Change in Taiwan and Potential Adversity in the Strait

by Evan Feigenbaum

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Abstract

For more than 40 years, the China-Taiwan conflict has effectively institutionalized the outcome of China's 1945-49 civil war. Since 1949, each side of the Taiwan Strait has been ruled by one of the two main parties to that conflict — the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang — and until the mid-1980s the claims of each to represent China's legitimate national government limited flexibility on both sides and rendered real movement in the relationship virtually impossible. Since the mid-1980s, however, Kuomintang authorities have loosened some political restrictions in Taiwan. This shift has produced rapid economic and political developments on the island, the thrust of which is extremely disturbing to China's leadership and which has fundamentally altered the parameters of the Strait conflict. The author foresees a degree of stability in the short to medium term but identifies three potentially destabilizing trends that may pull Taiwan away from any substantive commitment to reunification: the political and social changes favoring a "distinct" Taiwan identity; "Taiwanization" of the ruling Kuomintang; and increasing confidence in Taiwan's ability to leverage wealth, investment, and trade for ambitious foreign policy goals.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Political-Military Trends: Consensus, the KMT, and Policy Incrementalism

  • Chapter Three

    Socio-political Trends: Flexible Policy, Confident Identity, and Social Pluralization

  • Chapter Four

    Economic Trends: Trade Dependence, Offshore Investment, and Industrial Restructuring

  • Chapter Five

    Implications and Possible Scenarios

  • Chapter Six

    Trends to Watch: Change and the Three Scenarios

  • Bibliography

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. It was carried out under the auspices of the International Security and Defense Policy Center within RAND's National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the defense agencies.

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