US expert on Taiwan dies after long cancer struggle

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Thu, Dec 06, 2012 - Page 3

Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, one of the most respected US academics specializing in Taiwan studies, has died in Washington following a long battle against cancer.

Her 2009 book, Strait Talk: US-Taiwan Relations and the Crisis with China, examined the political and security issues in the triangular relationship.

Tucker’s books, speeches and private advice influenced US policy toward China and Taiwan over the past two decades.

“She made a great contribution to understanding Taiwan’s role in American diplomacy and before that in understanding American diplomacy in a historical context,” former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal said.

“On top of that, she was a really caring professor who helped her students develop careers,” he said.

A professor of history at Georgetown University and at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Tucker specialized in US relations with China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“She was a first-rate historian of Sino-American relations, a passionate teacher and a dedicated public servant,” School of Foreign Service dean Carol Lancaster said.

In the middle of the 1980s, Tucker served in the Office of Chinese Affairs at the US Department of State and at the US embassy in Bejing.

Tucker was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

She edited the 2005 book Dangerous Straits about contemporary problems in US-Taiwan-China relations and was the author of Uncertain Friendships: Taiwan, Hong Kong and the US, 1945-1992, which won the 1996 Bernath Book Prize.

The Wilson Center issued a statement saying that Tucker — a Wilson Center scholar — was one of “the most respected historians of her generation.”

She is survived by her husband, Warren Cohen, who is also a Wilson Center senior scholar.

“Few in Washington compared to her in terms of incisive and straightforward analysis of US relations with both Taiwan and China,” said Gerrit van der Wees, a senior political adviser at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.

Tucker was “unsparing” in her criticism of former US president Richard Nixon and former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger for giving “Beijing what it wanted in order to make a deal” over Taiwan, Van der Wees said.

Recently, she expressed strong reservations about the willingness of China’s new leaders to move in what she considered the “right” direction.

“A more realistic appraisal of China’s leaders reveals a group of conservative and cautious men highly unlikely to take bold steps toward structural reform,” she wrote.

“Their priority is to keep themselves in power,” Tucker said.

“Her hard-nosed realism and the charm with which she was able to present her arguments will be dearly missed,” Van der Wees said.

“She was a great historian and a lady who stood by the basic principles for which the US stands,” he said.