China History

Why one China?  

First published in Tulay Monthly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 1, no. 7 (December 11, 1988): 12, 16.

Introduced as a teacher of a graduate course on Contemporary China at the UP Asian Center, I was met with a blank stare which ‘seemed to suggest that I might as well go teach in a monastery.

After lecturing to an audience of undergraduates where I showed slides I took in China, a student asked me if the country I lectured about was the “Red” portion of Taiwan.

In a television interview where I mentioned Beijing, I was asked whether I was referring to the “communist” capital or the “nationalist” capital.

From innocent and casual questions, to the plainly inquisitive, and to the out and out provocative, I seem to be always obliged to start with an explanation before I could even proceed talking about a very close neighbor. Its rich history and culture, its political situation, its economic growth.

Now, I am not given to explaining. I do not even explain myself. What more a neighbor, even if that neighboring country happens to be my area of specialization. l would study it, yes. But explain it?

I am sure that in the process of studying another country, we come to understand it also. In so doing, we might, perhaps, convince other people that trying to understand others is also one way of understanding ourselves. Of making us surer of our positions, our ideals, and our goals. Understanding ourselves better, we might start scrutinizing our relations with others.

With regard to China, such scrutiny inevitably leads us to the question of our relations with the People’s Republic. Given the questions I get in my talks, l would say that many basic things have to be explained before China, and our relations to her, are understood. And so, if this piece appears to do what its author does not purport to do, I ask for the readers’ understanding.

In 1975, the Philippine recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. Leaders of both countries visited each other. President Corazon Aquino was in China in April this year. Both Premier Zhao Ziyang and President Li Ziannian have come to our country before.

Economic, commercial, scientific, educational and cultural exchanges between our two countries have flourished. Ours is but one of 136 countries having diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic, and one of 170 trading with her.

The Chinese province nearest the Philippines is Taiwan. Folklore says that the cockcrows heard at dawn in the Batanes actually come from there. The island province is now experiencing an economic boom which spur it to invest overseas. In fact, almost one third of all foreign investments in the Philippines come from Taiwan, making its businessmen the biggest block of foreign investors in the country today. In their dealings with the Philippines, they are represented in Manila by Taipei’s Pacific Economic and Cultural Center.

Why so? Why not the embassy, or the trade office, of the People’s Republic?

The answer to that question is not as simple as it may seem. We may venture that the Philippines adhere to a “one China policy.” But I am sure that there are more things to that which may better understood by looking closely at China and her history.

China as a nation was established in 221 BC by Emperor Chin (or Chin Shihuang, Shih Huangti). Its 2000 years of history saw a flourishing of culture in times of prosperity, and a splintering of the empire in times of chaos. United in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), it was ruled by three separate kingdoms from 220 to 265 AD, then reunited by the Jin until the year 420. Its golden age during the Tang (618-907 AD) was followed by the chaotic rule of five separate dynasties until it was reunited under the Sung in 960-1280.

Its recent history saw the fall of the dynastic rule in the Revolution of 1911, which gave birth to Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s constitutional government known as the Republic of China. The birth of the republic was followed, not by peace, but by chaos and strife.

Two contending parties, erstwhile allies against the northern warlords in Peking (Beijing) engaged each other in a civil war. The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) led by Chiang Kai-shek, established its seat in Nanking, while the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong founded revolutionary base areas in the countryside to fight it.

The war against Japan (1937-1945) united the two forces. After the war, the Republic of China became one of the founders of the United Nations. The Japanese enemy gone, the Kuomintang and the Communist Party again fought each other in a civil war. In 1949, the Communist-led People’s Liberation Army entered Peking and reconstituted a Kuomintang government in the island of Taiwan whose capital was Taipei.

For many years, the Taiwan government was the one recognized by the United Nations and of many of its members, including the Philippines. it could be described as an anomalous situation wherein a government in full control of a territory almost the same size as the continental United States was not recognized in favor of a government in exile in a provincial island.

Meanwhile, the People’s Republic rehabilitated the economy and the people’s livelihood in the mainland, and despite some internal chaos brought about by excessive political campaigns led by Mao, managed to earn the respect of many countries. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly ousted the Kuomintang delegation from China’s UN seats and awarded them to the People’s Republic.

US President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and signed the Shanghai Communique. It recognized the position maintained by both the authorities in Taipei and Beijing that there was only one China. It acknowledged that the Taiwan question should be settled peacefully by the Chinese themselves.

And so, back to our earlier question why Taiwan’s businessmen have to be represented by a trade center. I think it is only in keeping with accepted international norms that the Philippines should not undermine an internal policy of a foreign country.
lt seems that there are sectors in our society now which calls for a policy which would recognize “two” Chinas.

The simple question here now, after reviewing the long history of this one single nation, is whether any Chinese would buy the idea.