Taiwan: Nation-State or Province?

By John F. Copper | Go to book overview
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Preface

Since the publication of the second edition of this book three years ago, much has happened in Taiwan. Yet fundamental questions remain: No one knows whether Taiwan will retain sovereignty as the Republic of China, will evolve into a new nation-state with a new name, or will become a province of the People's Republic of China. Taiwan's relationship with the People's Republic of China has changed but, if anything, has grown more complex and in many respects more uncertain.

In 1996, the issue of Taiwan's status caused the Taiwan Strait to become the foremost, most serious flashpoint in the world when the Chinese People's Liberation Army conducted threatening missile tests with live warheads near Taiwan's major ports. The United States dispatched two aircraft carriers, each accompanied by a flotilla of ships, in what turned out to be a sobering Washington- Beijing face-off and the largest show of military forces in the region since the Vietnam War. There were even threats of the use of nuclear weapons.

Beijing was angry over President Lee Teng-hui's efforts to promote Taiwan's international status, especially his visit to the United States in 1995, and considered him an advocate of independence. Chinese leaders in the People's Republic of China were also incensed that Taiwan was holding a direct presidential election. The first such election in 5,000 years of Chinese history, it put Taiwan on the map and offered irrefutable proof in the eyes of much of the world, including the Western media, that Taiwan was indeed a democracy.

In 1997, Hong Kong reverted to China. Beijing promoted its formula--"one country, two systems"--for the return of Taiwan. Taipei, however, pointed out that, unlike Hong Kong, the Republic of China was not a colony and was not economically dependent upon China. It also had a strong military and possessed sovereignty. It continued to applaud the idea of one China, or at least the ruling Nationalist Party did, but advocated the status quo until China democratized.

Taiwan's increasing investment in and trade with China, however, seemed to promote widely the idea of a Greater China Federation. So did the development of regional blocs in the world and the realization that Taiwan and China were in the same bloc. China's democratization, however, seemed so slow that the economic forces of integration were way ahead of political convergence.

The United States remained the most important variable in the China-Taiwan issue. But its concerns and views changed. Beginning in 1992, Washington began to provide Taiwan with more arms, including F-16 fighter planes. The United States sought to keep a balance of forces in the Taiwan Strait in view of China's

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