Between negotiation and confrontation: Understanding China's Taiwan policy redirections in the 1990s

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Margaret G. Hermann


Negotiation, Confrontation, China, Taiwan policy, Policy redirection, Nineteen 90s

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | International Relations | Policy History, Theory, and Methods


China's Taiwan policymaking in the 1990s was characterized by a cyclical nature, in which the policy line repeatedly fluctuated between negotiation and confrontation. Beijing decided to negotiate with Taiwan in June 1991. It turned to confront Taiwan in June 1995. It decided to re-negotiate in late 1997. It again accepted a coercive policy in July 1999.

Most previous studies of China-Taiwan relations have failed to explain this phenomenon, since they do not pay enough attention to the function of the Chinese leadership's perceptions of situations in the decision-making process. This dissertation seeks to formulate a new research framework that, by focusing on the official Chinese perceptions, can map out the linkages between external stimuli, the decision-making process, and policy outcomes. On the empirical level, it aims to explain Beijing's different responses to Taipei's similar stimuli and the above four decisions of policy change. The central argument is twofold: first, the stimulus-response model cannot explain the China-Taiwan interactions because the Chinese leadership selectively perceives the situations. Second, the Chinese leadership's perceptions of the U.S. will condition the ways they perceive and react to Taipei's initiatives.

Drawing on a quantitative content analysis of the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, Remin Ribao, this dissertation demonstrates that neither Taipei's actions nor Beijing's perceptions of Taiwan consistently align with those policy redirections. Instead, there is a significant correlation (with a three to six-month time lag) between Beijing's perceptions of the U.S. and its perceptions of Taiwan. Beijing's perceptions of the U.S. also positively associate with its Taiwan policy directions. On the other hand, by employing the method of case comparisons, this dissertation examines Beijing's perceptions of external situation within the shorter time-periods prior to six cases of Taiwan policy decisions. The results conclude that Beijing's perceptions of the U.S. are consistent with its Taiwan policy outcomes. That is, when the leadership in Beijing perceives a friendly Sino-American relationship, the Chinese government is more likely to adopt a reconciliatory policy toward Taiwan. When they perceive a deteriorating relationship with the U.S., it is more likely that a confrontational Taiwan policy will be accepted.


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