At Cross Purposes: U.S.-Taiwan Relations since 1942

Article excerpt

Bush, Richard C. At Cross Purposes: U.S.-Taiwan Relations since 1942. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2004. 320pp. $27.95

For years, "one China" has meant two completely different Chinas masquerading as one country-the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan (a.k.a. the Republic of China [ROC]). The PRC is huge, with a population of 1.3 billion, while Taiwan has only twenty-two million people in comparison. There are other differences as well: Taiwan is rich, with a per capita income in 2003 of over $23,000, versus the PRC's per capita $5,000; Taiwan's 5 percent unemployment rate is half, its 1 percent poverty rate is a tenth, and its seventy-seven-year life expectancy is five years more than those of the PRC. More importantly, during the past decade Taiwan adopted a multiparty democracy, while the PRC has only one legal political party that is holding tightly onto its autocratic powers-the Chinese Communist Party.

How can two such divergent Chinas possibly reunite? What role has the United States played in their sixty-year standoff? These are the questions that Richard C. Bush, former chairman and managing director (September 1997 to June 2002) of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT-the pseudo-American embassy in Taipei), asks in At Cross Purposes.

Bush starts with an extremely useful historical summary of the origins of the PRC-Taiwan problem. He asks, for example, what would have happened if Chiang Kai-shek had not requested in 1942-43 that Japan cede Taiwan to China. Would there even be a PRC-Taiwan problem today? After all, China at one point considered, then rejected, demanding Okinawa as well. If circumstances had been different, could Taiwan have remained a part of Japan or a UN protectorate, or even been given its independence?

Bush argues that the great powers' (the United States, the United Kingdom, and China) decision at Cairo to return Taiwan to China was the real origin of the "one China" problem, even though cross-strait tensions did not erupt until after the Nationalist retreat from the mainland in 1949. To this day, the PRC takes this World War II decision very seriously. For example, from 21 to 26 July 1995, the PRC marked the fiftieth anniversary of the July 1945 Potsdam Declaration, which confirmed the Cairo Decision, by lobbing "test" missiles off Taiwan's shores.

After World War II, the U.S. government quickly found itself in a dilemma, since it appeared obliged to support the repressive Kuomintang. February 28, 1947, was the beginning of the massacre by the Nationalists, who arrested and killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taiwanese; it was followed by an era known as the "White Terror." Nationalist repression on Taiwan continued for more than three decades, until 10 December 1979 and the Kaohsiung Incident, which was the turning point in Taiwan's transition to democracy. …