Although the question of Taiwan’s status is unlikely to be resolved soon, considering the various possible outcomes and how they might affect U.S.–China relations is useful. A total of ten distinct trajectories for the resolution of the cross-strait relationship can be identified, with greatly varying implications for U.S.-China relations. Unsurprisingly, the impact of peaceful outcomes, including continued peaceful irresolution, is both more predictable and generally better for relations between Washington and Beijing. If China uses force against Taiwan, however, subsequent U.S.–China relations could fall anywhere from close cooperation to hostile cold war. Both how the Taiwan issue is resolved and the nature of subsequent U.S.–China relations will largely be determined by the nature of China’s government: a democratic, or, at least, highly pragmatic Chinese government is more likely to achieve a peaceful resolution; a government still controlled by the Chinese Communist Party is less likely to do so. As China’s military capabilities grow, it will become increasingly difficult but also increasingly more important to prevent Beijing from using force to bring about unification.
The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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