Taiwan and the geopolitics of Sino-American relations, 1972-1988

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Taiwan, Geopolitical thought, International relations

Subject Categories

Political Science


The main thesis of this study is that the survival and position of Taiwan has been and remains highly contingent upon the vagaries of American and Chinese (both PRC and ROC) geopolitical thought and machination.

The legal, strategic, and geopolitical conflict between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China over who is the sole legitimate government of all China constitutes the "Taiwan Issue." From the mid-1950s until 1972 the issue remained deadlocked mostly due to United States foreign policy. After 1972, however, U.S.-PRC relations steadily improved and the ROC's international position deteriorated. This culminated in the unilateral decision by the U.S. in 1979 to withdraw formal diplomatic relations and terminate its bilateral security treaty with the ROC. Yet on April 10, 1979, the U.S. Congress enacted the "Taiwan Relations Act" which enabled the U.S. to continue close and friendly relations with the ROC and to provide defense assistance to a state with which it had no formal relations.

In order to better understand the intellectual framework within which each country's foreign policy-makers operate, the study begins with an overview of Western and Chinese geopolitical theories. Next the geographical and historical contexts within which the Taiwan Issue has unfolded are examined. It is shown that despite its traditionally close connections with the mainland, Taiwan became a beneficiary of American "Cold War" geopolitics. The study then considers Taiwan's reappraisal of its own position vis-a-vis the mainland, the United States, and the world. Finally, the study reviews the various options now under consideration for resolving the Taiwan Issue in light of the pervasive influence of outside powers.

The study concludes that both the PRC and ROC have carefully and consistently manipulated the "geographical mind" in order to preserve the orthodox principles on which their governments are founded. Yet the perceived environment and ideology of the respective foreign policy-makers have been and will continue to be constrained by the geographical field in which they actually operate. In particular, the shifting geopolitical context of great power competition and cooperation in East Asia will continue to impact upon Taiwan in the future.


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