Uncharted Strait: The Future of China-Taiwan Relations

Bush’s masterful assessment of Chinese-Taiwanese relations predicts that “the momentum of cooperation on stabilization that began when [Taiwanese President] Ma [Ying-jeou] took office in 2008 will decelerate and most likely stall.” This was a prescient claim, as that is exactly what began to happen last summer, months after Bush’s book was published, after the Taiwanese legislature balked at passing a cross-strait agreement on liberalizing trade in services. Bush terms the subjects on which the two sides reached deals before 2013 “the low-hanging fruit.” Almost all the agreements concern economic affairs, with nothing substantive addressing politics. Progress has been further slowed by Ma’s recently plummeting approval ratings, which are currently languishing in the midteens. Bush could not have foreseen the dramatic decline in Ma’s popularity; indeed, no specialist has offered an adequate explanation for it. Ma’s ineffectiveness must surely increase Beijing’s worries. It might hasten the end of what Bush terms “the paradigm of mutual persuasion” and convince Chinese leaders to start exploiting their power advantage more aggressively. Bush’s book offers an exceptionally lucid and comprehensive analysis of what such a shift would likely mean for the region.

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