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Student Spotlight: Steve Li

August 24, 2018

The Taiwan Studies Program was pleased last year to have Lt. Col. Steve Li as our first Taiwan Studies Ph.D. student in the Jackson School of International Studies.  We asked Steve, now entering his second year in the Ph.D. program, to give us an introduction to his background and research on Taiwan.


Lt. Col. Steve Li:

Taiwan certainly has good reason to pay attention to its own defense needs. China has 1200 to 1600 ballistic and cruise missiles aimed at Taiwan, which being only about 80 to 100 nautical miles away at the narrower parts of the Taiwan Strait, means missiles could arrive in Taipei five and a half minutes after launch. China and Taiwan have remained under constant tension with hostilities occasionally boiling over into conflict ever since the Chinese Nationalists established a de facto government in exile on the island of Taiwan in 1949. Today, while commerce and tourism across the Strait flourishes, China continues to maintain that Taiwan is a part of China and that any movement on Taiwan’s part towards independence could result in armed conflict.

The United States has long supported a stable relationship between Taiwan and China in the interest of regional stability. Underpinned by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979, and the Three Communiqués (1972, 1979 and 1982) with China, Washington consistently strives to properly balance sufficiently enabling Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, as mandated by the TRA, and strengthening ties with China, as proposed by the Communiqués. Balancing these potentially conflicting interests has proved challenging over the last few decades and does not appear to be getting any easier.

As a military member and a foreign area officer, I am interested in how to enhance peace and stability between Taiwan and China by better understanding U.S.-Taiwan defense interactions. Specifically, I aim to find out how Taiwan’s level of defense spending potentially impacts the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship and in turn, the cross-Strait security balance between Taiwan and China. I plan to conduct archival research in various defense organizations and interviews with defense decision makers to describe and analyze U.S.-Taiwan defense engagement patterns and assessing if the current U.S.-Taiwan defense decisions and interactions effectively support the desired collective U.S.-Taiwan defense goals. I hope my research will provide better insight into defense thinking and decision making surrounding the cross-Strait security situation.