Here is mentioned that:

In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, dated 1 January 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The US reiterated the Shanghai Communiqué's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China;

Given that in 1979 the West was concerned about the spread of Communism,how come president Carter recognized PRC while supporting ROC could help contain one of the biggest supporters of Communism?

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    Nixon really deserves the credit for normalizing relations with the PRC, including on Taiwan: "From 21 to 28 February 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the US and the PRC issued the Shanghai Communiqué, a statement of their respective foreign policy views. In the Communiqué, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. ... The US acknowledged the PRC position that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China" – divibisan Feb 26 at 18:16
  • @divibisan If by "credit" you mean "blame." IT's been said that only Nixon could go to China. And they've been making us suffer for it for 50 years now. – Mason Wheeler Feb 28 at 13:11
  • @divibisan "The US acknowledged" I'm glad you quoted that. It's a key point that many people miss. America "acknowledged" the position, but didn't say they agreed with it. That's an important distinction now that the majority of the people on the Taiwan side of the straight no longer agree with said position. – Readin Apr 2 at 4:44

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

In 1979, the USSR had yet to engage in their Afghanistan venture (which was to bleed it dry and expose military weaknesses) and was a very serious military threat to the West. The CIA was consistently overestimating Soviet economic output, which they kept on doing until the Soviet collapse 10 years later in 1989.

On the other hand, China and the USSR had engaged in a brief border war in 1969 and China was an impoverished regional power, with a relatively limited capacity to project global mischief on its own. Keeping it out of the USSR's influence was a crowning achievement of the Nixon administration.

Deng Xiaoping, an entirely more benign leader than Mao or the current Xi Jinping, had just taken over, had rolled back some of the previous excesses, and was about to embark on his economic reforms.

Recognizing mainland China, with some calculated ambiguity wrt Taiwan, was a good move to keep China away from USSR and furthered the containment of Communism.

  • Follow up: was there a deliberate role for China in moving industrial production away from countries with an "excess of democracy" and replacing it with a financialised economy, with the accompanying financial deregulation and general liberalisation, or was it merely a happy accident that authoritarian China became the world's workshop? – user234461 Feb 26 at 22:42
  • that's a different question. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 26 at 23:55
  • What's the significance of Condoleezza Rice? She was an intern at the State Department then. – Schwern Feb 27 at 3:15
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    And strictly speaking, modern 2020 China is not really Communism, but it's definitely not Democracy either. It's a very weird mix of economies where you have crazy monolithic companies like Alibaba and Tencent that has some kind of state-tie in but... are not, sort of? The recent Jack Ma disappearance is... well, disturbing to say the least. – Nelson Feb 27 at 4:27
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    @Nelson Economically, no. Politically, they still behave like a Communist police state. The main things that have changed between 60-80s and now is that Communism, as an ideology, has nowhere the same level of exportability as it did before. So, while China has way more potential to be powerful than the USSR, it will also struggle to get people to spontaneously embrace its ideology, unlike say the Red Brigades in Italy. Still, if they ever dump Xi and go back to being more reasonable, the West should re-engage with them again. Running a Cold War 2 without very good reasons is a bad idea. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Feb 27 at 4:49

There are two sides to the diplomatic recognition of a foreign nation:

  • A sign of diplomatic approval.
  • An acceptance of reality on the ground and the establishment of workable communications channels.

One or the other might prevail in a given situation. The PRC is clearly the more important representative of China in world affairs, and not exchanging ambassadors is simply impractical. This overrides any lingering loyalty to the ROC as the historical representative of the Chinese government which had fought in WWII.

A third nation might offer to recognize both the PRC and the ROC, but both PRC and ROC agree that there is only one China, they just disagree on who is the rightful government and who is the breakaway province. Compare the situation with the two Germanies, where the FRG tried to block the recognition of the GDR at first, but then relented (yet never recognized the GDR itself).

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    Recognizing "Red China" was all about containing the USSR. (If the PRC and USSR had still been buddies, Nixon never would have gone to China, and Carter couldn't have the political oomph to recognize the PRC.) – RonJohn Feb 27 at 19:51
  • @RonJohn, back then Nixon had already gone to China, as the proverb goes, so it was just regularizing the politics which had happened earlier. – o.m. Feb 28 at 6:12
  • "it was just regularizing the politics which had happened earlier." That's pretty similar to what I said. – RonJohn Feb 28 at 6:25
  • "A third nation might offer to recognize both the PRC and the ROC, but both PRC and ROC agree that there is only one China" You write that in the present tense, but it is no longer true. It was true when America switched recognition to China, but after Taiwan became democratic in the 1990s the attitude of the government began to more closely match the attitude of the people. The "one China policy" is still on paper, but it is not something the government agrees with. – Readin Apr 2 at 4:42
  • @Readin, as you point out it is official policy. The debate about officially changing it is ongoing. Are they afraid of declaring independence? Are they unwilling to declare independence? A bit of both. – o.m. Apr 2 at 6:09

It was getting rather ridiculous to hold to the fiction that the KMT remnants in Taiwan represented the legitimate government of all of China after almost a generation (23 years). Attempts to strangle the PRC economically including strong-arming other countries had failed to collapse their government and they were recovering well from famine, the war with Japan, civil war, more famine, massive mismanagement and were beginning the recovery from the political chaos of the just-ended Cultural Revolution.

Despite enormous pressure put on other countries ("rougher pressure tactics than any of them could recall") , the US lost a crucial vote (Resolution 2758) in the UN General Assembly (>2/3 voted for the resolution) resulting in the replacement of the ROC by the PRC, so the mainland now had the China seat on the UNSC. Countries such as the UK and Canada voted in favor of the resolution and did not merely abstain. Canada had already established diplomatic relations in 1970 and the UK had long-established recognition (January 1950, only a few months after the end of the civil war on October 1, 1949).

US Senate hearings in mid-1971 heard from many witnesses who indicated that the recognition of the PRC was in the US interests. Potential trading profits were a strong consideration. There are a great number of other considerations mentioned in the 500+ pages linked above, however increasing the Sino-Soviet split does not seem to have been a huge factor in the establishment of diplomatic relations, at least in public discussions, other than effects on their nuclear posture. It may well have been a factor in later trade relations.


It goes back to Eisenhower and his vision back then. That trade will improve living standards and allow a rise against the oppressors. And trade would weaken any Sino-Russian bond (National Security Council in April 1954).

But he did not act on it, instead:

(...) [he deferred] to right-wing Republican pressures and, even more critically, giving higher priority to improving relations with Moscow.

With the end of Red Scare round 2, it became apparent than China did not collapse, and is growing more powerful. So:

In 1959, when the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations commissioned a study on options for China policy, the resulting Conlon Report, written by the political scientist Robert Scalapino, called not just for relations with Beijing but also, to Taipei’s anger and chagrin, for re-recognizing the Republic of China as the Republic of Taiwan. [emphasis mine]

Tucker, Nancy Bernkopf. "Taiwan expendable? Nixon and Kissinger go to China." The Journal of American History 92.1 (2005): 109-135.

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