Taiwan also referred to as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island situated across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China. Since 1949, it has been run separately from the rest of China as the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The PRC declares that Taiwan will one day “unify” with the mainland and sees the island as a renegade province. Political leaders in Taiwan, an island nation with a democratically elected government and a population of 23 million, hold contrasting opinions about the status of the island and its ties to the mainland.
Since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-victory wen’s in 2016, cross-strait tensions have risen. Tsai has rejected a plan that Ma Ying-jeou, her predecessor, supported to promote stronger ties across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing has been acting more and more aggressively in the meanwhile, including flying fighter jets close to the island. Some observers worry that a Chinese strike on Taiwan may lead to a conflict between the United States and China.
Does Taiwan belong to China?
According to Beijing, Taiwan is a component of the “one China” that exists. It adheres to the “One-China principle,” according to which the PRC is the only legal government in China, and it wants Taiwan to eventually “unify” with the rest of the country.
Beijing asserts that the 1992 Consensus, an agreement negotiated between representatives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) party that ruled Taiwan at the time, binds Taiwan. This ‘agreement’ was never meant to settle the issue of Taiwan’s legal status, and the two parties disagree on its specifics. The 1992 Consensus is a consensus for the PRC that “the two sides of the strait belong to one China and will work together to seek national reunification,” according to Chinese President Xi Jinping. One China, different interpretations, according to the KMT, with the ROC serving as the “one China.”
Taiwan’s Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics are two sources.
The South China Sea, Tibet, China, Mongolia, and Taiwan are still regarded as being a component of the ROC according to Taiwan’s KMT-drafted constitution. The KMT has often demanded tighter ties with Beijing and opposes Taiwan’s independence. But KMT leaders have debated whether to alter the party’s position on the 1992 Consensus in light of recent electoral defeats.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the KMT’s main adversary, has never embraced the agreement outlined in the 1992 Consensus. President Tsai, who is also the DPP’s leader, has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the agreement. She has instead tried to come up with a different phrasing that Beijing would accept. Tsai declared in her 2016 inauguration speech that she would “safeguard the sovereignty and territory of the Republic of China” and highlighted that she had been “elected president by the Constitution of the Republic of China,” which is a one-China document. Tsai promised to “handle cross-strait affairs in conformity with the Republic of China Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of [the] Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other applicable legislation.” Beijing, however, disregarded this statement and ceased all formal communications with Taiwan.
Xi restated China’s long-standing suggestion for Taiwan in a speech in 2019: that it be merged into the mainland under the premise of “one country, two systems.” A similar approach was taken with Hong Kong, which was given a “high degree of autonomy” and guaranteed the freedom to maintain its political and economic systems. A structure like that is utterly despised by Taiwanese citizens. Tsai and even the KMT have rejected the “one nation, two systems” approach, citing Beijing’s most recent onslaught on freedoms in Hong Kong.
Does Taiwan have a membership in the UN?
No. China opposes Taiwan’s membership in UN bodies and other international organizations that only allow nations to join. The United States and Taipei both advocate for Taiwan’s meaningful involvement in these organizations, and Taipei frequently laments its exclusion from them. Taiwan criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for caving into Beijing’s demands during the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing to prevent Taiwan from attending the organization’s World Health Assembly as an observer. Taiwan had mounted one of the most successful COVID-19 responses in the first two years of the pandemic. The inclusion of Taiwan in WHO meetings has been demanded by ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations.
Taiwan does, however, maintain membership status in more than forty organizations, the majority of which are regional, including the World Trade Organization, the Asian Development Bank, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. On several other bodies, it has observer or another status.
Only 14 nations have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. No government has ever had formal diplomatic relations with both China and Taiwan at the same time.
What kind of relationship has the US had with Taiwan?
The PRC and the United States signed a formal diplomatic agreement in 1979. It also dissolved its mutual defense pact with the ROC and cut all diplomatic ties with it at the same time. However, the United States continues to have a strong, unofficial relationship with the island and continues to provide its military with defense material. Beijing has frequently pushed Washington to halt arms sales to Taipei and break off contact.
Timeline of History: U.S.-China Relations
The One-China policy [PDF] of the United States governs its strategy. It is based on several documents, including the recently declassified “Six Assurances” [PDF] that President Ronald Reagan delivered to Taiwan in 1982 and three U.S.-China communiqués that were signed in 1972, 1978, and 1982. It is also based on the Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1979. According to these documents, the United States:
Rejects the use of force to resolve the conflict; upholds cultural, commercial, and other ties with Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT); “acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China” and that the PRC is the “sole legal government of China” (some U.S. officials have emphasized that the word “acknowledge” implies that the United States doesn’t necessarily accept the Chinese position).
The major objective of the United States is to keep the Taiwan Strait peaceful and stable, and it has pleaded with both Beijing and Taipei to keep things as they are. It declares that it opposes Taiwanese independence.
