The relationship between China and the United States in the 1980s as well as early 1990s spawned an internationalist strategic idealism in America toward China. However, in 1996 the United States was mugged by reality when the Taiwan Strait Crisis happened. The crisis acted as a prime mover for a return to realism in American foreign policy concerning its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – which has been further hastened in the last decade by the actions of Xi Jinping. This trend was still nascent in 1997 when the book The Coming Conflict with China was published, which dug into contemporary as well as historical points of friction between America and the CCP.
“In his memoirs Kissinger reports that Secretary of State William Rogers objected to the Taiwan sentences on the grounds that they were an inaccurate description of the objective world. Not all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believe that Taiwan is a part of China, Rogers maintained.
“While the other Chinese provinces, including disputed regions traditionally controlled by China, have been within the Chinese realm for thousands of years, Taiwan did not become a part of the national territory until the seventeenth century. Until then the island had been considered a wild place of impenetrable mountains and a malarial coastline inhabited by unfriendly aborigines with whom the Chinese had little or no contact. Indeed, the first outsiders to settle in Taiwan were not Mainland Chinese but Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders and explorers who first established forts there in the 1620s, the entire island becoming a Dutch possession around the middle of the century.
“The greatest danger in this sense stems from the evolution of Taiwan itself. At the time that China embarked on its March 1996 exercise in intimidation, a few pundits identified the real issue as not so much Taiwanese independence but Taiwanese democracy. Genuine popular sovereignty on Taiwan threatened to undermine the authority of the dictatorship in Beijing.
“Once Taiwan has been reabsorbed into the Mainland, the major cause of Sino-American friction will have been removed. The solution of China’s Taiwan problem in this sense would be the solution of America’s China problem. But if China were to embark on a military offensive against Taiwan, the United States would have little choice except to intervene and to put American forces at risk. Like it or not, Americans are already engaged in the battle, committed to a peaceful solution – that is, a solution agreed to by the people of Taiwan.
“Without an American commitment to intervene in a Taiwan-China conflict, there would be very little standing in the way of Chinese domination of all of East Asia, and this fact is well understood from Australia to Tokyo. The form of an American intervention could vary depending on Taiwan’s specific need and the ferocity of China’s assault. But whatever form the American involvement took, any war on the Taiwan Strait would be the beginning of a new stage of conflict between China and the United States, a move from strategic posturing across the Pacific to a war that will profit absolutely nobody.
*All excerpts have been taken from The Coming Conflict with China, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Flashpoint: Taiwan – Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro