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China Taiwan Issue Explained

China Taiwan Issue Explained

About Taiwan

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is an island separate from mainland China by the Taiwan Strait. It has functioned independently from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949. The PRC considers Taiwan a renegade province and aims to unify it with the mainland. In Taiwan, with its own democratically elected government and a population of 23 million, there are varying views on its status and relations with the mainland.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen since President Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016. Tsai rejects the cross-strait formula endorsed by her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, which sought closer ties. Beijing has responded with more assertive actions, including flying fighter jets near the island. Concerns exist that a Chinese attack on Taiwan could potentially involve the United States in a conflict with China.

History between China and Taiwan

  • Austronesian tribal people, possibly from southern China, were the earliest settlers in Taiwan.
  • The island was documented in Chinese records around AD 239, which Beijing cites to support its territorial claim.
  • Taiwan was a Dutch colony from 1624 to 1661 and then administered by China’s Qing dynasty until 1895.
  • Significant waves of Chinese migrants, mainly Hoklo and Hakka, arrived from the 17th century, becoming the largest demographic groups.
  • After Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan.
  • Following World War Two, Taiwan is being govern by the Republic of China (ROC) with consent from the US and UK.
  • In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT government fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communist army.
  • Mainland Chinese, a minority group, dominated Taiwan’s politics for many years.
  • Chiang Ching-kuo initiated democratization efforts, leading to constitutional changes.
  • Taiwan’s “father of democracy,” Lee Teng-hui, facilitated the election of the first non-KMT president, Chen Shui-bian, in 2000.

Who Recognises Taiwan?

  1. Taiwan has its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders.
  2. It maintains about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces.
  3. The Republic of China (ROC) government-in-exile, led by Chiang Kai-shek, initially claimed to represent all of China and held China’s seat on the UN Security Council.
  4. By the 1970s, some countries no longer saw the Taipei government as a genuine representative of mainland China’s population.
  5. In 1971, the UN switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, forcing the ROC government out.
  6. In 1978, China began opening up its economy, prompting the US to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979.
  7. The number of countries diplomatically recognizing the ROC government has significantly decreased, with around 15 nations currently recognizing it.
  8. Despite having the attributes of an independent state and a distinct political system, Taiwan’s legal status remains uncertain and subject to disagreement.

Is Taiwan a part of China?

  • Beijing asserts the One-China principle, considering Taiwan as part of China and seeking eventual unification.
  • Beijing claims the 1992 Consensus as an agreement between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) but disputes its content and clarifies it was not about Taiwan’s legal status.
  • The PRC views the 1992 Consensus as an agreement that both sides belong to one China, working towards reunification.
  • The KMT interprets it as “one China, different interpretations,” with the Republic of China (ROC) as the “one China.”
  • The KMT’s constitution recognizes China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Tibet, and the South China Sea as part of the ROC.
  • The KMT traditionally seeks closer ties with Beijing but has considered altering its stance on the 1992 Consensus.
  • The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s chief rival party, has never endorsed the 1992 Consensus.
  • President Tsai of the DPP has attempted to find alternative formulations acceptable to Beijing and has reaffirmed her commitment to the ROC’s Constitution.
  • Beijing has proposed the “one country, two systems” framework for Taiwan, similar to Hong Kong’s, but this is unpopular among the Taiwanese, given Hong Kong’s recent loss of freedoms.
  • Tsai and even the KMT reject the “one country, two systems” framework.

One China Policy

  • The One China policy is the diplomatic acknowledgment of China’s stance that there is only one Chinese government, which the US recognizes as part of its formal ties with China, not Taiwan.
  • It is a crucial foundation of US-China relations and a fundamental element of Chinese policy and diplomacy.
  • It should not be conflated with the One China principle, which asserts that Taiwan is an integral part of a single China to be reunified in the future.
  • The US One China policy doesn’t signify an endorsement of Beijing’s position; it maintains a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan and provides military support through arms sales to help Taiwan defend itself.
  • Despite Taiwan’s self-proclaimed independence as the “Republic of China,” any nation desiring diplomatic relations with mainland China must sever official ties with Taipei.
  • Consequently, Taiwan finds itself diplomatically isolated from the international community.

How are Relations between China and Taiwan and the Issues?

