Why in News?
- US President Joe Biden on May 23, 2022 at the QUAD Summit in Tokyo stated that any attempt by China to invade Taiwan would attract American military intervention.
- It set off an angry response from the government in Beijing, which vowed “firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests”, and warned that “we will do what we say”.
- However, White House sought to clarify that he did not mean America’s policy towards the dispute had changed.
- Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island separated from China by the Taiwan Strait.
- It has been governed independently of mainland China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC), since 1949.
- The PRC views the island as a renegade province and vows to eventually “unify”| Taiwan with the mainland.
- Taiwan has its own democratically elected government and is home to twenty-three million people.
- Its political leaders have differing views on the island’s status and relations with the mainland.
Foundation of ROC
- Taiwan, earlier known as Formosa.
- On 10 October in 1911 the Manchu army rose as rebellion, leading ultimately to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the end of 4,000 years of the monarchy.
- The RoC was declared on December 29, 1911 and it found its feet in the 1920s under the leadership of Dr Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang (KMT) Party.
- Sun was succeeded by General Chiang Kai-shek, whose actions against the Chinese communists, who were part of an alliance with the KMT, triggered the civil war.
- War ended in victory for the communists and retreat of Chiang and the KMT to Taiwan.
- Since its founding in 1949, the PRC has believed that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland.
- While the RoC has held out as an “Independent” country.
- The US backs Taiwan’s independence, maintains ties with Taipei, and sells weapons to it but officially subscribes to PRC’s “One China Policy.
China-Taiwan tensions (History in Brief)
- In 1954-55, and in 1958, the PRC bombed the Jinmen, Mazu, and Dachen islands under Taiwan’s control, drawing in the US.
- US Congress passed the Formosa Resolution authorising President Dwight D Eisenhower to defend RoC territory.
- In 1955, Premier Zhou En-lai declared at the Bandung Conference that he wanted negotiations with the US.
- The most serious encounter was in 1995-96, when China began testing missiles in the seas around Taiwan, triggering the biggest US mobilisation in the region since the Vietnam War.
- Starting from the 1990s, and despite the missile crisis, relations between the PRC and RoC improved, and trade ties were established.
- In 2004, China started drafting an anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan; trade and connectivity, however, continued to improve.
The current tensions
- In October 2020, President Xi Jinping asked the PLA to prepare for war, triggering alarm in Taiwan, which read it as an open threat.
- Tensions between China and Taiwan have escalated since October 1, 2021 when China observes its National Day to mark the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
- Coinciding with the 72nd anniversary celebrations, China flew over 100 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
- Amid the Russia - Ukraine war, China is seeing it as a big upportunity to forward their step over Taiwan.
What is the United States’ relationship with Taiwan?
- In 1979, the United States established formal diplomatic relations with the PRC.
- At the same time, it severed its diplomatic ties and abrogated its mutual defense treaty with the ROC.
- But the United States maintains a robust unofficial relationship with the island and continues to sell defense equipment to its military.
- Through its policy of strategic ambiguity, the United States has for decades attempted to maintain a delicate balance between supporting Taiwan and preventing a war with China.
- President Joe Biden has seemingly rejected the policy, stating several times that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked.
What is Taiwan’s economic situation?
- Taiwan’s economy remains reliant on trade with China, which is the island’s largest trading partner.
- Taiwan is the world’s top contract manufacturer of semiconductor chips, and its industry is booming despite cross-strait tensions.
- Some experts argue that the United States’ dependence on Taiwanese chip firms heightens its motivation to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack.
Is Taiwan a member of the United Nations?
- No. China rejects Taiwan’s participation as a member in UN agencies and other international organizations that limit membership to states.
China undermined Taiwan’s democracy
- Taiwan’s democracy is relatively young. The KMT governed under martial law from 1949 to 1987.
- Taiwan held its first free legislative elections in 1992 and its first presidential elections in 1996. Since then, it has peacefully transferred power between parties several times.
- Despite Chinese threats, Taiwan appears to have so far bucked the trend of backsliding afflicting democracies around the world.
- In 2020, the Economist’s Democracy Index labeled Taiwan a “full democracy” for the first time. In 2021, Taiwan was ranked the world’s eighth-most-democratic country.
- China has ramped up interference in Taiwan’s elections.
- Its methods include spreading disinformation on social media and increasing its control over Taiwanese media outlets.
Is war a possibility?
- A top concern among U.S. analysts is that China’s growing military capabilities and assertiveness, as well as the deterioration in cross-strait relations, could spark a conflict.
- Such a conflict has the potential to lead to a U.S.-China confrontation.
- However, experts disagree about the likelihood and timing of a Chinese invasion.