The United States has spent decades trying to balance assisting Taiwan while averting confrontation with China through its strategy of strategic ambiguity. However, President Joe Biden appears to have rejected the approach, repeatedly asserting that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded. Although White House officials have retracted his remarks and stated that the policy has not changed, the president ultimately has the last decision on how to proceed. Biden’s remarks have been well received by certain experts, including Richard Haass and David Sacks of the CFR, as well as several members of Congress, who claim that China’s escalating aggression demands clarification. This opinion has been challenged by other specialists.
In what manner have recent American presidents treated Taiwan?
Over Chinese protests, the United States strengthened ties with Taiwan under President Donald Trump, including by giving the military weapons worth more than $18 billion and announcing a $250 million complex for its de facto embassy in Taipei. Before his inauguration, Trump and Tsai had their highest degree of communication since 1979 over the phone. In his final days in office, the State Department lifted long-standing limits on where and how American officials might meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. He also sent many top administration officials, including a cabinet member, to Taipei.
Similar steps were taken by the Biden administration, which upheld the Trump government’s decision to permit more open meetings between American and Taiwanese officials while continuing arms sales. The first American president to invite Taiwanese officials to the inauguration was Biden. The United States regularly sails ships across the Taiwan Strait to show its military presence in the area, engages Taiwan in military training and discussions, and has pushed Taiwan to raise its defense budget.
Can a conflict over Taiwan start?
U.S. analysts are particularly concerned that a confrontation could break out as a result of China’s expanding military might and aggression, as well as the worsening in relations across the Taiwan Strait. A confrontation between the United States and China could result from such a conflict. That’s because both China and the United States haven’t ruled out using force to bring about Taiwan’s “reunification” if China attacks. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is “likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the PRC by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any third-party intervention, such as the United States,” according to a 2021 report [PDF] from the U.S. Department of Defense.
On the possibility and timing of a Chinese invasion, analysts vary. Although some experts think that such an invasion is still a ways off, the top U.S. military commander in the Indo-Pacific warned in 2021 that China might try to attack Taiwan within the next decade [PDF]. Others think 2049 is a crucial year; Xi has underlined that Taiwan’s unification is necessary to realize what he calls the Chinese Dream, which calls for the restoration of China’s great-power status by 2049.
Early in 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, reigniting the issue. Some commentators claimed that Moscow’s actions may give Beijing the confidence to attack Taiwan similarly, while others claimed that Beijing might become more cautious after seeing Russia’s difficulties. China’s inclination to use force won’t be affected by Russia’s actions, according to CFR’s Sacks, who also writes that “Chinese officials will review Russia’s failings and alter their operational plans to avoid making similar mistakes.”
In any case, Taiwan has been a significant driving force behind China’s military modernization, and the PLA has made preparing for a Taiwan contingency one of its top priorities. The PLA vowed to “resolutely defeat anyone trying to split Taiwan from China” in a 2019 defense white paper.
Without assistance from abroad, analysts believe Taiwan cannot repel a Chinese assault. Even though Tsai and the DPP have made increasing defense spending a priority and have allocated a record budget of almost $17 billion for 2022, China’s spending [PDF] is still thought to be about twenty-two times greater than Taiwan’s. Taiwanese lawmakers gave their approval to the Tsai administration’s plan to increase defense spending by $8.6 billion over the following five years in 2022. To protect Taiwan’s coasts, a portion of this increased military budget will be used to purchase cruise missiles, marine mines, and cutting-edge surveillance systems.
How has China manipulated Taiwan?
Since Tsai was elected president in 2016, China has increased its use of coercive methods that do not include violence. Its goal is to exhaust Taiwan and convince its citizens that joining the mainland is their best course of action. To achieve this, China has upped the number and size of PLA bombers, fighter fighters, and observation aircraft patrols over and surrounding Taiwan. Additionally, it has been increasingly displaying its might by sailing warships and aircraft carriers across the Taiwan Strait.
Thousands of cyberattacks from China are reportedly directed at Taiwanese government institutions every day. Recent years have seen an increase in these attacks. Taipei accused four Chinese organizations in 2020 of breaking into at least ten Taiwanese government organizations and 6,000 official email accounts to gain access to sensitive data and personal information.
Beijing has also put Taiwan under pressure without using force. China and the main Taiwan liaison office’s cross-strait communication channel was shut down in 2016. It curbed travel to Taiwan, resulting in a drop in mainland visitors from a high of over 4 million in 2015 to just 2.7 million in 2019. Global businesses, including airlines and hotel chains, have come under pressure from China to classify Taiwan as a Chinese province. In 2021, China broke off commerce with Lithuania for setting up a Taiwanese representative office in its capital, thus intimidating nations that have relations with Taiwan.