  • In the 1980s, relations between Taiwan and China began to improve as Taiwan relaxed rules on visits and investments in China. In 1991, Taiwan declared an end to the war with the People’s Republic of China.
  • China proposed the “one country, two systems” option, offering Taiwan a degree of autonomy if it accepted Beijing’s control. This model was employed for Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 but has encountered growing challenges from Beijing in recent years.
  • Taiwan rejected the “one country, two systems” proposal, and China continued to insist that Taiwan’s Republic of China (ROC) government was illegitimate. Unofficial representatives from China and Taiwan still engaged in limited talks.
  • In 2000, Taiwan elected President Chen Shui-bian, who openly supported independence, alarming Beijing. In 2004, after Chen’s re-election, China passed an anti-secession law, asserting its right to use “non-peaceful means” if Taiwan tried to “secede.”
  • Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang (KMT) succeeded Chen in 2008 and sought to improve relations through economic agreements with China.
  • In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, the current president and leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was elected, further straining cross-strait relations.
  • In 2018, Beijing increased pressure on international companies to list Taiwan as a part of China on their websites, threatening to block them from doing business in China if they didn’t comply.
  • Tsai Ing-wen won a second term in 2020 with a record number of votes, seen as a rebuke to Beijing. Hong Kong’s unrest and China’s growing influence in the region had raised concerns in Taiwan.
  • In the same year, China’s introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong was seen as another sign of Beijing’s assertiveness, adding to increased tensions in the region.

Latest China Taiwan Tension

  • Tensions have increased since former President Donald Trump and continued. Although under President Biden, who has strengthened ties with Taiwan, including sending weapons and special military training units.
  • In May 2022, during his visit to Asia, President Biden declared that the United States would actively commit to military involvement in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. It is signifying a noteworthy shift from the prior policy of strategic ambiguity.
  • China strongly criticized Biden’s comments and reiterated its unwavering position on Taiwan, indicating its readiness to defend its core security interests.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022 defied warnings from Beijing. This visit coincided with a phone call between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in which Xi expressed opposition to Pelosi’s visit.
  • On the day of Pelosi’s visit, Taiwan’s presidential office website was reportedly hacked by overseas actors. China also announced live-fire exercises in the airspace and waters around Taiwan for four days, further escalating tensions in the region.

How has China Responded to the increasing tensions?

  • China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, has significantly increased its military activities near Taiwan in the past year. These activities include the deployment of jet fighters, bombers, and spy planes on numerous sorties.
  • Taiwan characterizes these military actions and other moves by China in the region as a form of “gray zone” warfare. This strategy aims to test and erode Taiwan’s defenses while discouraging closer ties between Taipei and democratic capitals, including Washington.
  • China often conducts military exercises near Taiwan in response to the presence of U.S. aircraft-carrier strike groups in the region, further heightening tensions.
  • Beijing has also embarked on a substantial expansion of its nuclear arsenal. A portion of this expansion is intended to dissuade the United States from contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in a potential conflict regarding Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Response

  • Defense analysts have consistently raised doubts about Taiwan’s ability to fend off a Chinese attack. Even Taiwanese soldiers and reservists have expressed concerns about their training and readiness.
  • To address these concerns, the Taiwanese government established an agency to overhaul its reserve forces and conducted military exercises aimed at deterring potential Chinese aggression.
  • The conflict in Ukraine has prompted Taiwan to reassess its preparedness for an attack. Some lawmakers are advocating for increased procurement of portable antitank and antiaircraft missiles, inspired by their effective use by Ukrainian soldiers.
  • The Taiwanese military is also considering extending conscription from the current four months to a more substantial 12-month period. Such an extension was previously considered politically unfeasible. But it is now under serious consideration due to the changing security landscape.

What is Strategic Ambiguity?

  • Officially, the U.S. government adheres to a “One China” policy, recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government and acknowledging but not endorsing Beijing’s claims over Taiwan.
  • Since 1979, the U.S. has adhered to the Taiwan Relations Act, which declares that any effort to decide Taiwan’s political future through non-peaceful methods is regarded as a threat to American interests. The act mandates the U.S. to supply weapons for Taiwan’s self-defense but does not explicitly specify whether the U.S. is committed to defending Taiwan in the event of an attack.
  • For decades, the U.S. has deliberately maintained ambiguity about its commitment to either defending or not defending Taiwan. This strategic ambiguity is designed to deter both Beijing and Taipei from taking actions that could disrupt the existing status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Could war Erupt over Taiwan?

  • A significant concern among U.S. analysts is the potential for a conflict arising from China’s increasing military capabilities and assertiveness, coupled with deteriorating cross-strait relations. This conflict could lead to a U.S.-China confrontation. Since China has not ruled out using force to achieve Taiwan’s reunification. The United States has not ruled out defending Taiwan in the event of an attack.
  • A 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Defense suggests that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely preparing for a contingency involving the use of force to unify Taiwan with the PRC. Simultaneously, China aims to deter, delay, or deny any third-party intervention, particularly from the United States.
  • Expert opinions on the likelihood and timing of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan vary. While some top U.S. military commanders have warned that an invasion could happen within the next decade, others believe it may be further off. Some consider the year 2049 as a critical date, aligning with Xi Jinping’s aspiration for the Chinese Dream, which includes reunification with Taiwan by that time.
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 reignited the debate on the potential for a Chinese invasion. Some analysts argue that this event may embolden Beijing, while others suggest that China could become more cautious after observing Russia’s challenges.
  • Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding a potential conflict, the PLA has made preparing for a Taiwan contingency a top priority, and Taiwan has been a significant driving force for China’s military modernization.
  • Taiwan likely lacks the capabilities to defend against a Chinese attack without external support. Although Taiwan’s government has increased defense spending, China’s military budget significantly exceeds Taiwan’s. Taiwanese lawmakers have approved additional defense spending to acquire advanced weaponry and surveillance systems to enhance coastal defense.

