August 31st, 2020. A batch of declassified Ronald Reagan-era cables show how America’s policy towards selling arms to Taiwan has remained relatively unchanged for decades.
In the middle of the 20th century, during and after the period of the Second World War, China was shaking itself out of the colonial era through incredible civil and foreign conflicts that left tens of millions dead. The United States sought to tip the scales in a civil war between Chinese nationalists and the Maoist communists by supporting the former — the Kuomintang, who would eventually lose before seizing the Chinese territory of Formosa off the coast.
This made the U.S. just another western imperialist in the minds of the Maoists, and the phrase “who lost China?” became semi-famous among the Truman administration’s internationally-focused minds.
The cables were published on the American Institute of Taiwan, which according to Chris Horton, writing for Bloomberg, acts as a de facto embassy for the United States who do not officially recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, but who paradoxically recognized the Kuomintang’s occupation of Formosa as Taiwan in 1979.
“The cable explains that the U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned upon the continued commitment of the PRC to a peaceful solution of cross-Strait differences,” the institute said in a statement on its website, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “Further, if the PRC were to become more hostile, then the United States would increase arms sales to Taiwan.”
Jason Ditz, writing for Antiwar.com, interprets the difficulties inherent in this policy stance when he wrote on Monday: “New announced sales to Taiwan always lead to Chinese complaints, and the US interprets those complaints as threats, ensuring that they will sell more arms to Taiwan in the future”.
The State Department’s official stance is that they recognize China as one nation, with the people of Taiwan being part of China. However they do not recognize the one-China principle, whereby what stands in Beijing stands over Taipei and Hong Kong as well.
“The fundamental U.S. interest is that the Taiwan question be resolved peacefully, without coercion, and in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides of the Strait – as Beijing promised,” said a statement from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
“The United States has responded and continues to respond to increased PRC military pressure by providing necessary defense articles and other support”.
Truman’s question of “who lost China” might have been answered with these recent cables. One could make a case that it was Reagan, and the continuation of his doctrine that lost – and continues to lose China.