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Triangular Diplomacy Amid Leadership Transition

  • Lowell Dittmer

Abstract

The China-Taiwan-US relationship may for analytical purposes be conceived as a “strategic triangle”1: It is “triangular” in the sense that each bilateral relationship is contingent on relations with the third power; it is “strategic” in its prioritization of the security dimension; indeed, one of its most striking features has been the relative irrelevance of changing economic variables in the strategic balance. In this respect it superficially resembles the Great Strategic Triangle (GST) between the United States, People’s Republic of China (PRC), and USSR. But what we might call the Taiwan minitriangle is otherwise quite distinctive—the imbalance of power among the three actors being only the most obvious. At least, since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the consistent pivot of this triangle, on the one hand due to its disproportionate economic and strategic weight, on the other because of the (relatively) disinterested “swing” role it has played in determining the relationship between the other two.2 Washington has throughout the postwar period consistently been the principal guarantor of Taiwan’s national security, and during certain crucial periods the United States has also interceded on behalf of China’s national security (while at many other times it has been the main threat to PRC security). These asymmetrical interdependencies—Taipei’s need for US support to retain its independent existence, Beijing’s need for tacit US support to be able to pressure Taiwan, Washington’s need for a balance between the two in order to retain its advantageous pivot position—have locked the three together in a complex, ambivalent embrace.

Keywords

Gross Domestic Product National Unification Taiwan Independence Relative Irrelevance Strait Exchange Foundation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    On triangular analysis, see inter alia, L. Dittmer, “The Strategic Triangle: An Elementary Game-Theoretical Analysis,” World Politics, vol. 33, no. 4 (1981), pp. 485–516:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 1.
    for its application to the China-Taiwan issue, see L. Dittmer, “Policy Implications of Cross-Strait Relations for the United States.” Paper presented at Cross-Straits Relations and Policy Implications for the Asia-Pacific Region, Conference sponsored by Institute for National Policy Research, International Convention Center, Taipei, March 27–29, 1995Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    Yu-Shan Wu, “Exploring Dual Triangles: The Development of Taipei-Washington-Beijing Relations,” Issues & Studies, vol. 32, no. 10 (December 1996), pp. 26–52Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    and Yu-Shan Wu, “From Romantic Triangle to Marriage?: Washington-BeijingTaipei Relations in Historical Comparison,” Issues & Studies, vol. 41, no. 1 (March 2005), pp. 113–161.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See, inter alia, Stephane Corcuff, ed., Memories of the Future: National Identity Issues and the Search for a New Taiwan (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2002)Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Alan Wachman, Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1997); and the special issue of Asian Survey, “Taiwan’s Search for National Identity,” vol. 44, no. 4 (July-August 2004).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Alan D. Romberg, Rein In at the Brink of the Precipice: American Policy toward Taiwan and US-PRC Relations (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, 2003), pp. 111–112.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Ramon H. Myers and Jialin Zhang, The Struggle Across the Taiwan Strait: The Divided China Problem (Stanford, CA: Hoover Inst. Press, 2006), pp. 89–90.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    As quoted in Michael D. Swaine, “Trouble in Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 83, no. 2 (March/April 2004), pp. 39–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 8.
    Ching Cheong, “Why China Is Going Easy on Taiwan for Now,” Straits Times (Singapore), August 18, 2000Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    as cited in Sheng Lijun, China and Taiwan: Cross-Strait Relations under Chen Shui-bian (New York: Zed Books, 2002), as amplified by conversations with policy intellectuals in Beijing.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    See Jing Huang (with Larry X. Li), Inseparable Separation: A Study in China-Taiwan Relations (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2007), Chapter 5.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    “China, US More than Stakeholders but Constructive Partners: Chinese Foreign Ministry” Xinhua, April 22, 2006, as cited in Alan D. Romberg, “The Taiwan Tangle,” China Leadership Monitor, vol. 18, accessed October 30, 2006.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    Su Chi, Brinkmanship: From Two-States Theory to One-Country-on-Each-Side (Taipei: Commonwealth Publishing Group, 2003), p. 249, as cited in Myers and Zhang, The Struggle Across the Taiwan Strait, p. 83.Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    See Yu-Shan Wu, “Taiwan’s Domestic Politics and Cross-Strait Relations,” The China Journal, vol. 53 (January 2005), pp. 35–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 14.
    See Guoguang Wu, “Passions, Politics and Politicians: Beijing between Taipei and Washington,” The Pacific Review, vol. 17, no. 2 (June 2004), pp. 179–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter C. Y. Chow 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lowell Dittmer

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