Chinese puzzles

Bridging the Strait
June 16, 1995

This work, based on the author's doctoral research, attempts to answer two main questions concerning the relationship with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China: will the rapprochement of the two Chinas, ongoing between 1979 and the present, lead eventually to peaceful reunification? And if it does not, why not?

The first question is perhaps the easier one. Hsin-Hsing Wu gives six variables that will have a significant impact on prospects for reunification. These are: their economic systems; their political systems; the transactions between the two; Taiwanese public opinion; internal Taiwanese politics; and Taiwan's movement for total independence from the mainland.

Using integration theory derived from studies of the European Community in the 1950s, the author tries to illustrate the complex patterns and scenarios of this changing relationship. It is a timely exercise. Taiwan, which has always been regarded by the mainland as a renegade province, is becoming more democratic. While both states claim that they are the sole legal government of China, both also claim to share the same goal of reunification.

That seems to be where similarities end. Taiwan is among the most successful Newly Industrialising Countries (NICs), in which economic change has recently led to political liberalisation. The average Taiwanese is far richer than the average mainlander.

In 1989, Taiwan held multi-party elections in which some members of the opposition party who advocate independence for Taiwan won a significant share of the vote. Concerns about Taiwanese identity and the apparently detrimental influence of American culture are clearly on the agendas of Taiwan's politicians. In the People's Republic, by contrast, the ruling gerontocracy still clings to political authoritarianism in the face of increasing pressure to change.

The author analyses the period from 1979, when the PRC abandoned its slogan of "liberating" Taiwan and initiated a reconciliatory strategy based on reunification. Still the threat of force looms large, complicated by Taiwan's accelerated economic growth and recent political changes.

The book shows convincingly that despite efforts to normalise the relationship, reunification will not necessarily occur in the near future. The "spillover" effect of economic growth into politics has been weak. It seems unlikely that Taiwan will be interested in replicating the mainland's existing political system or economic model.

Following the collapse and discrediting of communism as an economic and political system in the Soviet Union and eastern bloc generally, Taiwan will surely not want to follow the communist path. The development of anti-reunification sentiment in Taiwan with the growth of an opposition party is detailed in meticulous fashion. Part of the strength of the book is its emphasis on diplomacy: neither party wants to give in, and neither wants to lose face in its dealings with the other. Culture is an important element in the negotiations.

Bridging the Strait is well written. Concepts, ideas and theories are clearly expressed and the author has an extensive knowledge of the relevant literature and scholarship. This book should be required reading for anyone wishing to understand the evolution and present state of the complex attitudes behind and prospects for the reunification of the two Chinas.

Kenneth Christie is a lecturer in the department of political science, National University of Singapore.

Bridging the Strait: Taiwan, China and the Prospects for Reunification

Author - Hsin-Hsing Wu
ISBN - - 19 585765 8
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £32.50
Pages - 346

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