Our Stake In Taiwan
Few diplomatic achievements in history have garnered such universal praise as the rapprochement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that was completed in the 1970’s during the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. After a decades-long period of non-recognition following the end of World War II and the Communist victory in China, diplomatic communication was finally established between Washington and Beijing, and, with it, the balance of power in the cold war shifted dramatically against the Soviet Union. By the mid-1980’s, with Mao Zedong dead and China opening itself to both foreign visitors and foreign investment and trade, hopes began to blossom for the day when the two countries might even be able to exercise the sort of shared, benign leadership of Asia that had been the dream of countless Americans and Chinese since as far back as Sun Yat-sen early in the last century.
Throughout the first half of that century, the U.S. and China had been friends. Indeed, even after the ousting of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government by Mao’s Communists in 1949, administration after administration had sought to construct some sort of relationship with Beijing. The fault lay with the Chinese, bent on building a new world order in which the U.S. would have no part. Even John F. Kennedy’s charm and ingenuity failed to break through. As Dean Rusk, JFK’s Secretary of State, would put it, “they just kept hanging up the phone.” Not until the greater menace posed by the Soviet Union brought the two sides together did it prove possible to set aside the main obstacle that, ostensibly, had prevented consummation.
About the Author
Arthur Waldron is the Lauder professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.