- Crossing the International Relations–Comparative Politics Divide in Analyzing Cross-Strait Relations
Scott Kastner's book Political Conflict and Economic Interdependence Across the Taiwan Strait and Beyond flips on its head the question of whether international economic integration restrains conflict by asking whether conflict will restrain economic integration. The book proceeds to unpack the issue by focusing on the factors that will lessen the negative effects of political conflict on economic integration. Kastner argues cogently that the Taiwan-China case is worthwhile to study in-depth not only because it is geopolitically important but also because the severe political conflict across the Taiwan Strait makes economic integration especially unlikely. Economic integration across the strait should be low and yet it has flourished. Through a detailed account of the politics of cross-strait economic integration as well as an examination of other dyadic conflicts, the book examines the hypothesis that leaders' accountability to internationally oriented economic interests will mitigate the negative effects of international conflict on economic integration. This approach combines new theoretical insights with a careful inspection of the evolution of the cross-strait political and economic relationship. In short, this is an excellent piece of scholarship.
This work offers several important theoretical insights. First, international economic interests tend to weaken the negative effects of conflict in the Taiwan Strait and other dyadic conflicts. However, the Taiwan-China relationship also critically depends on the positive security externalities for China—in other words, trade with China arguably helps with China's political goal of reunification. In China, there is a political coalition of internationalist economic interests and nationalist statist interests. Second, the book revisits the debate about whether economic integration leads to peace and argues that the assertion that economic interdependence makes democracies more [End Page 169] peaceful because the political influence of economic interests is magnified in these states may need to be qualified. Harkening back to Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder,1 Kastner proposes that the newness of Taiwan's democracy may make it more susceptible to nationalist appeals. However, he also suggests that the very nature of the bilateral dispute is important. If the disputed issue is one about which the citizens of a democracy care deeply, then they will be more willing to ignore the restraining effects of economic ties. Indeed, they may push their leaders to take a very hard political stand on the bilateral issue. The Taiwanese do not pay as much attention to their deep economic integration as one might expect precisely because they care deeply about Taiwan's territorial sovereignty—that is, for Taiwanese voters, China's threat to Taiwan's sovereignty may trump its allure as a big market for Taiwanese goods. Of course, the relatively weak institutions of Taiwan's new democracy may combine with the importance that Taiwanese place on de facto independence to bolster the anti-China nationalist position in Taiwan, as perhaps has been the case under the presidencies of Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian.
Several of the book's strengths merit discussion in some detail. For scholarship addressing issues in international political economy, the book paid very close attention to the domestic politics of interest articulation. For example, Kastner did not stop at delineating Taiwan's parties and their evolving stances toward economic integration with China. He burrowed into the intra-party factional politics of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to pinpoint how evolving positions, particularly for the highly ideological New Tide faction, influenced the decisionmaking of President Chen. Another strength is the author's extremely careful and judicious weighing of the theoretical implications of the empirical evidence. Kastner's analysis of the treatment of pro-independence "green" Taiwanese businesses in China in order to try to distinguish between internationalist economic and nationalist revanchist interests as the driver of China's policy toward Taiwan is excellent. The more negative treatment of these green businesses suggests nationalism as the motivating factor; at the same time, the fact that the negative treatment was limited to a few firms, mainly Hsu Wen-Lung...