Taiwan: Province or Independent Nation?

By Cole, Bernard D. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Taiwan: Province or Independent Nation?


Cole, Bernard D., Naval War College Review


TAIWAN: PROVINCE OR INDEPENDENT NATION? Kagan, Richard C. Taiwan's Statesman: Lee Teng-hui and Democracy in Asia. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2007. 240pp. $30

Wachman, Alan M. Why Taiwan? Geostrategic Rationales for China's Territorial Integrity. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 2007. 272pp. $65

An international issue at or near the top of any list of potential nuclear conflicts is the status of Taiwan. Beijing insists the island is merely another Chinese province, Taipei insists the island is an independent nation, and officially Washington stands with neither view but insists on a peaceful resolution. The two books under review here address this important matter. Both authors, Richard Kagan and Alan Wachman, are experienced academics specializing in China and able to access Chinese sources. Their works join other scholarly efforts to explain the imbroglio over Taiwan, including those by Richard Bush, Alan Romberg, and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker.

The best thing about Taiwan's States- man is its price, which is remarkably low for today's market. However, it is unfortunate that throughout the entire text Kagan does not offer an objective biography of Lee Teng-hui, the former president of Taiwan. He has written in- stead a hagiography that fails to justify its presumption of Lee as an internationally important "statesman" or as a seminal figure in the development of "democracy in Asia." This is regrettable, given both the author's scholarly expertise and the importance of Lee in late-twentieth-century Chinese and American history. In addition, Taiwan's Statesman contains factual errors, such as an assertion that President Richard Nixon's visit to China took place in 1971 (rather than February 1972), as well as chronological confusion, apparently caused by questionable editing.

Kagan on several occasions describes Lee as a George Washington-like figure. His objectivity is problematic when describing the very difficult position in which Taiwan found itself after 1979, when the United States finally shifted diplomatic recognition of "China" from Taipei to Beijing. Kagan's repetitive description of Lee's "Zen and Christian approach" does not support his contention of Lee as providing "a new model" of democracy for Asia.

This book is best left on the shelf. A far more important work is Why Taiwan? by Alan Wachman, a professor at Tufts University. He undertakes the difficult task of analyzing why this relatively small island, approximately the size of the combined land area of New Jersey and Delaware, is so important to China. How is it, Wachman poses, that in the late seventeenth century the island was viewed by China as "a place beyond the seas ... of no consequence to us," when in 2005 Beijing passed the Anti-secession Law threatening the use of military force to prevent Taiwan's de jure independence?

Relying on an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, Wachman explains the change in China's view through historical background, legal analysis, and examination of the current state of relations and future possibilities, all couched in both analytical and theoretical terms. He succeeds in this daunting task in just 164 pages, leaving the reader wishing for more. …

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