One of the most sensitive issues in U.S.-China relations is the status of Taiwan. Officially, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) considers this island off the southeastern coast of the mainland part of its territory. However, Taiwan maintains its own government and enjoys extensive economic relations with the United States.
The origins of Taiwan’s ambiguous status can be traced to the end of World War II, when a civil war between China’s two dominant political parties came to a head. The nationalist Kuomintang party, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, had fought each other since the 1920s. By 1949, the Kuomintang had been forced to flee to Taiwan. However, they still claimed to be the rightful rulers of China. Meanwhile, on October 1 of that year, Mao proclaimed the Communist revolution successful, and the People’s Republic of China was born.
All this occurred at the dawn of the West’s cold war with the Soviet Union. The United States, opposed to the spread of communism, initially refused to recognize the PRC, and instead made promises to support the exiled government on Taiwan. However, by the start of the 1970s, it was apparent that the PRC was firmly in power and that the leaders on Taiwan had little influence in mainland China. Over the objections of the United States, the United Nations admitted the PRC and revoked Taiwan’s membership.
The United States now recognizes the Communist government in Beijing as the legitimate ruler of China. Yet U.S. leaders are reluctant to completely abandon ties with the government on Taiwan. Thus, ever since President Richard Nixon made the first official U.S. visit to the PRC in 1972, U.S. presidents have tried to maintain a delicate balance, helping to strengthen Taiwan economically and militarily without offending the PRC.
In the following viewpoint, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, editors of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, argue that the United States should pledge to defend Taiwan in the event the People’s Republic of China (PRC) attempts to invade or otherwise threaten Taiwan. Current U.S. policy on Taiwan is ambiguous, according to the authors: U.S. leaders have repeatedly implied that they would use force to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, but they have also discouraged Taiwan from openly declaring independence from mainland China. Kristol and Kagan believe this ambiguity could lead to war if Chinese leaders are not convinced of America’s commitment to Taiwan. Writing a few months prior to the 2000 presidential primaries, Kristol and Kagan call on the Republican presidential candidates to make a clear promise to defend Taiwan.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. In the authors’ opinion, what “simple reality” should be the basis for American policy toward Taiwan?
2. What are the proposed provisions of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, according to Kristol and Kagan?
Taiwan’s President Li Teng-hui sent the American foreign policy establishment into a nervous frenzy [in July 1999] when he declared that Taiwan would henceforth negotiate with China as one state to another. China experts are working overtime on their op-eds chastising Taiwan for its provocative action. And the Clinton administration has already made known its displeasure with Li’s statements, denouncing them as unhelpful and reiterating the administration’s own agreement with Beijing’s one-China policy. Meanwhile, Beijing went nuclear, literally. In a document charmingly entitled “Facts Speak Louder Than Words and Lies Will Collapse on Themselves,” Beijing informed the world of what the Cox committee and other investigations had already revealed: that it has a neutron bomb, just perfect for dropping on a nearby island that China...
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