Has Beijing weakened Taiwan’s democratic government?
China has intensified election influence in Taiwan in addition to the methods already mentioned. It uses various strategies, such as disseminating false information on social media and tightening control over Taiwanese media outlets. China, for instance, disseminated false material during the 2020 election in an apparent effort to harm Tsai and support the KMT presidential candidate. These initiatives are a component of China’s overarching plan to use force to undermine Taiwan’s political system and sow discord in Taiwanese society. Experts, on the other hand, see the DPP’s victory in recent elections, including Tsai’s victory in 2020, as a criticism of Beijing.
Taiwan’s democracy is still in its infancy. From 1949 to 1987, martial law was imposed by the KMT. Political dissent was ruthlessly suppressed at the time and Taiwanese who had been on the island for a long time before 1945 faced prejudice. In 1992, Taiwan hosted its first free parliamentary elections, and in 1996, it held its first free presidential elections. It has since accomplished multiple peaceful handovers of authority between various parties.
Despite Chinese threats, Taiwan seems to have so far defied the global trend of democracies regressing. Taiwan was for the first time categorized as a “complete democracy” in The Economist’s Democracy Index [PDF] in 2020. Taiwan was recognized as the eighth-most democratic nation in the world in 2021. That is higher than both its American neighbor, which came in at number 26, and its Asian neighbors, South Korea, which came in at number 16, and Japan, which came in at number 17. Voter turnout has been high in recent elections.
Are Taiwanese citizens in favor of independence?
The majority of Taiwanese citizens favor keeping things as they are. According to National Chengchi University opinion surveys, a small percentage of people are in favor of immediate independence. Even fewer voice their support for Taiwan joining China. As Beijing tightens its control over Hong Kong’s freedoms, a resounding majority rejects the idea of “one country, two systems.”
More Taiwanese people than ever feel more connected to Taiwan than to the mainland. According to a National Chengchi University survey conducted in 2021, more than 62 percent of islanders identified as exclusively Taiwanese. Comparatively, 32 percent, down from 40 percent a decade earlier, identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese. Since 1994, when 26 percent of respondents identified as only Chinese, this number has dropped to roughly 3 percent.
What is the economic situation in Taiwan?
China continues to be Taiwan’s principal trading partner, which is important to the island nation’s economy. But in recent years, their economic ties have suffered, in part because of Beijing’s pressure on the island and Taiwanese officials’ rising worry about the island’s over-reliance on trade with China.
More than twenty agreements between Taiwan and the PRC were made between 2008 and 2016 while President Ma was in office, notably the 2010 Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement [PDF], in which trade restrictions were lifted. Direct communications by sea, air, and mail between China and Taiwan were reopened after decades of prohibition. They also decided to open both markets to banks, insurers, and other financial service providers.
On the other side, Tsai and the DPP have made attempts to diversify Taiwan’s trading relations, with varying degrees of success. Tsai’s hallmark program, the New Southbound Policy, has had some success promoting investment and commerce with nations in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Between 2016 when the initiative was unveiled and 2021, trade between Taiwan and the eighteen target countries increased by more than $50 billion. Taiwanese investment has also steadily increased in those nations. Tsai proposed a three-year strategy in 2019 to encourage Taiwanese firms to return to Taiwan from the mainland.
However, Taiwan’s exports to China reached a record high in 2021. Beijing has exerted pressure on other nations to renounce signing free trade deals with Taiwan. Only two developed economies—New Zealand and Singapore—have inked free trade agreements with the island. A small number of nations have done the same. Beijing has also advocated for Taiwan’s exclusion from multilateral trading organizations, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) (RCEP). (The CPTPP does not include China, but the RCEP does.) Taiwan is likewise excluded from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework of the Biden administration.
Have tensions across the Taiwan Strait harmed Taiwan’s important semiconductor chip manufacturers?
Despite tensions across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan is the top contract maker of semiconductor chips in the world. Most devices, including computers, smartphones, automobiles, and even artificial intelligence-powered weapons systems, have these chips. In 2020, businesses in Taiwan were in charge of more than 60% of the profits made by semiconductor contract makers worldwide.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the largest contract chip manufacturer in the world and Apple’s top supplier, is responsible for a major portion of it. It produces more than 90% of the world’s most cutting-edge chips, making it one of just two businesses (the other is Samsung, situated in South Korea) with the necessary technical know-how.
According to some observers, the United States’ reliance on Taiwanese chip manufacturers increases its incentive to safeguard Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. Biden has led efforts to bolster the American semiconductor industry because he is aware of how much the US depends on one company for crucial chips. Although less so than the US, China depends on Taiwanese chips. Beijing is making efforts to grow its sector, particularly in light of Washington’s pressure on TSMC to cease doing business with Chinese firms like Huawei, a major Chinese telecoms company that Washington fears Beijing may exploit for espionage.