Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 122
The missile diplomacy of the PRC in July and August of 1995 and March 1996 was unprecedented in peacetime in the nuclear rocket age. The military pressure by the PRC on Taiwan, which coincided with democratic elections, was headline material. Was this going to be the clash of civilisations, the last hurrah of democracy versus communism, of the start of a new cold war in Asia? It was a time of grave testing and responsibility for the two Chinese governments, and for the United States and Japan. While cool heads prevailed, the events certainly provoked much anxiety in Asia and the Pacific and will have a lasting negative effect on regional perceptions of the way Beijing deals with its concerns. Yet the military pressure also brought important diplomatic successes for Beijing. The United States and Japan reiterated their commitment to a one-China policy. At the same time, Taiwan can claim some comfort from the outcome. Public sympathy in Japan and the united States for Taiwan has clearly increased.
In early may 1996, barely six weeks after the PRC completed its three weeks of military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, a group of scholars and government officials from Taiwan, the PRC, and United States, France and Australia presented their analysis of the tensions to a select international forum. This volume brings together those papers. As a measure of the vast experience assembled for the deliberation on these dramatic events the papers collected in this volume have proved rather accurate in their analysis of the longer term effects, even though many were first drafted as the missiles flew and the guns blazed over the Taiwan strait. The reliability of the analysis in the papers is matched by their value as a contemporary record of the events from the domestic political, economic and strategic perspectives. The constraints operating on all parties are particularly well documented.
Most importantly, the March 1996 Taiwan crisis was about dignity and competing visions of it. This was no time to blur the moral issues. But surprisingly, the clarity and firmness with which each government involved staked out its interests and moral vision may have contributed to the resolution of the crisis. This may be the most exciting aspect of the book - the degree to which it highlights the personal moral engagement and deep commitment of the Chinese people from both sides of the strait who contributed to it.
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