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What is the ‘One China’ policy?

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China, after a few weeks of the silent treatment, is back on speaking terms with the United States.

Two presidents of respective states, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump broke ice in a late night Thursday via a phone call. It was the leaders’ first conversation since Trump took office on January 20.

China has been so upset because … ?

The countries fell out over Trump’s questioning of the “One China” policy, which has governed the Chinese relationship with Taiwan for 37 years.

The U.S. recognition of a  “One China” policy stems from 1979, when the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan’s Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Trump broke with years of diplomatic protocol following his election when he accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and again riled the Chinese when, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in January, he said:  “Everything is under negotiation, including One China.”

From the Chinese perspective, that policy is non-negotiable.

OK, so, what is the One China policy?

In the 1979 U.S.-P.R.C. Joint Communique, the United States recognized the communist leadership in Beijing as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is one China and Taiwan is a breakaway province that is part of China.

“The Taiwan question bears on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touches our core interests,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last month. “Adherence to the one China principle serves as the political foundation for the development of China-U.S. ties. If this foundation is wobbled and weakened, then there is no possibility for the two countries to grow their relations in a sound and steady way and cooperate on key areas.”

Does the U.S. back an independent Taiwan?

Officially, the U.S. government does not support independence for Taiwan, now a democracy that elects its own president and parliament.

U.S. relations with the island are governed by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines the U.S. commitment to help Taiwan maintain its military defense. Last year, the U.S. approved $1.8 billion in arms sales to Taipei.

If a phone call was a faux pas, how does America usually talk to Taipei?

Washington maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a de facto embassy that implements U.S. policy, facilitates trade and issues visas. Similarly, Taiwan maintains a de facto embassy in Washington, D.C., through its Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO).

Trade between the U.S. and Taiwan is robust: The U.S. is Taiwan’s second-largest trading partner and Taiwan ranks as the ninth-largest trading partner for the U.S. According to the State Department, companies from Taiwan employ more than 12,000 workers in the United States.

For Taiwan, the lack of diplomatic recognition by the U.S. and most other nations means that it cannot belong to international organizations, such as the United Nations, that require statehood as a condition of membership. Tsai cannot make official visits to the U.S. and has not been invited as an official delegate to U.S. events, such as presidential inaugurations.

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