The book under review i.e. foreign policy making in Taiwan was published in 2007 and has its background rooted in controversial election of 2004 that resulted in victory of Chen Sui-Ban. Understanding Taiwan had never been that easy. Moreover, in years when ambiguity over political issues among Taiwanese citizens is rising explaining the Taiwan issue had become more complex, particularly the external relations of Taiwan. In spite of this, Dennis V. Hickey, has presented an uncomplicated, well researched but brief study to explain foreign policy making in Taiwan. This study was based on both primary and secondary sources including author’s direct interview with both Chinese and Taiwanese, politicians and academicians.
Unlike other authors who take single theoretical approach, Hickey took a multidimensional approach to examine changing foreign policy of Taiwan. He analyzed the phenomenon by looking through four different factors that in one way or the other shapes a state’s foreign policy. Prior to explaining the four factors, the international system, government structure, societal forces and presidential factors, author gave a historical overview of Taiwan’s foreign policy. In this chapter he clearly divided Taiwan’s foreign policy in three phases, phase one: the golden era from (1950-71), phase two: diplomatic isolation (1971-1988), phase three: pragmatic diplomacy. Later author took the help of these phase division, to examine the influence of four factors in evolution of Chinese foreign policy.
Author, first analyses the impact of international system and the behavior of other states in foreign policy making of Taiwan. Being a shrimp among whales, Taiwan’s foreign policy was highly accommodative with changing international system. It not only defended itself from Chinese communist threat but also remained the member of UN till 1971. Later, it did compromise with its de-jure independence but still maintains its de facto independence with the support of US and as result of contemporary world politics. Despite being highly influenced by the international system and external factors; internal factors also played a major role in shaping Taiwan’s foreign policy. Moreover, the influence of internal factors has increased after the democratization. Now, government system is more concerned about public consensus and its entire organ once that was directly dictated by the president has a role to play. As author writes in pages 61, “Foreign policy issues are subject to widespread discussion and debate and the island’s voters hold decision makers accountable for their actions”. Continuing the argument further, Author in its next chapter discusses the societal influence over Taiwanese foreign policy, He argues that these days, along with political parties Taiwan’s the island’s interest groups, think-tanks, media and public contribute indirectly in shaping Taiwan’s external relations.
Beside all the above mentioned factors, the role of president becomes essential component to be analysed, considering the fact that a leader’s values, beliefs, personalities, cultural baggage and perceptions can heavily impact the foreign policy outcome of a state. Author, discussed the foreign policy under each and every president to show how each president’s leadership style has shaped Taiwan’s foreign policy behavior. Alongside before discussing that author also gave theoretical explanation of individual’s role in determining foreign policy. Use of examples of both pragmatic and crusader leaders of world like Wilson, Hitler, Fidel Castro, Nixon and Mohammad Khamani made it easy to understand the theory. (Page 79) At the end author has put forwarded his own analysis giving some alternate explanations and figuring out the challenges and opportunities for Taiwan’s foreign policy.
Despite being a good research work, I would like to submit some minor complains. Most prominent complain being the interview, author did not interview any KMT law makers, KMT being the longest ruling party and major opposition could have contributed a more neutral and detailed research of Taiwan’s foreign policy. Moving ahead, no unidimensional approach can explain Taiwan’s foreign policy and author did consider this fact. However, certain factor could have been more elaborate for example the government and system did not discuss the role of any institution in much detail. Besides, while discussing the political party the author missed to provide the detailed stand of different political parties over foreign policy. Along with this some of the sections have been a bit confusing for example the diplomatic isolation phase discussed more on informal alliance of Taiwan and not much of formal alienation of Taiwan (page 11 and 12). In addition to these at the end, a book easing the ambiguity over Taiwan left the reader with ambiguity over usage the 30 page constitution that is attached as appendix in the book, as it has never been referred in entire analysis and in last if an edited version of book comes I would like to read section on the role of social media section in the chapter of ‘societal influences and foreign policy’ as it has really became one of the most impactful platform influencing the policies and elections of various countries all around the world.
Keeping aside all this negligible constraints, this book is a great contribution of Dennis V. Hickey in the field of Taiwanese foreign policy. He not only discussed the all factors but also provided the theoretical explanations behind that. It can be used as reference to any study research focused on Taiwan’s foreign policy, cross strait relations, US-China relation and even the politics in East Asia. Moreover, it should be a must read for anyone interested in studying the foreign policy of Taiwan.
Centre for East Asian Studies
School of International Studies, JNU