China and Taiwan: A Guide
Updated: Jul 23
On July 1st, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech where he asserted his political position regarding Taiwan’s independence. The speech he gave crushed all hopes of any positive Chinese opinion with regards to Taiwanese independence. In addition, he urged that the Taiwan “issue” cannot keep existing, and that there should be a conclusion soon.
Although Jinping is determined not to allow Taiwanese independence, there was no indication that there would be a Chinese invasion of Taiwan anytime soon. However, his speech did imply a form of unification of the mainland and Taiwan.
This guide will explore the implications of the speech, why China is pressing for a unification, Western reactions, and what the future might hold. However, we must first look into the history of the two nations.
The China-Taiwan history
The Taiwanese population is believed to have roots to Southern Chinese settlers who were the first to ever move to Taiwan. Chinese records show that the first mention of Taiwan dates back to 239CE, when an emperor sent forces to explore the region. Over a millennium later, Taiwan was administered by the Chinese Qing dynasty in 1683.
Starting from the 17th century, many Chinese people from Fukien province started emigrating to Taiwan. Because of that, the majority of the population are descendants of Fujian Hoklo Chinese and the first Southern Chinese settlers. After its Sino-Japanese War victory in 1895, Japan gained control over Taiwan. However, it later had to give up Taiwan to China after its defeat in World War II.
China witnessed a civil war between Communist armies of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of China back then. Chiang Kai-shek was defeated in 1949, forcing him and his supporters to flee to Taiwan. Following that, he imposed a dictatorship on Taiwan that was met with resentment from Taiwanese people. However, his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, began a process of democritising the country once he became Taiwan’s ruler.
Finally, Taiwan’s “father of democracy”, Lee Teng-hui, carried out major changes that led the foundation to a democratic layout that helped Chen Shui-bian become the first non-KMT president of Taiwan in 2000.
Now that we are more familiar with history, why does President Xi Jinping want to unify China and Taiwan?
The dream of unity
China wants a reunification with Taiwan where the main idea behind it would be “one country, two systems”. However, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her complete rejection of the idea. On the other hand, China expressed on many occasions that reunification is inevitable, and that it would happen by force if need be.
During his speech, President Jinping promised to “smash” any attempts against China’s plans of reunification. In his speech, he also mentioned how reunification is a Chinese duty that dates many years back, calling it an “unswerving historical task”. Not only did he say that this duty concerns both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people, but it stretches to the people of Taiwan, calling them to crush any attempt at “Taiwan independence plots”.
In 2020, China flew 380 jets over the Taiwan strait. Actions like these have been recurring even after President Joe Biden took office. Experts are saying that China is exercising psychological warfare to destroy any attempt at creating a democratic and independent Taiwan. The US, the EU, and even Japan showed increased support for Taiwan.
Experts are divided on whether or not a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could happen. Some say it’s highly unlikely, while others say it could happen within the next decade. It is still unclear what the West, especially the US, would do in the event of a Chinese invasion. However, former US President Donald Trump had deepened US-Taiwan relations. Likewise, the Biden administration is continuing on this path.
The US advised Taiwan to increase its military spending and be more present on the waters of the Taiwan strait to be more assertive in the region. President Tsai agreed to increase military spending as per US advice, leading her cabinet to propose a 10 percent increase on the defense budget in 2021
What the future might hold
China’s position regarding reunification seems more assertive than ever. Many experts see it as an inevitable event that will happen sooner or later. While an invasion is still not a confirmed scenario, it is still possible. Although Taiwan received international support, the situation is far trickier than simply taking sides.
Interestingly, according to opinion polls conducted by National Chengchi University, most of Taiwan’s population support the “one country, two systems” concept. That being said, President Tsai is looking to make Taiwan a fully independent nation regardless. Therefore, with regards to an invasion, keeping up with the psychological warfare, independence, and Western response, anything can happen. There is no theory regarding the China-Taiwan future that is confirmed, so we will have to wait and see how current events are unfolding to have a better idea of the future.
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