International Relations

Complex China-Taiwan Relations: A Historical Perspective

  • Taiwan’s presidential election on January 13, which witnessed the triumph of ruling party candidate Lai Ching-te, has far-reaching consequences not just for the island but also for global geopolitics.
  • To appreciate the factors at play, one must first examine China’s complex history and growing relationship with Taiwan.

Taiwan Tension: Historical Background

  • Early Settlement: Taiwan’s first known immigrants were Austronesian tribal people who are said to have moved from southern China.
  • Chinese documents from AD 239 reference Taiwan, which is part of China’s territorial claim.
  • The Qing Dynasty of China controlled Taiwan, which was ultimately lost to Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War.
  • Following World War II, Taiwan was formally declared occupied by the Republic of China (ROC), with the approval of the United States and the United Kingdom

Civil War & Exile

  • Civil war broke out in China, forcing Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang (KMT) administration, as well as supporters, to escape to Taiwan in 1949.
  • Dictatorship Era: Chiang founded a dictatorship in Taiwan that lasted until the 1980s.
  • Following Chiang’s death, Taiwan began the transition to democracy, holding its first elections in 1996.

Taiwan’s Current Status

  • dispute: There is dispute on Taiwan’s status.
  • Taiwan has its own constitution, democratically elected authorities, and a military force.
  • The number of nations who recognise Taiwan as the ROC government has declined over time, owing mostly to Chinese diplomatic pressure.

Evolving Relations with China

  • 1980s Improvement: Relations began to improve in the 1980s, when Taiwan loosened restrictions on travel and investments to China.
  • China presented a “one country, two systems” alternative, which Taiwan rejected.
  • Political transition: Chen Shui-bian’s victory in 2000 signalled a transition, since he publicly supported Taiwan’s “independence.”
  • China issued an anti-secession law in 2005, threatening Taiwan with non-peaceful tactics.
  • Cross-strait relations deteriorated under President Tsai Ing-wen, with China cutting off official connections owing to her failure to support a single Chinese national idea.

US Involvement

  • Relations between the United States and Taiwan: Although the United States officially recognises Beijing, Taiwan continues to get substantial international support.
  • Defensive Commitment: The United States is required by law to equip Taiwan with defensive armaments, and President Joe Biden has shown a willingness to protect Taiwan militarily.
  • Taiwan is a difficult topic in US-China ties, with Beijing criticising perceived US backing for Taipei.
  • China has escalated its “grey zone warfare” surrounding Taiwan, dispatching fighter planes and conducting military manoeuvres in reaction to US-Taiwan confrontations.
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