Academic journal article International Journal of Business

Changing Guards and Changing Policies toward China: Taiwanese and American Perspectives

Academic journal article International Journal of Business

Changing Guards and Changing Policies toward China: Taiwanese and American Perspectives

Article excerpt


This paper tries to examine recent changes in political leaderships and subsequent policy shifts toward China in Taiwan and the United States. The primary focus will be on the historic democratic transition and the resulting changes of Taiwan's China policy in the March 18, 2000 presidential election, in which the 55-year rule of the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), was peacefully replaced by the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). More precisely, the focus will be sharpened to look at the policy shift the new president, Chen Shui-bian, was forced to make to depart from his predecessor, Lee Teng-hui. The policy contrast between the two presidents says a lot about not only the statesmanship of the two leaders but also Taiwan's predicament in dealing with the complex cross-Taiwan-Strait relations. In addition, it shows the difficulty the new Chen administration faces in running a minority government in the newly democratized polity.

For comparison, the paper will also look at the leadership change in Washington and the new foreign policy toward China of the new president, George W. Bush. In Taiwan, from Lee Teng-hui to Chen Shui-bian, and in the United States, from Bill Clinton to George Bush, the policy shifts are interesting.

By pinpointing policy shifts in Taipei and Washington, if not explicitly, the paper should present a macro-picture of the dynamics and complexity of the triangular Taiwan-China-US relations.

JEL: H77

Keywords: Taiwan-US-China relations; Leadership; Democracy; Independence; Reunification; Partnership; Competitors


If war is an extension of diplomacy, then diplomacy, or foreign policy, is an extension of domestic politics. This is particularly so in the politics of Taiwan's fledgling democracy. The change of guards from KMT's Lee Teng-hui to DPP's Chen Shui-bian in May 2000 was such a dramatic event that it must have impact on Taiwan's most important, indeed critical, relations with its giant neighbor across the Taiwan Strait. However, the irony is that the expected sea change has so far failed to eventuate as many people predicted. On the contrary, in terms of China policy, Chen Shui-bian has not only not gone further than Lee Teng-hui but rather retreated from the 'two-state' position, the legacy Lee had left behind when he stepped down.

In Taiwan, there is a popular analogy. Taiwan's Moses, Lee Teng-hui, was supposed to lead Taiwanese people out of Egypt and he did. Like Moses' successor, Joshua, Lee's 'true' disciple, Chen Shui-bian, is supposed to bring Taiwanese people to Canaan, the promised land. Will Chen do so? Many Taiwanese are pondering over such a poignant question.


In a transitional society, leadership is important. In Taiwan, the leadership change from Chiang Kai-shek and son Ching-kuo to Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian marked a paradigm shift. The Chiangs retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after they lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong and his communists. Both of them wanted to reclaim their 'mandate of heaven' and return to rule the Middle Kingdom. Lee and Chen are both 'native sons' of Taiwan. They have nothing to do with the Chinese civil war. They do not want to have quarrels with the Chinese communists. All they want is to democratize Taiwan and build it into a new, free and prosperous nation-state.

Lee Teng-hui was born in Taipei County, Taiwan, in 1923. He attended Japanese school, up to high-school level, in Taiwan and in 1943 went to the Imperial Kyoto University to study agriculture economics. He was a kendo (Japanese swordsmanship) enthusiast. While still in high school, in 1940, he changed his Chinese name to Japanese name. Before 1945, he thought he was Japanese.

After the War, he returned to attend the National Taiwan University and became a lecturer there. He witnessed the 2-28 (February 28, 1947) massacres and was once arrested for suspicion of links with communist activities. …

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