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Making Sense of Taiwan

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Image credits: Reddit


An interview of a senior WHO official-Bruce Aylward, with a Hong Kong media outlet dodging questions about Taiwan’s membership in the organisation, went viral. Why is it that the official rather chose not to answer the questions? This event highlighted the tensions and ambiguity over the case of Taiwan. The current Taiwanese government considers it as a sovereign nation-distinct from the People's Republic of China that rules the ‘mainland’ and time and again, the mainland’s sovereign authority, the CCP has stated that it considers Taiwan as one of its provinces, awaiting its reunification.

When most of the countries subscribe to One China Policy, including the United States, then why is it that the US keeps supplying Taiwan with military and diplomatic support? Is Taiwan just another case of secession movements that countries face all around the world, or is it more profound than that? In today’s piece, we aim to unearth the existence of Taiwan and understand its possible implications. What is actually at stake, and why insecurities run high in the mainland when it comes to Taiwan? Let’s find out.


The existence of Taiwan as a sovereign nation challenges the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party representing the ‘real’ China. China has been very aggressive with its claims over territories it considers its own, be it India’s Aksai Chin area and Arunachal Pradesh or territorial waters in the South China Sea. But no territory, except Taiwan, directly strikes at the heart of CCP, by challenging its very claim to authority.

When the second world war ended, Chiang Kai Shek’s military dictatorship was in charge of China, representing itself as the ‘Republic of China’ and Taiwan - until then, a Japanese colony known by the name of Formosa was handed back to it. Sun Yat Sen- a figure considered a national hero in both: mainland China and Taiwan formed a broad-based party called Kuomintang or the Chinese Revolutionary Party that took control of China when the Qing dynasty started declining. It was this party that took control of Taiwan at the end of 1945. Soon, a civil war broke out between the two factions of Kuomintang: the communists led by Mao Zedong and the nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek. Eventually, the communists prevailed and formed the People’s Republic of China in the mainland, and Chiang Kai Shek took refuge in Taiwan, representing it as the Republic of China.

For a long time, much of the western world granted diplomatic recognition to the Chiang’s Republic of China, to the extent that it even held China’s permanent seat at the Security Council. But with time, Mao’s CCP became more strategically crucial to the US in particular and the western world in general in their struggle against the Soviet’s expansion of communism. This led to a reduction in the leverage that Taiwan commanded, and eventually, the UN passed a resolution in 1971 accepting PRC into the body. Soon, in 1979 the US recognised PRC as the legitimate government of China and established diplomatic relations.


Taiwan has been able to sustain the status quo because of the support it receives from the US. Now, it does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country but still supports it anyway. The US’s relations with Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act drafted in 1979. During the Sino civil war, President Truman declared that his administration had no intention to take sides. However, this changed in the advent of the Korean War. The US tied up with Taiwan as it saw the expansion of communism harming its interests in the Pacific. Since then, America has stood behind Taiwan as its biggest supporter. America has strategically used ambiguity over Taiwan as a deterrent to fend off Chinese forces at bay.

Current geopolitical situations further help in strengthening the US’ support for Taiwan. China is increasingly asserting its dominance all around its borders and especially in the South and East China sea. The US might have averted its support for Taiwan had it sustained cordial relations with the PRC. But in light of increasing hostilities and mutual distrust between the US and China, the US is much more likely to stand behind Taiwan, of course, in an implicit manner. Recently, China has been increasingly crossing the informal Taiwan Strait Median Line (proposed by the US decades ago) and has increased military activities around the region, alarming concerns for a possible invasion. However, the Chinese are well aware of the fact that any possible attempt for an invasion might involve the exchange of military hostilities with the US Pacific fleet.


Taiwan and China, especially in terms of their political system, have diverged on two very different parts. While the Chinese Communist Party maintains an authoritative iron grip over its subjects, Taiwan has moved towards democracy. When possibilities of military occupation of Taiwan declined, due to US and Japan stakes in the Pacific, China tried linking the two economies so tightly that any movement seeking freedom would make little sense and even to this day, despite many hostilities, many Taiwanese businesses are based in China. The Chinese might have brought Taiwan ever closer through economic linkages and promising for autonomy. However, its handling of the pro-democracy forces of Hong Kong must have alarmed the Taiwanese not to fall prey to any facade of accommodation.

The question of Taiwanese independence isn’t just a normal regional secessionist movement. It possesses the capabilities to delegitimise, if for now at least in the narrative, the hold of CCP over the mainland. How it will turn out largely depends upon the Sino-US relations and geo-political discourse in the 21st century.




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