A Brief History of Taiwan vs China : Must Know Facts To Understand The Taiwan-China Status Quo

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Let us see what transpired between the Communists and the Nationalists which led the former allies to turn into arch-nemesis: “The US side should bear the consequences” threatened the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs on 20th May and proclaimed that China will take “necessary countermeasures” to respond to the “erroneous actions” by the US’s side. The fiery retaliation came after a congratulatory tweet by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who in the first sentence of his tweet commended Dr Tasi Ing-wen on the commencement of her second-term as “Taiwan’s President”. China stated that referring Tsai as president violated their ONE CHINA PRINCIPLE.

In March 2018, at the closing of National People’s Congress in Beijing, President Xi Jinping advocated upholding the ONE CHINA PRINCIPLE while pushing for “Peaceful Reunification” of mainland China and Taiwan. He even asserted that tricks to split China will face “condemnation” of the people and “punishment” by history. The statement came as a response to President Trump’s newly signed law which allowed high-level visits with Taiwan.  The following year on 1st January 2019 President XI again reiterated the idea of peaceful reunification but this time also hinted at using force for achieving it. China has always been sensitive about its more than a century old conflict with Taiwan and doesn’t allow external forces to interfere.

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ONE CHINA PRINCIPLE & 1992 CONSENSUS

The ONE CHINA PRINCIPLE originated in an unofficial meeting between mainland China-based Association for Relation Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) in November 1992. That meeting came to be known as the ‘1992 Consensus’ where both the parties agreed upon the idea of ‘One China’ but simultaneously had their own interpretations of it with the ultimate goal of ‘Chinese Unification’. People’s Republic of China (PRC) or the mainland China has always been looking for taking Taiwan or the Republic of China (RoC) under control with ‘One Country, Two Systems’ setup which was successfully applied in Hong Kong and Macau. Both mainland China and Taiwan saw themselves as the legitimate government of China.

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However, PRC’s plan of unification came to a standstill after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2000 after a one-party rule of Kuomintang (KMT). It outright rejected One China Policy, 1992 consensus and Chinese Unification while advocating for separate Taiwanese identity with the Taiwan Independence Movement. The current President of RoC Tsai Ing has given the loudest voice to the independence movement.  Her disregard for ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has ruffled a lot of feathers in China which is why Pompeo acknowledging her as President received a massive outrage.

In the other half of his tweet he praises “Taiwan’s vibrant democracy” as an inspiration to the world. He wrapped up by saying, “With President Tsai at the helm, our partnership with Taiwan will continue to flourish”. The Trump administration has recently been showering massive support to Taiwan due to its successful handling of the coronavirus and was advocating for its inclusion in the World Health Organisation. These moves by the US comes at the behest of cornering China at the diplomatic corner.

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It is interesting to note that the US doesn’t have any diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It severed all official ties with the island nation in 1979 in order to strengthen economic allegiance with a greater potential market, China. This also means that it doesn’t recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation but a PRC governed province. PRC has over the years encouraged many other nations to accept its legitimacy over One China. Hence, a very small number of island nations acknowledge RoC as a fully sovereign nation. This is the reason why the Trump administration’s potential signal to future diplomatic relations with Taiwan agitates the Chinese Government.

ORIGINS: SINO-JAPANESE WAR AND THE END OF QING DYNASTY

To understand China-Taiwan’s long-standing conflict we need to go back in time to 1894 when the first Sino-Japanese war was fought between the Qing Dynasty of China and the Empire of Japan. The war which lasted for a year led to the victory of Japanese Empire which captured Korea and most of the land in the South China sea including Taiwan. Defeat at the hands of the Japan’s imperial army raised major suspicions at the Qing administration and led to major political opposition against the Monarchy. In 1911 the rebellion lead by Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Li Yuanhong, General Huang Xing, Song Jiaoren, Chen Qimen, Cai Genyin and Hu Hamin culminated to major revolution called Xinhai Revolution which on 12 February 1912 successfully overthrew the imperial dynasty and established Chinese Nationalist Party to form the republic. Before the abolishment of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat-Sen was made the Provisional President of the Republic of China. However, Yuan Shikai, commanding a modernised Imperial army against the Nationalists changed sides when offered the President position.Hence, on March 10, 1912 Yuan was sworn in as the President of the Republic of China.

RE-establishment of Monarchy  and Sun Yat-Sen’s exile

 But, on 12 December 1915 he revived Monarchy and declared himself as the Emperor of China. Meanwhile, Sun Yat-Sen had fled to Japan in exile during the presidency of Yuan concerning his safety after the president started abusing his power. Following the death of the Emperor, the Empire of China entered what is termed as the Warlord Era where the empire got divided into several military factions.

