The Past, Present & Future(?) Of The China-Taiwan Tensions

Lately, the news has been filled with stories about the tensions between China and Taiwan. We take a look at how it all began, and will it lead to a war between both the nations?

What Happened?

President Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, in an exclusive interview with CNN said, that the threat from Beijing is growing “every day.” She added, “Here is this island of 23 million people trying hard every day to protect ourselves and protect our democracy and making sure that our people have the kind of freedom they deserve.” She also said, “If we fail, then that means people that believe in these values would doubt whether these are values that they (should) be fighting for.”

Tsai has also become the first Taiwan President in decades to confirm the presence of American troops on Taiwanese soil. While talking about the U.S. military personnel, she said, “We have a wide range of cooperation with the US aiming at increasing our defense capability.”

Going Back In Time

The question we all have in our minds is that why are there tensions between China and Taiwan? If we want to know the answer to that question, we have to go back in time. In the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), Japan defeated Qing China and made Taiwan its first colony. However, Japan lost the Second World War, and Taiwan was given back to the Chinese. China was led by Chiang Kai-shek and had sided with the Allied Powers during the war. Later in 1949, Chiang and his party, the Kuomintang (KMT), lost the Chinese Civil War to the communists. The communists were led by Mao Zedong, and they fled to Taiwan and maintained administrative control over it.

When Mao was about to launch an assault on Taiwan to integrate it within China, the Korean war erupted in 1950. On top of the war keeping Mao busy, he was busy in aiding the communists in North Korea, which prevented the invasion of Taiwan. It also forced the U.S. to commit itself to Taiwan’s security and independence. According to geostrategic calculation, Taiwan came to be a crucial ally of the U.S. in the latter’s mission of containing China’s rise in East Asia during and after the Cold War.

In the 1980s, the relations between China and Taiwan began improving. China put forward a formula called “one country, two systems”, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification. This system was established in Hong Kong to be used as something of a showcase to attract Taiwanese people back to the mainland. Meanwhile, Taiwan rejected the offer, but it did relax rules on visits to and investment in China.

In 1991, it also proclaimed the war with the People’s Republic of China on the mainland to be over. In 2000, Taiwan elected Chen Shui-bian as president, who openly backed “independence”. In 2016, Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-wen was elected. Her party is called Democratic Progressive Party and it leans towards eventual official independence from China.

The Chinese government believes that Tsai and her party are in favour of formal Taiwan independence. However, Tsai favours the status quo, which is an arrangement by which the nation remains self-ruled, without an official declaration. The economic and diplomatic ties that have been developed over previous governments with China have eroded and the Chinese military has increased its pressure on the island.

U.S. — Taiwan — China

In spite of the absence of formal ties, the U.S. has pledged to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons and has stressed any attack by China would cause “grave concern”. Throughout 2018, China increased pressure on international companies, which forced them to list Taiwan as a part of China on their websites and threatened to block them for doing business in China if they failed to comply.

Later in 2020, China’s implementation of a national security law in Hong Kong was widely seen as yet another sign that Beijing was becoming more assertive in the region. At the same time, the U.S. has been increasing its outreach to Taiwan and reassuring Taipei of its continued support. In 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration has said its commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid”.

In the first couple of days of Biden’s presidency, Taiwan reported a “large incursion” by Chinese warplanes over two days. On April 12, the Taiwanese government said China flew the largest number of military jets into its air defence zone for a year. According to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, in the first five days of October alone, Beijing flew a total of 150 fighter jets, nuclear-capable bombers, anti-submarine aircraft and airborne early warning and control planes, into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.

These moves by the Beijing came after the ties between the U.S. and Taiwan were strengthened in the past couple of months. How did that happen? In August, the Biden administration informed Congress of a proposed $750 million weapons sale to Taiwan. Also, in the same month, a statement by the U.S.-led Quad foreign policy group was in favour of supporting Taiwan. The support offered by the U.S. for Taiwan has irked Beijing, since China already shares a strained relationship with the U.S.

Looking Ahead

The main concern right now is that will Taiwan be invaded by China in the future. The truth is that the costs of an invasion is very high, as it includes both financial and diplomatic costs. So, should Taiwan formally declare independence then? This might not happen because multiple polls have shown that majority of the Taiwanese people support the status quo, and they don’t want to risk offending Beijing. We understand the decision because China is superior to Taiwan when it comes to the military strength.

At the end of the day, Taiwan is open for discussions with China. Tsai told CNN that she would sit down with Chinese leader Xi Jinping for talks if he was willing. Tsai added that she believed that the two governments could still live together in peace despite the differences in their political systems. She has also called on regional democratic partners, including Japan, South Korea, and Australia, to help support Taiwan.

Since Taiwan is open for talks, we hope China sits down with the President and talks about how they can repair the relations between both the nations. The U.S. is recovering from the pandemic, while China is still struggling with the virus. It is best if the U.S., China and Taiwan resolve their tensions in a peaceful way and make agreements that will flourish trades. During these times, countries should be working towards helping the recovery of the global economy, and not further worsen the situation.