Winberg CHAI

The International Olympic Committee invited both the PRC and Taiwan to participate in the 1952 Helsinki Games; Taiwan withdrew in protest, stating that it could not “compete with Communist bandits on the same sports field.”

Relations between the island of Taiwan (the Republic of China) and its giant neighbor across the Taiwan Strait, mainland China (the People’s Republic of China, which considers the island a breakaway province), stretch back thousands of years and continue to evolve to this day.

Taiwan’s first residents, who make up the island’s aboriginal tribes, migrated to the island about six thousand years ago and are related to ethnic groups from southern China, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. They now constitute just over 1 percent of the total population. Although Taiwan appeared in Chinese historical records before the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), the colonization of Taiwan by Chinese settlers began only in 610 CE, during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE). The next large migration of Chinese to Taiwan started in the twelfth century. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), many Chinese settlers in Taiwan were ordered to return to the Chinese mainland by imperial edicts. But Chinese pioneers managed to continue to migrate to Taiwan in spite of the imperial prohibition. Soon Taiwan became a base from which Japanese and Taiwanese pirates attacked shipping in the South China seas.

Europeans also began to arrive on Taiwan. In 1590 Portuguese sailors landed on the main island and named it “ilha Formosa,” meaning “beautiful island.” Formosa remained the name by which Europeans knew Taiwan for centuries. In 1624 the Dutch invaded and occupied the main island. Two years later, the Spanish landed at Keelung, a northern port; they controlled Taiwan’s coastal areas for two years. They were finally driven out by the Dutch in 1641.

In 1661, the Ming-dynasty general Zheng Chenggong (1624–1662), known to the West as Koxinga, took Taiwan from the Dutch and established an exiled Ming government in Anping (Tainan) in southern Taiwan. The Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Manchus (Qing dynasty, 1644–1912) on the Chinese mainland, but Zheng’s son ruled Taiwan with a large number of Chinese followers until the Manchus finally took Taiwan in 1683. By then, Taiwan’s population had exceeded 2.5 million, most of them from China’s Fujian and Guangdong provinces.

By the nineteenth century, China was experiencing economic difficulties and political chaos. Western countries controlled territory along the eastern seaboard. At the end of the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. Japan began its colonization of Taiwan and used it as a major military base for fifty years until the end of World War II.

Relations under the Two Chiangs

In 1911, the Qing dynasty on the Chinese mainland was overthrown by a nationalist revolution (the Qing emperor did not abdicate until February 1912) spearheaded by the Guomindang (on Taiwan, Kuomintang) under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) and Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975). They established the Republic of China (ROC), which became an ally of the United States during World War II. On 26 November 1943 Chiang met with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill at Cairo, Egypt. They agreed that at the end of the war, Japan must return Taiwan to China. Taiwan was returned to Chiang’s government on 25 October 1945.

A civil war in China erupted in 1945, pitting the Communist forces led by Mao Zedong (1893–1976) against Chiang Kai-shek’s ROC government. Chiang was defeated, and Mao established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing on 1 October 1949. Chiang fled to Taiwan with more than 2 million mainlanders and reestablished his government there on 1 March 1950. It was widely expected within the United States that Mao’s forces would soon invade Taiwan.

The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 proved to be the saving grace for Taiwan. Fearing the spread of Communism across Asia, U.S. president Harry Truman immediately ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan. Mao’s troops on the mainland, virtually without a modern navy and air force, were in no position to challenge the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

In May 1951, the United States established its official Military Assistance Advisory Group in Taiwan to train Chiang’s refugee troops. By 1954, Taiwan received a total of $4.2 billion in military aid and $1.7 billion in economic aid from the United States. These assistance programs, plus a 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, helped Chiang Kai-shek to build up Taiwan from an impoverished and threatened island into a strong modern state.

