Posted: 4:21 pm PT
During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the most dramatic moment in Sino-American relations occurred on December 15, 1978, when, following months of secret negotiations, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that they would recognize one another and establish official diplomatic relations. As part of the agreement, the United States recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, and declared it would withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China [ROC]).
A new era began with a rapprochement during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon and his aide, Henry Kissinger, found ready partners in Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, who also wanted to improve Sino-U.S. relations. Their efforts resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the basis for future cooperation between the two countries even while acknowledging continuing disagreements on the subject of Taiwan. As part of this rapprochement, the two countries opened liaison offices in one another’s capitals in 1973, a time when Taiwan still had an Embassy in Washington. The liaison offices, which in many ways operated as de facto embassies, represented a significant concession by the People’s Republic of China, which opposed the acceptance of “two Chinas” because that implied both were legitimate governments.
PRC leaders repeatedly expressed displeasure with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which became law on April 10, 1979. The TRA was influenced by Congressional supporters of Taiwan and stated that it is the policy of the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” In his signing statement, Carter declared that he would use the discretion granted to him by Congress to interpret the TRA “in a manner consistent with our interest in the well-being of the people on Taiwan and with the understandings we reached on the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China.”
On January 1, 1979, the United States recognized the PRC and established diplomatic relations with it as the sole legitimate government of China. On the same day, the United States withdrew its recognition of, and terminated diplomatic relations with, the Republic of China as the government of China. The U.S. embassy in Taipei was closed on February 28, 1979. The U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing was converted to an Embassy on March 1, 1979, and Leonard F. Woodcock, who had been head of the Liaison Office, was appointed Ambassador.