The U.S. "One-China" Policy: Disambiguating the Ambiguous

As pundits, journalists, and policymakers debate and dissect the “one-China” policy, NBR convened noted experts on April 19, 2017, for a public roundtable discussion on the policy’s evolution, significance, and application to current U.S. interests related to both China and Taiwan.

This roundtable on “The ‘One-China’ Policy: Disambiguating the Ambiguous” featured remarks by Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Dr. Richard C. Bush of the Brookings Institution, and Dr. Paul Wolfowitz of the American Enterprise Institute and US-Taiwan Business Council.

The expert remarks and discussion provided greater context on the nuances of the United States’ “one-China” policy as well as commentary on the differences between this policy and Beijing’s “one-China” principle. The speakers also examined the role of the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Communiques, and the Six Assurances in undergirding the U.S. “one-China” policy; the strengths and weaknesses of a “one-China” policy that draws on ambiguity; and the differences between this policy on paper and in practice, especially in the formulation of U.S. policies toward Taiwan.

Speaker Bios

Ambassador J. Stapleton (Stape) Roy is a Distinguished Scholar and Founding Director Emeritus of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Stape Roy was born in China and spent much of his youth there during the upheavals of World War II and the Communist revolution, where he watched the battle for Shanghai from the roof of the Shanghai American School. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service immediately after graduating from Princeton in 1956, retiring 45 years later with the rank of career ambassador, the highest in the service. In 1978, Ambassador Roy participated in the secret negotiations that led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People‚Äôs Republic of China. During a career focused on East Asia and the Soviet Union, his ambassadorial assignments included Singapore, China, and Indonesia. His final post with the State Department was as assistant secretary for intelligence and research. On retirement, Ambassador Roy joined Kissinger Associates, Inc., a strategic consulting firm, before joining the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in September 2008 to head the newly created Kissinger Institute. In 2001, he received Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Public Service.

Richard C. Bush is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he holds the Michael H. Armacost Chair and Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies and is Director of its Center for East Asia Policy Studies. He also holds a joint appointment as a Senior Fellow in the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center. Dr. Bush joined the Brookings Institution in July 2002, after serving almost five years as the chairman and managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the mechanism through which the U.S. government conducts substantive relations with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic relations. Dr. Bush began his professional career in 1977 with the China Council of the Asia Society. In July 1983, he became a staff consultant on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. In January 1993, he moved up to the full committee, where he worked on Asia issues and served as liaison with Democratic members. In July 1995, Dr. Bush became national intelligence officer for East Asia and a member of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which coordinates the analytic work of the intelligence community. He left the NIC in September 1997 to become head of the American Institute in Taiwan. Dr. Bush received his undergraduate education at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He did his graduate work in political science at Columbia University, earning a master’s in 1973 and his doctorate in 1978.

Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where he works on development and national security issues and serves as the Chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council. Before joining AEI, Dr. Wolfowitz spent more than three decades in public service and higher education, working in the administrations of seven different presidents. Most recently, he served as president of the World Bank and deputy secretary of defense. At the World Bank he focused on the problem of corruption and the challenges of sub-Saharan Africa. As ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia in the Reagan administration, Dr. Wolfowitz was an advocate of reform and political openness. He was involved in Persian Gulf security for almost 30 years during three different tours at the Department of Defense. Dr. Wolfowitz has been widely published in many outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Sunday Times of London. His television appearances include NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, and Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight.