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The Road Not Taken on Taiwan Policy

By 玄史生 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26033141

Over at the Diplomat I muse a bit about what would have happened if the US had been more aggressive about resolving the Taiwan Problem in the 1990s…

The Taiwan problem in U.S.-China relations seems poised to grow, given China’s treatment of Hong Kong and the growing power of China’s military. Since the 1970s, the price of comity between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been a policy of ambiguity toward the Taipei regime (formally known as the Republic of China, or ROC). Now, with the military balance perceptibly shifting in China’s direction and with the idea of “one country, two systems” left in ruins by the Hong Kong crackdown, the problem doesn’t seem anywhere near a solution. Over the next few years, Taiwan would seem to offer the most dangerous flashpoint in the U.S.-China relationship.

This is a tough one because at any given time in the last 25 years I would have said that abandoning the policy of ambiguity is a bad idea. But at this point, there seems to be no pathway to a peaceful resolution apart from a) brinksmanship that forces the PRC to accept a fait accompli, or b) resigning ourselves to eventual PRC control of Taiwan with the corresponding end of Taiwanese democracy. The US can maintain the status quo in the medium term and the medium term can last a long time (so to speak), but the growth of Chinese military power and the evident deterioration of Sino-American relations would seem to eventually force some difficult choices. Both options are bad and I don’t envy those who have to choose between them.

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