Historian Barbara Tuchman described Europe in the run-up to World War I as ‘a heap of swords, heaped as delicately as straws; one could not be pulled out without moving the other.”
Today, Taiwan finds itself at the center of an equally delicate dynamic as China and the United States argue over the fate of the self-governing island of Beijing, which considers a renegade province to be “reunited” with the mainland.
For nearly half a century, the three sides carefully maintained a fragile status quo, rooted in so-called “strategic ambiguity.” The US supported Taiwan politically, but no longer recognized its formal sovereignty after adopting a “One China” policy.
Beijing claimed the island nation as its own, but lacked the requisite power to impose its will. Taiwan often flirted with an outright declaration of independence, but even the most radical elected leaders never dared to provoke open conflict with China.