Taiwan's Fading Independence Movement

Courtesy Reuters


Political developments in Taiwan over the past year have effectively ended the independence movement there. What had been a major source of regional instability -- and the most likely source of a great-power war anywhere in the world -- has become increasingly irrelevant. The peaceful transformation of relations between China and Taiwan will help stabilize eastern Asia, reduce the likelihood of conflict between China and the United States, and present an opportunity for Beijing, Taipei, and Washington to adjust their defense postures -- all without hurting Taiwan's security or threatening U.S. interests.

Taiwan's independence movement gained momentum in 1995 when Washington allowed Taiwan's then president, Lee Teng-hui, to visit the United States. During his stay, Lee gave a speech at Cornell University that signaled his impatience for independence. Before that trip, the United States had long banned visits by Taiwan's leaders in deference to Beijing's insistence that Taiwan is a Chinese province. By suddenly allowing Lee to visit, Washington seemed to Beijing to be encouraging independence.

China reacted by deploying short-range missiles across the strait from Taiwan and accelerating its purchase of Russian submarines and advanced aircraft. In March 1996, it conducted provocative missile tests near the island, interfering with shipping to Taiwan and provoking the United States to deploy two aircraft carrier battle groups to the vicinity of Taiwan. Following the face-off, the Pentagon began actively planning for hostilities with China and expedited U.S. deployments to eastern Asia and its acquisition of new weaponry. Washington also pressed for closer defense ties with Taipei, which it urged to buy costly, high-profile weapons such as submarines and Patriot missile defense systems. Beijing, viewing these measures as further evidence of the United States' encouragement of Taiwan's independence, became increasingly suspicious of U.S. intentions.

After 1996, the situation remained tense, and the repeated steps toward independence taken by Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president since 2000, fanned the flames. Although the independence movement enjoyed a high profile internationally, it never won

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