The American entanglement with Taiwan is rooted in events going back over fifty years. In this paper, Alan Romberg reviews some of those events, beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s insistence at Cairo in November 1943—reaffirmed at Potsdam in July 1945—that Taiwan, along with other former Chinese territories seized by Japan, should be returned to China at the end of the war and going all the way through to the current period.
Alan Romberg argues that the fundamental responsibility for managing the Taiwan question is in the hands of Beijing and Taipei, not Washington. That said, the United States does have an important influence on developments. Hints—sometimes more than hints—that emerge from the Bush Administration for time to time cautioning about overly close cross-Strait economic or political ties doubtless reflect the genuine concerns of those voicing them. But they have sometimes been taken, in Taiwan as well as the Mainland, as a reversion to the policy of a half century ago, when the United States saw itself as having an active role in determining what the cross-Strait relationship should be, rather than focusing on our strategic national interest in how that relationship is to be determined—peacefully or through use of intimidation and force. Any such reversion to an apparently pro-separatist stance would be contrary to the “one China” policy President Bush has reaffirmed—and a serious problem.
This paper points out that while September 11th may not have transformed the fundamentals of US-PRC relations, it did provide a vehicle for a change in tone that both sides had already indicated they favored. Still, for either side to ignore the way Taiwan plays in the policies and politics of the other, and the potential for it to this new-found amity, would be folly.