(Mis)Managing Taipei: Washington’s Contribution to the Threat of Taiwanese Unilateralism, 1961–63

Friday, January 3, 2014: 3:30 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Brian Hilton, Wiley College
My presentation will examine the manner in which the Kennedy administration alienated its Chinese Nationalist allies and inadvertently contributed to the emergence of the genuine possibility of Taipei engaging in dangerous and destabilizing unilateral action – both military and diplomatic.  This paper will examine the administration’s mishandling of three major issues in U.S.-ROC relations, its subsequent efforts at damage control, and the resulting emergence of a radicalized Chinese Nationalist foreign policy.  Scholars of American relations with the Republic of China are virtually unanimous in decrying the behavior of Chiang Kai-shek and the other Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan, particularly their ability to maneuver their patrons in Washington into adopting policies that were not in the best interests of the United States.  This paper brings balance to the historical discussion of Chiang’s behavior by attributing some of the blame for Chiang’s actions to the poor choices of the Kennedy team, rather than placing full blame on Taipei. 

While Chiang certainly chaffed at the restrictions that the U.S. government placed on his actions, he nonetheless remained relatively complacent during the 1950s, the product of a certain method of dealing with Chiang that Eisenhower and his staff had developed over the course of eight turbulent years.  Lacking this experience – and, indeed, determined not to follow in Eisenhower’s footsteps – the Kennedy administration adopted its own playbook on how deal with its wayward allies.  This included dictating to rather than collaborating with the Nationalists, and generally failing to consult with them in advance on a range of highly sensitive issues.  In addition, Kennedy and his top advisors ignored those administration officials who had experience serving the previous administration who warned of the dire consequences that Kennedy’s new approach would produce.

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