Sun Yat-Sen’s Return and Nationalist-Communist alliance

In 1918, Sun Yat Sen returned from exile and revived the Nationalist party with a name of ‘Kuomintang Party’ which was backed by the support of Soviet Union who asked the Nationalists to form an alliance with a then considerably small ‘Chinese Communist Party’. Together the Communists and Nationalists regained control over most part of China and stood consolidated until the death of Sun Yat-Sen in 1925. 

Chiang Kai-Shek, who then assumed himself as the leader, with his Kuomintang(KMT) army captured the city of Wuhan and established it as the Capital of the Republic of China in January 1927. The KMT party committed mass killings of Communists in April 1927 which was later known as the ‘Shanghai Massacre’.

Japan’s intervention in Chinese civil war

The communists led by ‘Mao Zedong’ in retaliation ended their alliance with Soviet Union in August 1927. On the other hand Japan took advantage of the Civil War and invaded China in 1931. The second Sino-Japanese war commenced but this time instead of fighting the common enemy together Nationalists and Communists fought the enemy separately. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour bringing the USA officially into the war. In 1945, the US  dropped two atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ultimately led to the surrender of the Japanese Army. 

Japanese surrendering Taiwan to Republic of China 

Japan was forced to give up the sovereignty of the states it has acquired through war including Taiwan which then became the part of Republic of China governed by the KMT Party. The war brought greater casualties to the Kuomintang government than the Communists counterparts who have consolidated high strength. 

Communist victory over Nationalists in Civil War

In 1946, the communists decided to continue with the Civil War. The Chinese Communist Party grabbed most of the Chinese land from Koumintang led by Chiang Kai-Shek who retreated to Taiwan and established his government there. The communist government due to its lack of strength in the navy couldn’t capture the Island. 

On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China while the Koumintang government, now reduced to Taiwan Island, continued with the Republic Of China. Since then both the governments have been making its claims over real China. Both the countries had negligible ties with each other. 

Major set back to Republic of China

In 1971, the United Nations General  Assembly Resolution was passed confirming PRC as the only legitimate government of China and expelled the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the “place they unlawfully occupied at the United Nations and in all the organisations related to it”. The USA that actually voted against the resolution went ahead in 1979 to sever all diplomatic ties with Taiwan and since then doesn’t recognise it as a country. Only 19 small nations bestow the Island status of a country. 

But, in 1979, PRC initiated to mediate a conversation with ROC  and proposed what was commonly known as Three-Links that were Postal, Transport and Trade but the counterpart responded with Three-Noes; No Contact, No Compromise and No Negotiation.

Peaceful Talks via Plane Highjack

In 1986, China Airlines Flight 334 was hijacked which took off from Singapore and was destined to reach Taiwan but changed its course to Guangxing. This forced the government of Taiwan to breach the Three Noes policy for the safety of their staff and negotiated with the mainland Chinese Government. It marked the beginning of many such Diplomatic talks which ultimately led to the 1992 Consensus. Until then Taiwan was a single party dictatorship ruled by KMT but it transformed to a multi-party democratic republic and had its  first presidential elections in 1996. And a lot has changed since then, Koumintang(KMT) Party’s one China ideology is losing its popularity among the newer generation as they are subscribing to Taiwanese identity as propagated by Democratic Progressive Party(DPP).

Strictly Silent WHO

The Western liberal democracies urged the UN’s body WHO to include Taiwan in its WHA meeting on 18th May 2020 to discuss measures to curb coronavirus but immense pressure from powerful nations like China has kept its official in deeply profound silence. In an interview when a Hong Kong media outlet asked Senior WHO Official Bruce Aylward a question regarding if the Organisation will reconsider Taiwan as a member, then the interviewer received a 10 second long silence. But, when the interviewer persisted with the question, Bruce disconnected the call and when again asked the same after reconnection, he simply dodged the question saying “we already talked about China”.

Diplomatic Powerplay

A day before the WHA meeting Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said , “As a specialised agency of the UN, WHO should withdraw with UN related issues in strict accordance with ONE-CHINA Principle” After excessive lobbying to include the Island nation as an observer, WHO, contrary to the Global expectations barred Taiwan from attending. The decision came up with extreme criticism from the international media. The foreign minister of Taiwan slammed the organisation for yielding to the “pressure from the Chinese Government” and “disregarding the right to health of 23 million people” of Taiwan. Taiwan is garnering wide acclaim for its successful handling of COVID-19 with just 440 cases and 7 deaths setting an unprecedented example to the world.

 President Xi Jinping in his speech at the WHO meeting asserted to everyone’s shock that China has acted with “openness, transparency and responsibility”.  

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