During his twenty-five years of authoritarian rule, Chiang Kai-shek focused on preventing the spread of the Chinese Communists’ power to Taiwan. He was not in favor of an independent Taiwan but rather considered the island as a base from which to fight Mao’s Communism and to recover the mainland by any means at his disposal. He staged commando-style raids on the mainland, often with training and cooperation from the United States. He also forbade all forms of contact with the Communist-controlled mainland, including such seemingly trivial activities as reading mainland newspapers, listening to mainland radio broadcasts, or even receiving mail from friends or relatives still living on the mainland.

After the death of Chiang Kai-shek on 5 April 1975, the real power in Taiwan fell into the hands of his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (1910–1988), who was formally elected to the presidency in May 1978. Like his father, he absolutely opposed any demand for Taiwan’s independence. Both Chiangs believed that Taiwan was a base from which the Kuomintang, and thus the ROC, could regain control of the mainland. To the two Chiangs, Taiwan was part of China, period.

However, Chiang Ching-kuo took significant steps to relax tensions with the Communist mainland government. For example, he permitted indirect trade and contacts with the mainland by Taiwan’s residents. He was prepared to begin negotiations with the Communist government shortly after lifting the travel ban in October 1987, but before direct negotiations could begin, he died of cardiac and pulmonary failure on 13 January 1988.

Relations under the Native Taiwanese Leaders

The death of Chiang Ching-kuo opened a new era in Taiwanese politics. A native-born Taiwanese, Lee Teng-hui, succeeded him in 1988. Since then Taiwan has become a more democratic and pluralistic society. In addition to the Kuomintang, another major political party, the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) is gaining considerable support among Taiwanese voters.

At first Lee Teng-hui continued his predecessor’s open door policy toward the Chinese mainland. Lee established the National Unification Council under the auspices of the President’s Office (the White House of Taiwan). In February 1991 the council adopted “Guidelines for National Unification,” which outlines three phases of unification: Short term (exchange and reciprocity), middle term (trust and cooperation), and long term (consultation and unification). However, Lee refused to set a timetable for the implementation of the guidelines.

Lee Teng-hui also authorized the establishment of a semi-official “Strait Exchange Foundation” (SEF) to make direct contact with the Chinese mainland’s counterpar
t organization, the “Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits” (ARATS).

The Chinese Communists have always maintained that Taiwan is a Chinese province and must be reunited with the mainland. Their plans to achieve that goal have varied. Before 1978, the official policy was to use military force. In 1978 the third plenum of the Eleventh Chinese Communist Party Congress adopted a new resolution calling for “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. Beginning in 1983, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) made a number of concessions to Taiwan, and in early 1984 China offered a proposal that would take into account Taiwan’s political and economic concerns: The “one country, two systems” proposal. “One country, two systems” continued to be China’s official policy under Jiang Zemin (b. 1926) and Hu Jintao (b. 1942).

Lee Teng-hui visited the United States in 1995 to give a speech at his alma mater, Cornell University. No Taiwanese top official had set foot on U.S. soil since the United States recognized the PRC in 1979. China feared Lee’s visit indicated a move toward independence and would lead to recognition of Taiwan as a state by the world community. As a result, China conducted military exercises across the Taiwan Strait involving 400,000 troops. By 1996 four Chinese missiles had been fired within approximately fifty-one kilometers of the island state. During that tense period, the United States dispatched two nuclear-armed aircraft carrier groups into the area. Ultimately, China concluded its military exercises.

Relations between China and Taiwan have become extremely tense again since July 1999. At that time Lee Teng-hui introduced a new element by insisting that negotiations must be based on a “special state-to-state” relationship. As a result, China published a white paper, “The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Issue” on 21 February 2000, in which it declared that they “cannot allow the resolution of Taiwan issue to be postponed indefinitely.”

