Foreign Affairs publishes senior Asian expert Lucian Pye’s capsule review of

Dangerous Strait: The U.S.-Taiwan-China Crisis. Edited by Nancy Bernkopf Tucker. : Columbia University Press, 2005, 288 pp. $39.50

This collection takes seriously the notion that for the United States, the Taiwan Strait is one of the world’s most dangerous spots, because policy misjudgments or a mere accident could result in war with China. The danger is all the greater because relations among the three powers — the United States, China, and Taiwan — rest on a body of murky verbal formulations. To illustrate this point, in her last chapter, Tucker goes over the complicated and convoluted history of Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which requires convincing Beijing that the United States will defend Taiwan if China attacks while simultaneously convincing Taipei that the United States will not defend it if the Taiwanese provoke a Chinese attack. (The only thing worse than this policy of murkiness, Tucker concludes, would be a policy of clarity.) Together, the contributors successfully explain the historical evolution of the cross-strait situation and provide solid analysis of the complex relations among the three powers, allowing readers to appreciate the nuances in more recent events. Although they generally admire Taiwan’s successful development of a democracy, they warn of the danger of a growing sense of Taiwanese identity that, when combined with popular politics, could lead to calls for Taiwanese independence — a move that Beijing has said it will not tolerate.

Broken record time: You know, it’s all those mad Taiwanese and their quest for democracy. The Taiwan Straits are the only place in the world where one guy can point 750 missiles at the other, and the foreign policy establishment can aver as one man that it is the victim who is crazy. Just imagine if this principle was applied to their daily lives:

ASIAN EXPERT: Officer, my neighbor owns 750 assault weapons and look! They are all pointed at my house. Last year he fired shots across my lawn. He keeps saying he is going to kill me, too. Can you do something?
POLICEMAN: What’s wrong with that? Why are you complaining? You’re the crazy one here! Shut up and quit asking for rule of law! What’s wrong with you!

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