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Steven M. Goldstein, China and Taiwan,

Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA, Polity Press, 2015, 228 pp.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan
p. 70-71

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1This is a very useful overview of both the history and the current state of China-Taiwan relations. The 16th title of a new collection called “China Today,” this short volume is mainly aimed at informing the general public interested in the most striking features of what is now the second world economy and power. However, written by a recognised expert of the relations across the Taiwan Strait, it constitutes both a comprehensive and highly reliable exposé of Taiwan’s past, its unique trajectory, and its closer but still difficult relationship with China. Moreover, it uses newly declassified materials that underscore the complexity of the issue as well as the ambiguities attached to the positions of each stakeholder, namely China, Taiwan, and the United States. Consequently, students of Chinese affairs interested in better comprehending cross-Strait relations and Taiwan’s future are strongly advised to read this book.

2Organised in eight brief chapters, Steven Goldstein’s work first reminds the reader about Taiwan’s past, its late inclusion in the Manchu Empire (1683), the 50-year Japanese colonisation (1895-1945), and more importantly, what the United States (and Japan) still consider its “unsettled status” in spite of its claimed return to the Republic of China (ROC) in 1945. It then adroitly summarises “cross-Strait politics without relations” during the Cold War and what has changed and not changed in Washington’s stance on Taiwan since Nixon’s trip in 1972. Similarly, it highlights the ambiguities of the Sino-US normalisation in 1979 and the 1982 third communiqué (on the reduction of US arms sales to Taiwan), as well as the importance of the April 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and the refusal of all US governments, including the Carter administration, for that matter (p. 66), to endorse the idea that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China.

3While for obvious reasons Washington looms large in this book, China and Taiwan also gives much space to Taiwanese politics. It rightly underscores what it calls “the challenges of a democratic Taiwan,” the impact of democratisation, and the quest for a better statehood both on cross-Strait relations (the missile crisis) and Taipei-Washington relations (a more robust security engagement and military cooperation). Likewise, the Chen Shui-bian (and Democratic Progressive Party, DPP) presidency (2000-2008) is clearly analysed, contrasting the first two years of relative moderation with the next six years of Taiwanese identity “assertiveness” (my own wording) but also growing rapprochement between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Entitled “Satisfying Washington and Beijing,” the chapter devoted to the Ma Ying-jeou presidency shows both the achievements and the limits of the rapprochement initiated by the KMT and supported by most Taiwanese, at least until 2014 and the Sunflower Movement. This chapter also demonstrates that China won’t be happy as long as Taiwan – one of its top “core interests” – capitulates and embraces political negotiations leading to reunification. As a result, the US cannot extricate itself from the key role it plays in this dispute.

4The two final chapters present the two well-known paradoxical pillars of the relationship across the Taiwan Strait: on the one hand, a deepening but highly asymmetrical economic interdependence, and on the other hand, a lingering and unsolvable security tension that has forced the US to adopt a “dual deterrence” strategy (to deter a Chinese unprovoked attack as well as a Taiwanese declaration of independence).

5There are probably choices and developments in Goldstein’s book that other scholars studying cross-Strait relations may object to. For instance, he does not adequately emphasise the close connection between US-China normalisation and Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of a policy of “peaceful reunification” towards Taiwan, as opposed to “peaceful liberation,” a formula still used by Hua Guofeng in late 1978 (p. 53). This linkage is important because it will later justify the decision made by the Clinton administration to disregard (or de facto freeze) the application of the 1982 third US-China communiqué as Beijing decides to remilitarise the Taiwan Strait. Another criticism can be made regarding Lee Teng-hui’s decision in 1999 to qualify cross-Strait relations as state-to-state relations: it was more the result of talks held by the Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for the Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) in Shanghai in 1998 than the division between the Clinton administration and Congress (p. 95) that explained Lee’s initiative: he did not want to open “political talks” with China, knowing too well where it might lead.

  • 1  Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America website, “Taiwan Affairs (...)

6One can also question whether the Chen years were “a period of high danger” (the title of Chapter 5). Goldstein tends to dismiss Chen’s caution and Beijing’s unaccommodating position in the first two years of his presidency, the latter being the main reason for Chen’s change of mind and strategy in summer 2002. More generally, looking back at these years as another DPP administration starts in 2016 under the presidency of Tsai Ing-wen, one wonders what Chen tried and managed to achieve. In 2006 he terminated the National Unification Council, an institution established before Taiwan’s democratisation and the political legitimacy of which was questionable, but never actually challenged the “one China nature” of the Republic of China’s Constitution (as mentioned on p. 102). In addition, regarding the so-called “92 Consensus,” the author does not adopt enough critical distance from this concept, coined by the KMT’s Su Chi in 2000: in 1992, the SEF and the ARATS reached an ambiguous compromise rather than a “consensus” regarding “one China” (p. 103), and as Tsai steps in as the new ROC president, this problem remains unsolved. Finally, while China and Taiwan does a good job tracing the initial statement in 2005 of Hu Jintao’s slightly more flexible policy towards the island, it does not mention the important change adopted by the CCP in October 2007, which elevated the priority of the “peaceful development” of cross-Strait relations (as opposed to “peaceful reunification”), an idea that goes back to the first point of Beijing’s 17 May 2004 seven-point statement1 and means that Beijing can accept the status quo for the time being. It is a policy priority that has not been questioned by Xi Jinping, even if the new Chinese president has demonstrated more impatience regarding leaving the issue unresolved for future generations.

7China and Taiwan closes just before the November 2015 Xi-Ma summit in Singapore and Taiwan’s January 2016 presidential and legislative elections. However, it includes all the ingredients that observers need to be aware of in order to understand the current state and uncertain future of cross-Strait relations. A tour de force, as we say in English… and in French.

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1  Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America website, “Taiwan Affairs Office Issues Statement on Current Cross-Straits Relations,” 17 May 2004, (accessed on 27 April 2016).

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Bibliographical reference

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Steven M. Goldstein, China and Taiwan,”China Perspectives, 2016/2 | 2016, 70-71.

Electronic reference

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Steven M. Goldstein, China and Taiwan,”China Perspectives [Online], 2016/2 | 2016, Online since 01 June 2016, connection on 17 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jean-Pierre Cabestan

Jean-Pierre Cabestan is the head of the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University (

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