Untying the Knot

Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait

Richard C. Bush
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Untying the Knot
    Book Description:

    The relationship between Taiwan and China is a paradox. On the one hand, the two economies are becoming increasingly integrated, as Taiwanese companies have come to regard the mainland as the best place to manufacture their products and maintain global competitiveness. On the other hand, the long-running and changing political dispute between the two governments remains unresolved. Each side fears the intentions of the other and is acquiring military capabilities to deter disaster. In its pursuit of peace in the Taiwan Strait, the United States could get drawn into a war between the two rivals. Richard C. Bush, whose career has been dedicated to Taiwan-China issues, explores the conflicts between these nations and the difficulties that must be resolved. Disagreements over sovereignty and security form the core of the dispute. What would be the legal status and international role of the Taiwan government in a future unified China? Given China's growing military power, how could Taiwan feel secure? Complicating these issues are domestic politics and international competition, as well as misperceptions on both sides. Thus multiple obstacles prevent the two sides from even getting to the negotiating table, much less reaching a mutually acceptable resolution. For reasons of policy and politics, the United States is constrained from a central role. To begin with, it must provide China with some reassurance about its policy in order to secure cooperation on foreign policy issues. At the same time, it must bolster Taiwan's political confidence and military deterrence while discouraging provocative actions. The arcane nature of this dispute severely restricts the role of the United States as conflict mediator. But if there is to be any solution to this conflict, the comprehensive analysis that this book provides will be required reading for effective policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9781-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Strobe Talbott

    Of all the potential flash points in the world today, none poses more of a threat to international peace and more of a challenge to the United States than the Taiwan Strait. And of all the American experts on that issue, none is more qualified than Richard Bush to explain its origins, analyze its implications, and propose realistic but imaginative recommendations for its resolution.

    Richard is, quite simply, America’s leading Taiwan hand. He has a doctorate in political science from Columbia University and served for nineteen years in two branches of the U.S. government—the executive and the legislative—where...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In June 1995, Lee Teng-hui, the president of Taiwan, visited the United States, where he spoke at Cornell University, his alma mater, about the island’s democratic transformation after decades of authoritarian rule. To show its displeasure, Beijing suspended the semiofficial contacts that it had developed with Taiwan’s government and engaged in various displays of military power. Because Washington had allowed Lee to visit in the first place, Beijing also downgraded its relations with the United States.

    In March 1996, when Taiwan was holding elections, China mounted even more aggressive displays of military force. The most provocative was launching unarmed ballistic...

  7. 2 Getting to the Present
    (pp. 14-26)

    The mountainous, leaf-shaped island of Taiwan sits on the edge of the Asian continental shelf. About the size of Connecticut and New Hampshire combined, it is home to around 23 million people, most of whom live on the flatter, western side of the island. The great majority are ethnic Chinese. The government goes by the name of Republic of China. It also controls the Penghu archipelago, to the west of the main island, and several islands just off the coast of China.

    Taiwan, around ninety miles from mainland China at the closest point, became a part of the Chinese cultural...

  8. 3 Economic Cooperation, Political Deadlock
    (pp. 27-80)

    From 1949 until the mid-1980s, the Taiwan Strait was a no-man’sland. There was virtually no social or economic contact between mainland China and Taiwan, and the ideological gulf between the two was deep. Although there was usually little danger of war, the KMT regime maintained military vigilance toward the mainland and continued to repress the island’s Taiwanese majority. Since the late 1980s, however, the story line has taken two very different paths: economically and socially, what was a no-man’sland is now a superhighway of cross-Strait trade and travel, while politically and militarily the two sides are locked in a stalemate...

  9. 4 The Sovereignty Issue
    (pp. 81-106)

    Examination of Lee Teng-hui’s and Chen Shui-bian’s response to the one-country, two-systems proposal reveals two things. On one hand, they did not have a separatist agenda that would rule out all formulas for unification. On the other, they opposed the one-country, two-systems concept and rejected the idea that Taiwan was a part of the People’s Republic of China. At the core of their opposition was their fundamental view of the legal character of the government in Taipei—that is, that it possessed sovereignty and that its status would have to be recognized if unification was to occur. Taipei’s goal has...

