In This Review

The Changing of the Guard: President Clinton and the Security of Taiwan
The Changing of the Guard: President Clinton and the Security of Taiwan
By Martin L. Lasater
Westview, 1995, 270 pp.

Although this book was completed before the recent mini-crisis in U.S.-China relations caused by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States, it anticipates that crisis--and potentially more serious ones--by warning about a central U.S. policy dilemma. For the past 25 years, since normalizing relations with Beijing, the United States has sought to balance its interests in China and Taiwan. But as the author says, it is an open question whether the American political system is capable of making the difficult choices required to maintain that balance. No one knows whether the growth of Taiwan's identity and self-determination will lead eventually to a declaration of independence from China. But "the possibility exists and the democratization of the decision-making process on Taiwan has greatly increased its possibility." This is precisely what Beijing most fears.

If the Taiwan government declares the island to be an independent nation-state, with tacit U.S. encouragement, Beijing would probably respond with force. An agonized debate in Washington would ensue, and if, as seems likely, the United States intervened, there could be a military confrontation that would destabilize Asia and lead to a new cold war in which the United States might well find itself isolated from its major Asian and European allies. If Washington is to avoid this disastrous scenario, it must carefully define its interests in ways clear to Beijing and Taipei. If, on the other hand, the president and Congress continue to pursue divergent policies toward Taiwan, as they have been doing over the past year, they will inadvertently increase the risk of miscalculation on the part of all the major parties.

Lasater's book makes a significant contribution to understanding the U.S. policy dilemma and concludes with some sensible recommendations. Lasater argues for maintaining the three principles that have characterized U.S. policy since 1979: adhere to a one-China policy acknowledging that Taiwan is Chinese territory; maintain a pragmatic dual-track approach of diplomatic relations with China and informal relations with Taiwan; and insist that the Taiwan issue be settled peacefully by the Chinese themselves.