Rethinking US-Taiwan Relations after the Cold War: Creative Ambiguity vs. Assertive Democratization

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang, University of Richmond


This paper seeks to explore whether it is possible for the U.S. to pursue parallel relationships with Taiwan and China, that is, whether U.S.-Taiwan relations can be "decoupled" from the Washington-Taipei-Beijing triangle. It will first provide a brief overview on how the U.S.-Taiwan relations have evolved since 1949, when the reality of two Chinas set in with the founding of the People's Republic. Then it will discuss the framework of current U.S. policy toward Taiwan. In light of significant developments within each country involved in recent years, this paper will question the policy's continued validity. To test how far the argument can go for strengthening U.S.-Taiwan bilateral relations, unaffected by U.S.-China relations, this paper will evaluate Taiwan's importance - on the world stage and to the United States; in other words, whether Taiwan is important enough to the U.S. as a "vital interest." Presumably adjusting or discarding the current "one China" policy can only be justified if Taiwan is a vital U.S. interest, worthy of risking China's ire. Finally, this paper will examine the determinants of U.S. policy toward Taiwan in the post-Cold War era, and speculate on several scenarios for the shape and direction of future U.S.-Taiwan relations.