A political earthquake erupted in Taiwan on 18 March 2000, when Taiwanese voters elected a pro-independence DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian (b. 1950), as president of Taiwan with 39 percent of the votes in a three-way race. China demanded that Chen accept the “one-China” principle based upon an agreement made by Lee Teng-hui’s SEF and China’s ARATS representatives, who in June 1992 came to a “consensus” (known as the 92 Consensus) that both sides accepted the principle of “one China” but with different interpretations of which side represented that one China. However, Chen instead began to promote a policy of “Taiwanization” within the island while advocating independence in the international community. China reacted with its own anti-Chen and anti-Taiwan policies, passing an anti-secessionist law and installing hundreds of missiles across the Taiwan Strait.

Upon taking office, U.S. president George W. Bush was a strong supporter of Chen and Taiwan. He publicly announced on 26 April 2001, that he would do whatever it took to defend Taiwan. He also approved the sale of a large weapon system to Taiwan.

However, as Chen began his second term in 2004 (which he won in a much disputed election) the U.S. found Chen to be untrustworthy and no longer a “faithful ally” and worried that Chen wanted to start a war between the U.S. and China. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s economy deteriorated under Chen’s administration.

Chen’s DPP originally had offered itself as a “fresh” alternative to the KMT, which had become infamous for its corruption, known as “black gold politics.” After eight years in power, Chen and his DPP had themselves become notorious for their own brand of corruption. Many of Chen’s officials were indicted, including Chen’s son-in-law and Chen’s wife. Chen himself avoided prosecution only because of the immunity afforded the sitting President.

Taiwanese voters on 12 January 2008 ousted Chen’s DPP and returned the old KMT to power with 81 of a total of 113 seats in the legislature. Chen’s presidential successor was the KMT candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, who won a resounding victory over the DPP candidate. Both the U.S. and China welcomed Ma’s victory. President Bush personally called Ma to congratulate him. Chinese President Hu Jintao invited Ma’s vice-resident-elect Vincent Siew to meet with him at the April 2008 Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, China.

Taiwan’s SEF and China’s ARATS met and signed several agreements including the resumption of direct flights between China and Taiwan, and the arrival of Chinese tourists and officials in Taiwan.

Future Prospects

The victories of the KMT in Taiwan’s 2008 elections will undoubtedly change the dynamics in U.S.-China-Taiwan relations for years to come. Ma pledged not to declare independence and to accept the “one China” principle under the 92 Consensus. Ma also pledged to Taiwanese voters that he would not seek reunification with China during his presidency. However, he welcomed better and peaceful relations with China and invited China’s investments on the island itself.

China, too, promised cooperation during Ma’s tenure, including a continuation of its favorable economic policy toward Taiwan, which gives Taiwan a considerable trade surplus. Both sides expressed the desire to create an interdependent and harmonious environment for the twenty-first century.

Further Reading

Bush, R. C. (2005). Untying the knot: Making peace in the Taiwan Strait. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

Chai Winberg. (1996). Chinese Mainland and Taiwan, with documents. 2nd ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Chai, Winberg. (2008). Taiwan’s 2008 elections and their impact upon U.S.-China-Taiwan relations. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 26(2).

Chai, Winberg. (2007). Missile envy: New tensions in China-U.S.-Taiwan relations. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 34(1).

Chai, Winberg. (1999). Relations between China mainland and Taiwan: Overview and chronology. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 26(2).

Chiu Hungdah. (Ed.). (1979). China and the Taiwan issue. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Copper, J. F. (2004). Taiwan’s 2004 Presidential election. Baltimore: University of Maryland Law School.

Copper, J. F. (2008) Taiwan’s failed president. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 34(4).

Fuller, D. B. (2008). The Cross-strait economic relationships’ impact on development in Taiwan and China. Asian Survey, 48 (2).

Makeham, J., & A-Chin Hsiau. (Eds.). (2005). Cultural, ethnic and political nationalism in Taiwan: Bentuhua. New York: Palgrave.

Silverstein, K. (2008, August). The Mandarins: American foreign policy brought to you by China. Harper’s, pp. 55–59.

Source: Chai, Winberg. (2009). Taiwan–China Relations. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2174–2177. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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