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[ 184 ] asia policy Strait Talk: United States–Taiwan Relations and the Crisis with China Nancy Bernkopf Tucker Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009 • 390 pages author’s executive summary This book examines the history of mistrust between the U.S. and Taiwan, the damage such mistrust has caused to U.S.-Taiwan relations, and the jeopardy in which it has put both sides for the future. main argument Taiwan remains both an asset for U.S. national interests in East Asia and a thorn in U.S.-China relations. Mistrust between Washington and Taipei, along with ideology, politics, and security imperatives, is a core component of the often dysfunctional U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Political leaders from both countries have unnecessarily contributed to the mistrust. Sometimes actual policies have jeopardized Washington and Taipei but at other times friction has arisen because of a lack of forewarning, reassurance, or overall diplomatic finesse. Although the election of Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan provides hope for a more stable relationship, the institutional sources of mistrust on both sides persist—namely, poor information, misinterpreted behavior, unintended consequences, miscommunication, and political manipulation. policy implications • Although some level of conflict and turbulence is inevitable, cooperation between Washington and Taipei can be improved through concerted diplomatic efforts. • Direct interaction among top officials of Taiwan and the U.S. is the only means to promote transparency, enrich insight, and build trust between the two nations. • Better relations between the U.S. and Taiwan are critical for continuing improvement in cross-strait and U.S.-China relations. • The U.S. must stabilize the status quo and reinforce strategic ambiguity— that is, the U.S. should honor its commitment to assist Taiwan if the island’s relative weakness threatens equity but never to write Taiwan a blank check—in order to bolster Ma’s ability to counter domestic obstacles and conduct negotiations. [ 185 ] book reviews Chinese Politics as a Source of China’s Foreign Policy Edward Friedman A review of Tucker’s Strait Talk Nancy Bernkopf Tucker has written a magisterial diplomatic history of Taiwan’s role in U.S.-China relations, finding that mistrust between Washington and Taipei has kept the United States from playing a more positive role in achieving a peaceful resolution to problems caused by China’s threats. Tucker contends that unless the United States and Taiwan learn to understand each other and cooperate, Chinese military action could trigger a larger war. After all, China in 1950, 1958, and 1996 miscalculated the U.S. response to Chinese military initiatives. It could happen again, with a much stronger China not backing down. Tucker ponders how to prevent such an explosive event. Based on archival documents and key interviews, Tucker covers the politics of diplomacy through the Clinton administration. But Tucker never explores where and what Taiwan is. As with North America, South America, and the Pacific islands, the residents of Taiwan until the start of the seventeenth century were indigenous (in Taiwan’s case, Austronesians). Han Chinese did not arrive in large numbers until recruited by Europeans for plantation labor, and Taiwan was not ruled by Han people on the Asian mainland until the end of World War II. Such data clarifies why Taiwan’s Creole culture is historically different from that of Han China. Yet the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims that Taiwan was always Chinese. Did U.S. acceptance of CCP myths influence the deals that Nixon and Kissinger struck with Mao and Zhou? Tucker finds that Kissinger “surrendered more than was necessary” (p. 30) and sold out Taiwan to get Mao to help the United States gain “leverage against Moscow and Vietnam” (p. 28). Neither of these goals was realized. Taiwan’s betrayal by Kissinger and Nixon in 1971 was detailed by Jim Mann in About Face. Concessions were not required, as a weak Mao needed U.S. help. Strait Talk ignores much of such scholarship on Chinese foreign policymaking and on Taiwanese politics. Missing crucial facts, Tucker blames the continuing threat of a China-initiated war first on Washington and then on Taipei, “adept at manipulating” Washington (p. 12). China comes off as edward friedman is the Hawkins Chair Professor of Political Science at the...


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