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China
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1972-1982

Three Communiqués and Six Assurances

The Three Communiqués and Six Assurances have served as the primary basis for U.S. policy towards Taiwan for over 50 years.

Slides

Following the Chinese Civil War, as it became increasingly evident that the Communist government, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), would maintain control over the mainland as the international community began establishing formal ties. However, the PRC and U.S. had been bitter enemies since Chinese and American troops fought on opposite sides of the Korean War during the early 1950s. The PRC had also assisted North Vietnam in its war against the United States, increasing the tensions. When Richard Nixon — a staunch cold warrior who had criticized Harry Truman’s administration for “losing” China to communism — was elected, he seemed unlikely to change American policy toward the PRC.

History

However, Richard Nixon was an ardent supporter of establishing ties with China as President. In February 1972, Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit the People’s Republic of China — a seismic shock to the geopolitical order. At the end of that trip, Nixon and PRC Premier Zhou Enlai released a joint statement called the United States-PRC Joint Communiqué or Shanghai Communiqué. That proclamation laid the foundation for normalizing U.S.-Chinese relations moving forward. The Communiqué also serves as the first official American acknowledgment of the PRC’s “One China” policy regarding Taiwan.

The Carter Center

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter continued this tradition with the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. This proclamation announced the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the United States and the PRC. The U.S. recognized the PRC as the sole legal government of China and again acknowledged its position that Taiwan is part of China. The United States also ended all formal political ties with the Republic of China (the Nationalist government living in exile on the island of Taiwan). The Carter administration also withdrew all American troops from Taiwan and ended the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of China. These moves prompted Congress to pass the Taiwan Relations Act to maintain a robust unofficial relationship with the island.

The third and final communiqué came under the Reagan administration in 1982. In the Joint Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan, the United States and China expressed their desire to continue strengthening relations and reaffirmed both parties’ position on Taiwan. The issue of arms sales to Taiwan remained relatively vague, with China believing the U.S. agreed to gradually reduce sales and the U.S. insisting it would only do so if the PRC continued a peaceful policy towards the island. However, this ambiguous understanding allowed the U.S. and the PRC to move past the divisive topic and consider other bilateral issues.

President Reagan receiving the tower commission report in the Cabinet Room, 1987 via Wikipedia.
OUPblog

The third communiqué created some concerns in Taiwan and among U.S. lawmakers about America’s support for the island. So, President Reagan clarified the proclamation with Six Assurances to Taiwan, ensuring that the United States:

  • Had not agreed to set an end date for arms sales to Taiwan
  • Had not agreed to consult with the PRC regarding the arms sales
  • Had not agreed to play a mediation role between the PRC and Taiwan
  • Had not agreed to change the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act
  • Had not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan
  • Will not pressure Taiwan to negotiate with the PRC

Every subsequent administration has generally reaffirmed these guidelines.

South China Morning Post

Taken together, the Three Communiqués and Six Assurances, along with the Taiwan Relations Act, serve as the primary basis for American engagement on the issue of Taiwan and U.S.-China relations more broadly.

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