Since Chen Shui-bian won his Presidential reelection bid in March 2004 by fostering and promoting a “Taiwan identity” and “de-sinification,” the Taiwan issue has once again become a hot topic for the region and the world. Thus, dealing with this potentially explosive issue on a bilateral basis becomes the most pressing concern between China and the United States.
For China, which believes that Chen is determined to achieve or at least advance his goal of formal Taiwan independence, deterring Taiwan from de jure independence and simultaneously framing a new Taiwan policy has become one of the two top policy priorities, the other being preventing its economy from over-heating. For the United States, the Taiwan issue has recently become one of its most significant national security issues, just behind post-war reconstruction in Iraq and just as urgent as the North Korean nuclear crisis. Without proper management of the Taiwan issue, not only could the American counter-terrorism strategy possibly be damaged, but other hotspots worldwide could become explosive as well, forcing the United States to face constant crises at the cost of its national power.
The Taiwan issue has also become a key indicator for future Sino-U.S. relations: will the current strategic cooperation last and lead to a second normalization? Or will a New Cold War or even military conflict take place? The outcome will depend on whether the two countries can correct existing misperceptions and achieve new strategic understanding on the radically changing Taiwan issue. This paper will put the Taiwan issue in the context of the post 9/11 and post-Korea strategic cooperation between China and the U.S. It will discuss the potential problems surrounding the Taiwan issue: the risks of mutual misperceptions, the leverage America holds in relation to Taiwan, the orientation of China’s new Taiwan policy, and the possibilities for U.S.-China cooperation. Finally, several policy recommendations will be put forward.
Mao Zedong did not see the value of reform and opening up. The China part of Nixon’s 1967 Foreign Affairs article suggested an implicit bargain that provided the conceptual basis for China’s new direction after 1978. That bargain was if China focused on domestic development and didn’t threaten the security of its neighbours, the United States would help.
Sentiment inside the Beltway has turned sharply against China. There are many issues where the two parties sound more or less the same. Trump and others in the administration seem heavily invested in a ‘get very tough with China’ stance. It’s possible that some Democrats might argue that a decoupling strategy borders on lunacy. But if Trump believes this will play well with his core constituencies as his reelection campaign moves into high gear, he will probably decide to stick with it, if the costs and the collateral damage seem manageable. But that’s a very big if, especially if the downsides of a protracted trade war for both American consumers and for American firms become increasingly apparent.