Taiwanese soldiers in Taipei, October 2008
Pichi Chuang / Reuters

For four decades, successive Republican and Democratic administrations resisted answering the question of whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China mounted an armed attack. Washington’s deliberate ambiguity on the matter helped dissuade China from attempting to “reunify” Taiwan with the mainland, as it could not be sure that the United States would remain on the sidelines. At the same time, the policy discouraged Taiwan from declaring independence—a step that would have precipitated a cross-strait crisis—because its leaders could not be sure of unequivocal U.S. support.

The policy known as strategic ambiguity

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