Defeated by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to Taiwan to establish a rival state, thereby creating the "Two Chinas" dilemma that vexes international diplomacy to this day. This is the conventional narrative that Hsiao-ting Lin challenges in Accidental State. Drawing on recently declassified archives, he shows that the creation of a Taiwanese state in the early 1950s owed more to serendipity than careful geostrategic planning. It was the cumulative outcome of ad hoc half-measures and imperfect compromises, particularly when it came to the Nationalists' often contentious relationship with the United States. Taiwan's political status was fraught from the start. The island had been ceded to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War, and during World War II the Allies promised Chiang that Taiwan would revert to Chinese rule after Japan's defeat. But as the Civil War turned against the Nationalists, U.S. policymakers reassessed the wisdom of backing Chiang. Cold War realities and the fear of Taiwan falling into Communist hands led Washington to recalibrate.
Yet American support of a Taiwan-based Republic of China remained ambivalent, and Taiwan had to eke out a place for itself in international affairs as a de facto, if not fully sovereign, state.