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Journal ArticleDOI

Strategic ambiguity and the Trumpian approach to China–Taiwan relations

Hoo Tiang Boon, +1 more
- 09 Nov 2020 - 
- Vol. 96, Iss: 6, pp 1487-1508
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TLDR
This article argued that domestic and individual level drivers have interacted with the shifting US-China balance of power to produce a different mode of American strategic ambiguity in the Taiwan Strait and revealed a form of strategic ambiguity under Trump that, despite appearing to upset the balance of ambiguity in favour of Taiwan, still maintains assurances and warnings for both China and Taiwan.
Abstract
\n The notion of strategic ambiguity has long guided the United States’ engagement in cross-strait relations, requiring that Washington is intentionally unclear about whether and how it would intervene in a China–Taiwan conflict in order to preserve a balance of assurance and deterrence for both sides. This article unpacks the US approach to strategic ambiguity under Trump. Adopting a neo-classical realist perspective, it argues that domestic and individual level drivers—in particular, US populism, Congress and the foreign policy establishment, and Trump's transactional and personalized approach to foreign policy—have interacted with the shifting US–China balance of power to produce a different mode of American strategic ambiguity in the Taiwan Strait. A common view is that as a function of the growing US–China power competition, the US has largely leaned towards Taiwan in recent years. Our analysis revises this assessment by revealing a form of strategic ambiguity under Trump that, despite appearing to upset the balance of ambiguity in favour of Taiwan—paradoxically and probably unintentionally—maintains assurances and warnings for both China and Taiwan. Yet, while Trump has arguably preserved the overall balance of strategic ambiguity, he has introduced greater volatility into cross-strait relations.

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