Taiwan's Future: Narrowing Straits
Indigenous weakness and eroded U.S. support give Taiwan little choice other than continued accommodation of overwhelming and ever-increasing Chinese leverage.
Cross-strait relations continue to improve because this trend is perceived as being in the interests of the three main actors: the governments of China, Taiwan, and the U.S. The Taiwan presidential election of 2012 is unlikely to seriously alter recent improvements. Many in Taiwan and abroad favor what they erroneously see as a status quo in which the Taiwan administration enjoys independence of action. However, China’s economic, military, and diplomatic leverage over Taiwan increasingly constrains Taipei to follow a path leading to accommodation of and eventual reunification with China. Taiwan’s weak self-strengthening and a marked decline in U.S. support for the island’s freedom of action further bind it to the recent trajectory of accommodating China.
- Policy elites in Taiwan and the U.S. privately may be aware of the implications of Chinese leverage in determining Taiwan’s future and perhaps may favor Taiwan’s eventual reunification with China. However, other stakeholders in the media, among politicians and interest groups, and in the general public are not. Without a clearer view of existing realities, these groups may lash out in ultimately futile but highly disruptive ways as their preferred status quo wanes.
- A similar backlash can be anticipated from like-minded stakeholders within the Taiwan and U.S. administrations who cling to unrealistic expectations that Taiwan can preserve freedom of action amid the increasingly constraining circumstances caused by a rising China, a weakened Taiwan, and declining U.S. support.
- U.S. allies and friends in Asia, notably Japan, will require extraordinary reassurance that U.S. government encouragement of conditions leading to the resolution of Taiwan’s future and reunification with China does not forecast a power-shift in the region. Perceptions of such a shift would require dramatic and probably disruptive policy changes by regional states, ranging from bandwagoning with China to indigenous rearmament to become less reliant on declining U.S. power and resolve.
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© 2012 The National Bureau of Asian Research