogy is the simplest way to put it. After 1949 for decades, China had a command economy and from the early 1960s, some of the most thoughtful people in the party acknowledged that this was actually disastrous.

What I’m suggesting is that in the case of Taiwan, you’ve got a similar misconceived policy framework. In this case it’s geo-political, not economic. And it could lead to a disaster in the same way that Mao’s command economics led to various disasters.

If you want to learn and get a constructive outcome short of the disaster, then the way to do it is to reframe what’s going on here, and re-weight the costs and benefits of the situation, and ultimately it’s the way it’s perceived in Beijing that’s going to make the difference. Everybody else might change their mind, but unless the Chinese leadership does, you’re still going to have an impasse. You won’t necessarily have China prevailing, but you will have an impasse.

Q: For your diplomatic path to work though, you’d have to get the United States onside. Is there any sympathy at all for trying to get China to diplomatically engage with Taiwan, to give Taiwan its independ3nce?

PAUL MONK: I think put in that last sense the short answer would have to be no, that is to say that those people running policy in the United States almost certainly think, like policy-makers here, that there’s just no point in raising that issue because as soon as they do they think that they’re going to find an indignant and angry Chinese leadership rejecting the idea out of hand.

The United States for historical reasons is not well-placed to openly propose this to China because it’s likely to be readily construed by Chinese nationalists on the mainland as a ploy by the United States to keep China weak, to contain it, to in some sense colonise Taiwan.

Similarly, Japan is not well placed because of its history of taking Taiwan from the Chinese empire 100 years ago and its invasion of China in the mid-century. So there’s no question that this is a difficult thing, and I wouldn’t propose it except that it seems to me that it’s actually the best solution and that once people’s prejudices and fears can be put to one side, difficult as that may be, this is a future waiting to happen.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Very unlikely. Taiwan is too important in the minds of many Chinese. A final resolution doesn’t necissarily have to be “province” or SAR. I believe any option is possible in any form, except independence. I rather have the mainland surrender to the ROC, than Taiwan becoming independent.

October 8, 2005 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

I don’t know why Chinese are so obsessed with Taiwan not being independent when thet have been indeoendent since 1949. PRC wasn’t too upset about setting Mongolia free. Taiwan is independent and has been forever as far as the PRC is concerned. Can you tell me during what dates China ruled Taiwan. If anyone has a claim to Taiwan it is the aborigines who were there first and longest.

October 8, 2005 @ 10:22 pm | Comment

ZHT, you’re right or to put your point another way, Beijing have truly painted themselves into a corner over Taiwan. The population would also never allow the radical agenda put forward by Dr. Monk.

Still, I’ve always said that if anyone in Beijing had more than half a braincell, they would be wooing Taiwan – not threatening it…and I mean EVERYONE in Taiwan not just those who ‘strictly adhere’ to the One-China Policy.

October 9, 2005 @ 12:15 am | Comment

I’m not sure how this article presents a ‘radical’ departure from the 55+ year old status quo.There is no reason why now of all times when China is stronger and at its most dominant that it should even consider anything other than the 1 China policy, nor could I see any such explanation here.

October 9, 2005 @ 2:50 am | Comment

No Kier, Dr. Monk concedes that point. This has nothing to do with China’s policy towards Taiwan, it has everything to do with the West’s China-Taiwan policy, which is of course, a curious mixture of the One-China Policy and the Taiwan Relations Act. Accepting Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan but also pledged to defend Taiwan.

Dr. Monk’s point is that these two contradictory policies have within them the seeds of potential conflict. This two-pronged approach works well while China is too weak and vunerable to do anything about it but he advocates that the West should act now before China has any option to force a change to the status quo.

October 9, 2005 @ 5:21 am | Comment

Now those ideas ar like a breath of fresh air. I know that some Congressmen like Tom Tancredo often talk about the irrelevance of the one china policy.

It is irrelevant. How can the shanghai communique and the one china policy be reconciled? How can America adhere to both policies? It is madness.

Taiwan should be recognised as the country that it already is. As soon as American does it, then the United Kingdom and Japan will and then all other countries will follow.

Once Taiwan is recognised as a country, then China will know that if it ever invades it will incur the wrath of the rest of the world for sure. At the moment, the US and world reaction to a Taiwan invasion it is too ambiguous. It is dangerous and the guy who was interviewed in the article I just read gets that right.

October 9, 2005 @ 6:27 am | Comment

“China risks incurring the wrath of the world”… where have I heard that before?

October 9, 2005 @ 6:46 am | Comment

I find ZHJ’s thought intriguing, that China surrender to Taiwan rather than split China.

While I do think Taiwan can provide China with an example of how they did go from a one-party state to a democracy (albeit not perfect by far); I don’t know anyone who would want to take on ruling a country with the size and diversity of China–I know I would not want to (not that they would give it to me anyway) but the enormity is staggering to say the least.

I, of course, also feel that the one China policy is an unrealistic and outmoded policy that does not deal with the reality of their actions just as outmoded as was the US policy of keeping China out of the UN, which it finally scrapped.

October 9, 2005 @ 10:47 am | Comment

Brian, you think Americans are that dumb? The American benefit in Far East largely lies upon the ambiguity of Taiwan’s status. The ambiguity can be manipulated by US as they want according to their maximum benefit at the time. Why US has to choose to suddenly lose this huge stake in dealing with the fast growing China by defending a name issue for a small island, while making a huge country with billions of people as their enemy? Don’t you think there are already way too many troubles for Americans to consider for themselves right now? Leave them alone.
I certainly think that the Aussie interviewed is the dumbest defense minister ever!

October 9, 2005 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

One China policy is peace and has secured peace for many decades. Abandoning this policy will pressure the PRC to go to war, as the door to peacefull reunification is definately closed. The day that the US abandons this policy, is the day that the missiles will be flying, and this day will never come, as the One China policy is accepted by both the Republicans and Democrats, the democrats value this policy even more, because it wants to attract KMT Chinese and mainland Chinese voters and the Democrats have generally been more friendly towards the PRC. Although I cannot really complain about Bush, I believe Clinton was still much better.

October 9, 2005 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

If Taiwan were to declare independence, the intelligent thing for China to do is nothing militarily. They should simply announce to the world that they will not take any military actions against Taiwan, but will break off any trade or diplomatic relations to any country that does recognize Taiwan. The likely result will be nobody will recognize Taiwan and Beijing will say they’ve declared independence but since nobody recognizes it they why does it matter. Taiwan ends up with egg on their faces.

October 10, 2005 @ 7:06 am | Comment


Fair enough but the interview with Dr. Monk doesn’t criticize the One-China Policy. Dr. Monk simply says that it works – FOR NOW – but what happens when/if China really becomes a superpower?

At the moment, practical realities mean that the status quo will remain. China simply isn’t big and strong enough to do whatever it wants yet. The economy is also a work-in-progress. This situation, however, won’t last for eternity.

If China continues to expand, what happens then? THAT is what Dr. Monk is saying.

October 10, 2005 @ 8:05 am | Comment


If Taiwan declared independence WITHOUT specific US backing and approval then what you say might well be true. Also, that’s assuming that the US would give its backing which is definitely not guaranteed.

However, IF Taiwan went for formal independence WITH US backing then the US would offically recognise it, as would Britain, Japan and the rest of the free world.

A lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ but the key is US approval.

October 10, 2005 @ 8:09 am | Comment

As a strictly armchair strategist who has no military experience but like to do this for fun, I wonder who would recognize Taiwan independence and will deploy military forces against China. The US has a large portion of their ground forces tied down in Iraq as well as Britain. They won’t be available until 2006 when they might be pulled out of Iraq. I would discount the African countries and the poorer Asian countries. Most of them are already in China’s pocket and had pledged their support for China’s anti-secession law. Of the major Western powers, France has pledged her support for the anti-secession law. I would discount any help coming from her. Germany can’t deploy troops unless in self-defense. None of the other European powers has significant military forces or the capability to deploy force half way around the globe.

Let’s take a look at the Asian countries. There’s Russia of course but she seems more interested in building ties with China and is also China’s primary arms dealer. No support there plus she’s tied down with Chechnya. South Korea might help but that would probably bring in the North. China is friendly with Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. There’s India the other Asian giant but she has even more internal problems than China plus she fighting a nasty little insurgency in Kashmir. Fighting China will bring in Pakistan. The other powerful Asian nation is of course Japan. Her current constitution forbids her to deploy offensive forces though she’s pledged to help defend Taiwan. Her forces will be a serious problem to China.

In the end, I see primarily a Navy and Air battle with China against Taiwan, Japan, and the US. There are too many variables to predict what the outcome would be but China will probably be defeated. The US superiority in sophisticated weaponry is simply too great. Taiwan of course will be devastated if not outright destroyed.

October 10, 2005 @ 3:46 pm | Comment

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