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Conflict Across the Taiwan Straits?. SOSC 228. “ Independence is something Taiwan has but can ’ t talk about; Reunification is something China can ’ t have, but Taiwan must talk about all the time ” - a long time observer. Main Points.

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Independence is something Taiwan has but can’t talk about; Reunification is something China can’t have, but Taiwan must talk about all the time”

- a long time observer


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Main Points

  • Terribly dangerous place, with major role for great power conflicts, nationalism, misperceptions between the US and China, major impact of political economy, and role of leadership (generations).

  • Long history of conflict between KMT and CCP

  • Time may not be on the side of a peaceful resolution of the conflict given trends towards greater sense of Taiwan identity.

  • A three-sided game, not a bilateral game. Taiwan able to manipulate the U.S. and act as a wild-card in influencing U.S.-China relations.


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History of Conflict

  • Taiwan pulled from China in 1895 by Japanese at end of Sino-Japanese War.

  • Historical legacy of the Korean War. U.S. had put Taiwan outside its security perimeter, and Mao would have been able to take Taiwan in summer of 1950 when it had planned an invasion.

  • Several offshore island conflicts at which time Mao used the bombing of the islands to try to press the U.S. not to strengthen ties with Taiwan

  • Failure of the 1954-55 efforts to stop U.S. from giving Chiang Kai-shek a security treaty. He got one.

  • 1995-1996, most recent effort by China to use military force to influence politics.

  • 1995, President Lee visits Cornell University—first visit by KMT leader to US in over 20 years.

  • 1996, PRC tried to influence presidential elections.


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Strategic Factors

A. The Military Balance

  • Taiwan has deterrence power against an invasion and implicit commitment from the U.S. to defend it from attack from mainland.

  • PRC could launch an embargo or shoot missiles at Taiwan and stop the flow of goods in Kaohsiung, one of the busiest harbours in East Asia.

  • U.S. continues to sell defensive weapons to maintain Taiwanese ability to prevent PRC invasion.


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Strategic Factors (con’t)

B. Role of the United States

  • Critical role here for the U.S., which has a domestic law—the Taiwan Relations Act of 10 April 1979—which commits the US to protect the security of the people of Taiwan.

  • But not a mutual defense treaty, which was abrogated by President Carter in 1979.

  • Despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, that law has forced U.S. to support Taiwan diplomatically and militarily.

  • U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity,” whereby the U.S. does not want to guarantee Taiwan that U.S. will defend it if it declares independence--would give Taiwan incentive to declare independence;

  • But U.S. does not want China to think that it will not defend Taiwan if China attacks—that would decrease risks to China of attacking Taiwan.


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Strategic Factors (con’t)

B. Role of the United States

  • The almost victory of “coercive diplomacy”—the launching of missiles by China forced the US to put great pressure on Taiwan to negotiate, as the USA wanted to avoid a war with China.

  • The strategy seemed to work as a succession of US foreign policy officials went to Taiwan in 1997-98 and told Taiwan to return to the negotiating table.

  • Lee Teng-hui, realizing this, chose to launch is “two state” theory to end the pressure.

  • Hard to say what US would do if PRC tried to take the Offshore Islands today—unlikely to do much.

  • Enhanced Security agreement between U.S. and Japan includes “areas adjacent to Japan”—PRC sees this as guaranteeing Japanese involvement in Taiwan independence.


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Leadership Factors

  • Jiang Zemin’s desire not to allow greater separation to emerge during his rule.

  • Closely linked to his own image of being Deng Xiaoping’s successor—Deng brought Hong Kong and Macao back,

  • Jiang wants to begin the process of reunification with Taiwan.

  • Returned from U.S. visit in October 1998, with idea of strategic partnership with the U.S. and began to mobilize the country for reunification.

  • Chinese accuse Lee Teng-hui of really being Japanese, venomous attacks on him personally

  • Lee Teng-hui wants to leave is own legacy

  • Strongly committed to independence if possible (based on interview with him in April 1999)

  • Very independent leader, very hard to control.


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Role of Domestic Politics

A. Politics in Taiwan

  • Development of Taiwan consciousness has grown dramatically under the political liberalization of past 13 years.

  • 55% of Taiwanese identify themselves as Taiwanese

  • percent identifying as Chinese drops from 41% to 30% in 1994-97; down to 12% by October 1998

  • 52% see China and Taiwan as tow separate countries.

  • PRC use of force increases opposition to reunification.


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Role of Domestic Politics(con’t)

A. Politics in Taiwan

  • Perceptions of mainland as having mistreated Taiwanese for much of the past 50 years.

  • Most people in Taiwan prefer independence, but know that it is not possible, so in surveys call for the status quo

  • Taiwan as a democratic system, the government must try to win elections over the DPP, which forces it to press for greater international stature and independence.

  • For 1996 presidential elections, Lee Teng-hui needed to weaken the role of the DPP, so he moved closer towards independence.


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Role of Domestic Politics(con’t)

B. Politics in China

  • Taiwan seen as vestige of imperialism, colonialism and weakness of China during the “century of humiliation.”

  • Mainland refuses to recognize the popular views in Taiwan.

  • No Chinese leader could stay in power if he let Taiwan go.

  • PLA would not let Taiwan go on its own, but 1996 missile attack may have been result of Jiang Zemin’s anger at U.S. decision to give Lee Teng-hui a visa to visit Cornell after he had been promised it would not occur.

  • Chinese see U.S. position on Taiwan aimed at “containing” China and undermining its great power status.


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Role of Domestic Politics(con’t)

C. Politics in the U.S.

  • U.S. public opinion—are Americans willing to fight to defend Taiwan? No, see table--

  • How would they like to see the problem solved? Both sides should solve it on their own—see table--

  • Yet Americans’ perceptions of Taiwan are much more positive than their perceptions of China—see table—

  • But president would have a hard time resisting Congressional pressure to defend Taiwan if it were attacked without declaring independence

  • Congressional independence on this issue difficult for US presidents to manage.


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Political Economy

  • Economic power of Taiwan plays an important role in helping Taiwan pull away—buy votes in the UN, great respect for Taiwan in the West for its economic success.

  • Search for cheap labour and access to mainland domestic market creates dependency on China and undermines KMT efforts to keep Taiwan separate.

  • Yu Taifu—“a web of deepening, asymmetric economic ties.”

  • Enormous growth in Taiwanese investment in China, perhaps as much as US $25 billion (HK$200 billion).


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Conclusion

  • Misperceptions before 1996 resolved:

    • U.S. would not use force to defend Taiwan

    • China would not use force to attack Taiwan if it moved towards greater independence.

  • But 1999, shows that even with greater clarity, Taiwan can still act to create potential conflict between U.S. and PRC.