Taiwan’s first presidential election, in 1996, sparked a Sino-U.S. military showdown that resulted in the biggest show of U.S. naval force in East Asia since the Vietnam War. This book is the first to explore the origins and triangular dynamics of that historic confrontation. Analyzing the key decisions and misperceptions that led to the Taiwan Strait crisis, Garver warns that it may usher in a more confrontational era of Sino-U.S. relations.
China is already emerging as an economic powerhouse and fears of its becoming an expansionist military power have grown in recent years as China has rapidly built up its armed forces since 1989. It has also adopted a more assertive stance in several territorial disputes with its neighbors, arousing new security concerns for Asia as a whole.
When China tried to intimidate Taiwan’s voters by firing missiles and conducting large-scale military exercises off its coasts in the period preceding the 1996 election, the U.S. dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to Taiwan. The prestige of all sides was fully engaged as powerful do domestic interests demanded an assertive posture. Eventually, China adopted a more cautious stance and the crisis passed. But it marked the first instance of Chinese nuclear coercion of the U.S. and gave the “China threat” new credence in the U.S. and elsewhere in Asia.
The author has studied the Taiwan question for more than 30 years and has witnessed first-hand the growth and culmination of Taiwan’s democratization. This sober, mature reflection of decades of thought is certain to inform the debate on the “China threat” and the future of Sino-U.S. relations.