China’s Buffer Thinking towards Taiwan

In: International Journal of Taiwan Studies
Yu-Hua Chen Assistant Professor, Global Studies Programme, Akita International University, Akita, Japan

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How are we to understand China’s decades-long sovereignty claim over Taiwan? One assumption upheld by many international relations scholars is that state behaviour will change according to a variance of polarity in the international system. Yet while China can flexibly manage its territorial issues elsewhere, its goal of unification with Taiwan has not changed despite multiple structural changes in the international system over the decades. This paper argues that historical and nationalist approaches alone do not explain China’s unswaying obsession with this island. Geopolitics plays a far more prominent role in the minds of Chinese leaders than scholars have previously acknowledged. Since 1949, China has viewed Taiwan as a geopolitical buffer protecting the security of Chinese coastal areas. China’s buffer thinking towards Taiwan was a significant factor in China’s decisions to launch military action against Taiwan in 1954, 1958, and 1996.

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