The early 1990s saw the dismantling of Cold War power relationships in Asia while providing no clear guidelines as to what arrangements might take their place. The crisintegration of the Soviet Union meant that the Chinese, who had been skilled practitioners of triangular politics, could no longer play the United States off the USSR as effectively to their own benefit. The demise of the Soviet Union also removed the original raison d'etre for rapprochement between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States just at a point of maximum friction between the two. Chinese resentment over American reaction to the PRC's decision to forcibly suppress demonstrations at Tiananmen Square was heightened by a long list of complaints from the United States on such issues as Chinese failure to protect U.S. intellectual property rights; the huge and growing trade deficit the United States was running with the PRC; sales of Chinese missiles to the Middle East; and China's continued nuclear testing. The fact that the United States took the lead in forming an international coalition to force Iraq out of Kuwait reinforced the PRC leadership's view that America, the only remaining superpower, intended to remake the world in its own image. This stimulated a policy of Chinese resistance to perceived U.S. attempts to contain the PRC, and a vigorous assertion of its international prerogatives.
Chinese suspicions notwithstanding, the United States was drastically cutting its defense budget. The consequences of downsizing its arsenal included withdrawing from its bases in the Philippines, reducing the number of American troops in South Korea, and renegotiating its Status of Forces Agreements so that its newly-wealthy Asian allies would assume more of the burdens of, and responsibilities for, their own defense. Initially, Asian commentators welcomed these changes. Relieved of the tensions of the Cold War, Asians, with what some saw as a distinctly Asian identity, would fend for themselves.(1) Others held forth the vision of a militarily peaceful and economically dynamic Pacific community with a unique "corporate culture" on regional security that combined the best on East and West: Western concepts of national sovereignty and organization plus Eastern attitudes on managing differences.(2)
While some continued to remain optimistic, others became concerned that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and potential withdrawal of the United States had created a power vacuum which would be filled by China, either as a new emerging superpower or as hegemon in the Asian region. The first of these contentions can be dismissed: Apart from trade, China has minimal global interests to protect, and minimal global reach by which to protect them. Regionally, it is otherwise. Unresolved disputes in which China has major stake include, in order of importance,
* the status of Taiwan
* the Spratly Islands
* the Korean Peninsula
Taiwan, known to its inhabitants as the Republic of China (ROC), is regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province. The issue of sovereignty is complicated. Taiwan was a province of the Qing(3) Empire from 1885 to 1895, when Japan annexed it under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In 1945, the Allied Powers, victors in the Second World War, assigned Taiwan to China, which was then governed by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang(KMT). Taiwan has remained under KMT jurisdiction ever since, though the mainland has been under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1949. In 1991, ending four decades during which the CCP and KMT each claimed to be the only legitimate government of all China, the Kuomintang formally renounced control over the mainland. It did not, however, declare the island's independence since the CCP has stated that a declaration of independence will be met with armed resistance. The Taiwan government's official position is that it is part of China, but not a province of the PRC.(4)
Taiwan's spectacular economic growth was followed by equally spectacular political development. The direct election of the president in March 1996 will be another milestone in the island's impressive democratization. Its Taiwanization, though less heralded, is taking place as well. Notwithstanding the fact that virtually every inhabitant of the Republic of China is able to speak Mandarin, increasing numbers of people prefer not to do so. Even political candidates who were born on the mainland now find it expedient to campaign in Taiwanese,(5) while literature, art and architecture show subtle, though noticeable trends away from mainland forms. It is hardly surprising that the development of this separate linguistic and cultural identity should be coupled with a desire for international recognition of the separate political identity which exists in fact. The government can, and frequently does, warn that strident assertions of independence may cause the mainland to invade. But its ability to stifle such assertions has been circumscribed by the rise of a civil society whose members are strong adherents of the right to free speech. The Kuomintang is also aware that failure to heed voters' wishes on the matter of an international persona may mean that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party will succeed it in power.
Approximately five years ago, the Republic of China began a policy known as flexible diplomacy, wherein it sought to return to international organizations that it had left when those organizations admitted the PRC. Taipei also announced that it was willing to establish formal diplomatic relations with countries even though they had formal diplomatic relations with Beijing. China's media fulminated against what it termed a bald-faced attempt to institutionalize the concept of two Chinas and suspended diplomatic relations with several small countries that recognized Taiwan.
China did no more than this, however. New policies in the Republic of China facilitated indirect trade with the mainland, and billions of dollars from Taiwan were soon invested in mainland factories, the majority in Fujian - which is the ancestral home of most Taiwanese - and Guangdong. There were, to be sure, frictions in the relationship. A group of Taiwanese tourists were shot and burned to death by thieves who attacked their excursion boat. And a number of illegal immigrants heading for Taiwan suffocated when ROC officials, frustrated by the illegals' repeated attempts at re-entry, forced them below deck, nailed the hatches closed and pointed the boat back toward the mainland. But in general, relations between the two sides had never been better.
This changed during the earlier part of 1995. The year opened peacefully. On january 30th, Chinese president and CCP general secretary Jiang Zemin delivered a major speech calling for a cross-strait summit on reunification(6) that was generally regarded as conciliatory A major sticking point, however, lay in China's insistence on party-to-party negotiations while Taiwan insisted on government-to-government relations. The Kuomintang government cannot agree to party-to-party negotiations because Taiwan is a multi-party state and its highly vocal rival parties would object strenuously. The CCP government cannot agree to government-to-government negotiations, since this might imply tacit recognition of Taiwan's sovereign status. The Taiwan authorities were additionally constrained in their ability to hold even informal negotiations by opposition parties' suspicions that the Kuomintang intended to make political capital out of the negotiations to enhance its chances in upcoming elections.(7)
By springtime, the mainland's line had hardened. Unconfirmed rumors said that hardliners, never happy with Jiang's conciliatory gesture, were using the overture's lack of results to attack Jiang. he general secretary, a weak leader who owed his appointment to Deng Xiaoping, was becoming increasingly vulnerable as his mentor's health failed. This forced Jiang to take a tougher stance. Not only had his initiative produced no noticeable progress toward reunification, but Taiwan authorities appeared to be stepping up activities that would establish the principle of two Chinas. High-ranking ROC diplomats including Foreign Minister Frederick Chien and Government Information Office Director-General Jason Hu circled the globe in support of the ROC's efforts to join the United Nations. China was not mollified by the pointing out that the presence of both East Germany and West Germany in the United Nations was merely a transition stage toward reunification, and that the presence of both Koreas in the United Nations might be said to have facilitated rather than prevented reunification discussions between the two.
Furthermore, China reacted sharply to the Clinton administration's May 1995 announcement that it had reversed its past policy and agreed to grant ROC president Lee Teng-hui a visa so that he could receive an honorary degree from Cornell University, his alma mater. The U.S. decision to reverse past policy was made for domestic political reasons, as an angry Congress threatened to force the issue on the already beleaguered American president. But Chinese leaders protested loudly that they had been lied to by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and accused the United States of complicity in a sinister plot to create two Chinas.
The mainland announced, and subsequently carried out, missile testing exercises in the Taiwan Strait in July and August. Shortly thereafter, war games were held which looked suspiciously as if they might be the prelude to an actual invasion. The Taipei Stock Market dropped sharply, though it recovered within a few days. And Taiwan announced its own war games, held just before the anniversary of the 10 October 191 1 revolution against the Manchus, since celebrated as the Republic of China's national day.
At this point, tensions began to diminish. The reasons...