"A Tolerable State of Order": The United States, Taiwan, and the Recognition of the People's Republic of China, 1949-1979



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American policy toward the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China from 1949-1979 was geared primarily toward the accomplishment of one objective: to achieve a reorientation of Chinese Communist revolutionary foreign policy that would contribute to the establishment of a "tolerable state of order" in the international community based on the principles of respect for each nations' territorial integrity and political sovereignty. China's revolutionary approach to its foreign relations constituted a threat to this objective. During the 1960s and '70s, however, Beijing gradually began accepting views conducive to the achievement of the "tolerable state of order" that Washington hoped to create, thus contributing significantly to the relaxation of Sino-American tensions and the normalization of relations in 1979.

From this basic thesis four subsidiary arguments emerge. First, the seven presidential administrations from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter pursued a common set of objectives toward which their respective China policies conformed, thus granting American China policy a degree of consistency that historians of Sino-American relations have not previously recognized. Second, the most significant dilemma American officials faced was striking an effective balance between containment (to punish aggression) and engagement (to emphasize the benefits of cooperation). Third, American policy toward the ROC throughout virtually the entire period in question remained a function of Washington's effort to reorient Beijing's foreign policy approach. Fourth, domestic American opinion was of secondary importance in determining the nature and implementation of American China policy.