  10. 5 The Security Issue
    (pp. 107-141)

    Security—or the lack of it—has bedeviled cross-Strait relations since the late 1940s. But the military equation changed significantly in the 1990s, as the People’s Liberation Army began to modernize in earnest. Beijing has since contemplated the use of force to stop what it has perceived (or misperceived) to be Taiwan’s leaders’ intention to mount a separatist challenge to unification. Meanwhile, Taiwan has struggled to acquire its own military assets to reduce Beijing’s temptation to engage in coercion or warfare. At the heart of the security issue, of course, is the United States, which since 1950 has undertaken a...

  11. 6 Domestic Politics and Cross-Strait Relations
    (pp. 142-198)

    As if the substantive issues of sovereignty and security were not enough to impede progress on cross-Strait relations, other impediments also are at play. One is domestic politics in Taiwan and China alike. Leaders on both sides who, in the abstract, might see value in resolving the Taiwan Strait issue must take practical account of the internal forces constraining them or they will no longer be leaders. To be sure, the political dynamics differ on the two sides of the Strait. Taiwan is a democracy with a history of conflict between mainlanders and Taiwanese. China is at best an authoritarian...

  12. 7 Decisionmaking Systems
    (pp. 199-224)

    The decisionmaking systems in place in both China and Taiwan contribute to their reciprocal security dilemma. Decisionmaking on each side is quite centralized, especially in times of crisis, and each is prone to misread the other’s intentions and then to overreact. Misperceptions and miscalculations therefore reinforce the security dilemma.

    To even offer the hypothesis that the PRC’s decisionmaking system is somehow dysfunctional may be somewhat surprising because Western students of Chinese foreign policy are in general agreement that Beijing is more or less a rational actor. This consensus, as summarized by Iain Johnston, is that “China has been relatively successful...

  13. 8 The Leverage Game
    (pp. 225-244)

    In May 2001, scientists in Taiwan announced the results of research on the genetic origins of the island’sMinnan(southern Fujian) majority. This is the part of the population known as Taiwanese, as opposed to mainlanders, Hakkas, and aborigines. The researchers found that they were in fact descended from the Yueh people, who were scattered along the southeastern coast of China during the later Zhou dynasty (770–221 B.C.). The political implication: Taiwanese were not ethnically Chinese. Not to be outdone, PRC researchers announced in December 2001 that four aboriginal groups in Taiwan exhibited a specific chromosomal pattern characteristic of...

  14. 9 The U.S. Factor
    (pp. 245-265)

    The United States has been at the center of the cross-Strait dispute since it began. PRC spokesmen are fond of saying that unification already would have occurred if it were not for U.S. intervention, although in fact it was North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, to which Mao Zedong gave his consent, that blocked an early takeover. Ever since, both Beijing and Taipei have sought to obtain Washington’s help for themselves and deny it to the other. In response, the United States has pursued a policy designed to protect its global and regional interests and avoid becoming captive of either...

  15. 10 Muting Pressures, Reconciling Differences
    (pp. 266-304)

    To summarize the discussion thus far, the following can be said: Relations between China and Taiwan are potentially dangerous as well as mutually beneficial. There is extensive economic and social interaction across the Strait. Taiwan and the mainland are collaborating with each other to compete in the global economy in an array of products and services. Taiwan’s young people see the PRC as a place of employment opportunity. Taiwan universities, museums, sports organizations, and charities have mainland programs. All such interaction is a basis for broader cooperation between the two sides of the Strait. At the same time, each side...

  16. 11 If a Settlement Is Not Possible?
    (pp. 305-339)

    If some sort of stalemate is more likely than resolution of the Taiwan Strait issue, then the parties will have to manage it skillfully to prevent it from spinning out of control. The costs of conflict would be horrendous, certainly for the people of Taiwan and probably for the population of China’s east coast. Because both Taiwan and China are links in a number of the same international supply chains, even an increase in tensions—to say nothing of outright war—would be likely to affect the global economy. The turmoil created in the information technology sector after the September...

  17. 12 Choices Ahead
    (pp. 340-348)

    To make policy is to make choices—often in an environment of uncertainty from a set of unfavorable alternatives, and sometimes with dire consequences. The Taiwan Strait dispute is no exception. Each of the parties concerned—China, Taiwan, and the United States—faces a complex set of choices as it seeks to promote its objectives or at least to prevent disaster. Disaster has loomed and has been avoided a couple of times in the last twenty years. It is likely to loom again. Pessimists worry that it will be increasingly difficult to control the trajectories of Taiwanese nationalism and Chinese...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 349-404)
  19. Index
    (pp. 405-416)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 417-419)