Taiwan’s Economic Situation

  • Taiwan’s economy is heavily dependent on trade with China, its largest trading partner. However, the economic relationship has faced disruptions in recent years due to political tensions and concerns within Taiwan about overreliance on China.
  • During President Ma Ying-jeou’s tenure from 2008 to 2016, Taiwan and China signed over twenty agreements, including the 2010 Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. These agreements aimed to reduce trade barriers, resume direct transportation links, and allow financial-service providers to operate in both markets.
  • President Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have pursued efforts to diversify Taiwan’s trade relationships. Tsai’s New Southbound Policy, launched in 2016, has seen success in increasing trade and investment with countries in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. This initiative has significantly boosted trade and investment with the eighteen targeted countries.
  • Despite these diversification efforts, Taiwan’s exports to China reached an all-time high in 2021, indicating the continued importance of the economic relationship.
  • Beijing has exerted pressure on countries not to sign free trade agreements with Taiwan, and only a few nations, including New Zealand and Singapore, have signed such agreements. China has also advocated for Taiwan’s exclusion from multilateral trading blocs like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  • Taiwan is not part of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, highlighting the challenges it faces in expanding its economic ties in the region.

Have Cross- Strait Tensions Hurt Taiwan’s Vital Semiconductor Chip Manufacturers?

  • Taiwan is a global leader in semiconductor chip manufacturing, serving as the world’s top contract manufacturer for these essential components found in various electronic devices, from smartphones and computers to vehicles and AI-powered weapons systems.
  • The semiconductor industry in Taiwan remains robust despite ongoing cross-strait tensions, with Taiwanese companies contributing over 60 percent of global revenue from semiconductor contract manufacturing in 2020.
  • A significant portion of Taiwan’s success in the semiconductor industry is assign to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip maker. This is also a major supplier for U.S. companies, including Apple. TSMC possesses the technological expertise to produce the most advanced and smallest chips, with over 90 percent of them manufactured by the company.
  • Some experts argue that the United States’ reliance on Taiwanese chip firms creates a strong incentive for the U.S. to defend Taiwan from a potential Chinese attack. The U.S. recognizes the critical role these chips play in its technology and defense sectors.
  • In response to this dependence, President Biden has initiated efforts to strengthen the U.S. chip industry. China also relies on Taiwanese chips, though not to the same extent as the United States. Beijing is working to enhance its own chip industry, particularly as the U.S. has pressured TSMC to curtail sales to Chinese firms, such as Huawei, which Washington has raised concerns about regarding potential espionage.

Impact of India

The history of India-Taiwan engagement has evolved over the years, with various agreements and interactions between the two nations. Here’s a summary:
  • In 1949, India recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and adopted the “One China policy,” not recognizing the Republic of China (ROC) government in Taiwan.
  • During the Cold War era, relations with Taipei were essentially frozen.
  • In 1995, the India-Taipei association was established, leading to the establishment of an Indian office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in Delhi. These offices issue visas but do not represent full diplomatic relations.
  • India has been sensitive to China’s concerns, adhering to the “One China Policy.” However, in the wake of Chinese aggressions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2010, comments on Arunachal Pradesh, and visa issues related to Jammu and Kashmir, India shifted its stance on the “One China Policy.”
  • In 2011, India and Taipei signed a “Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement” and a “Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement.”
  • In 2018, India and Taiwan entered into a bilateral investment agreement.
  • Growing Chinese aggression at the LAC, such as the Galwan Valley incident in 2020, has sparked calls for India to strengthen its ties with Taiwan. This development has raised questions about whether India, as a member of the Quad (with the US, Japan, and Australia), will adopt a more vocal approach to China-Taiwan issues or remain sensitive to its ties with Beijing. Currently, India seems to opt for the latter.
Why the tension between China and Taiwan matters to India?
  • It leads to instability in the region, which India seeks to avoid, particularly while dealing with Chinese aggression at the LAC.
  • The Quad includes India as a member, and India is dedicated to supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
  • India is also part of international groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS, and RIC, where its relationship with China is a factor to consider.
Areas where India’s ties with Taiwan could grow:
  • Tourism
  • Trade: Bilateral trade has been on the rise, with potential for further growth.
  • Investment in semiconductor technology: India and Taiwan are in discussions about a significant agreement. It could bring a chip plant to India.
  • Health relations: Collaborations in health and science research, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Cultural ties and people-to-people exchanges.

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