China -- the most populous country in the world -- has exhibited remarkably high levels of sustained economic growth in the two decades since it reformed its economy following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. According to some analysts, the country is poised to become the number one economy in the world sometime in the mid-twenty first century. There are, however, certain political issues that may affect China's rightful role in the future world affairs. One of them is the 'Taiwan affair' -- a problem that has defied a satisfactory resolution ever since the Communist forces defeated the Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and Chiang Kai-Shek
retreated to Taiwan along with 2 million of his supporters from the Mainland China. The political status of Taiwan (or the state of Republic of China) has, since that time, been a source of concern for China as well as the rest of the world.
This research paper on China's Taiwan Policy takes a detailed look at the Taiwan issue by tracing its background and history, outlining the legal position of Taiwan, examining the changes in China's Taiwan policy over the years; the strategy adopted by Taiwan in dealing with its larger neighbor and how the rest of the world looks at the issue. It also analyzes how far the issue is likely to affect China's future role in the world affairs.
Recent History and Legal Status of Taiwan
To understand Communist China's policy towards Taiwan, it is necessary to examine the legal status of Taiwan and its recent history.
Taiwan under Japanese Rule:
Taiwan was a province of China under the Qing Dynasty but was permenantly ceded to Japan in 1895 under the "Treaty of Shimonoseki" at the end of the First Sino-Japanese war. Not long thereafter, the Republic of China (ROC) succeeded the Qing Dynasty in 1912 after almost 2,000 years of imperial rule in China. Its rule in mainland China, however, remained unsettled as a number of warlords seized control of much of Northern China; a civil war was fought between the Communists and the Nationalists from 1926 to 1949 and the Japanese invaded China in 1937, which resulted in the Second Sino-Japanese War. At the start of the War, the ROC declared the Treaty of Shimonoseki "null and void." The Sino-Japanese War merged into the 2nd World War and at the Cairo Conference held in 1943 by the Allied powers, it was decided that Taiwan would be returned back to China at the end of the War. (Pannel)
Returned Back to China:
Subsequently, when Japan surrendered unconditionally, the Japanese troops in Taiwan handed over its administration to ROC military forces as per the terms of the Post Dam Declaration. The Chinese KMT administration in China was perceived as repressive, which led to friction between the Chinese mainlanders and the local Taiwanese and an uprising in February 1947, known as the 228 incident. Some Taiwanese who wanted Taiwan to remain independent appealed to the U.S. And the UN to intervene on the plea that Japan had not formally transferred sovereignty over the island aand it was still legally part of Japan, which was now occupied by Allied forces. The proposed intervention, was rejected by the U.S. And ROC administration was able to crush the rebellion with brute force. (Ibid.)
ROC or PRC?
In the meantime, the Chinese Civil War on the mainland had ended with the defeat of the Kuomintang Nationalists by the Communists and the ROC government led by Chiang Kai-Shek fled to the island of Taiwan
in December 1949 where it set up its provisional capital in Taipei. The ROC government continued to regard itself as the sole legitimate government of China while the Communists proclaimed the People's Republic of China (PRC) and claimed to be the successor state of the ROC over all of China. It condemned the Nationalist government in Taiwan as illegitimate and planned to invade the island to bring it under its rule. The Communist plans were, however, frustrated by the United States, which sent naval forces to defend the island in 1950. When Japan regained sovereignty in 1952, it renounced all claims over Taiwan and the Pescadores. Both ROC and PRC -- major claimants of Taiwan -- were not invited to the peace conference that decided the terms of Japan's sovereignty. The defacto rule of ROC over Taiwan, however, continued and subsequently the ROC and Japan signed the "Treaty of Teipei" in 1952, which reaffirmed the terms of the Treaty of San Francisco. The ROC and the United States also signed a mutual-defense treaty in 1954, in which the United States agreed to defend Taiwan militarily, if the Communist regime in mainland China attacked the country. The legal position of Taiwan, therefore, remained unclear (and does so till today) with the People's Republic of China, the ROC and the movement for independence of Taiwan, each having their own interpretation of its legal position. (Lee 84)
Taiwan in the Cold War Period (1949-1971)
Chiang Kai Shek cleverly exploited the Cold War obsession of the Western powers who wanted to block the spread of Communism at all costs; he strengthened the economy and the military of Taiwan with the help of massive aid from the United States.
As a result, the industrial production of Taiwan rose by 300% in the first decade of its existence; its exports tripled and its imports doubled. The island became a model of modern economic development, with a growth rate far above that of most other Asian economies and was showcased as an example of the superiority of Capitalism over Communism by the Western powers. (Pannell, Para on "Time of Prosperity")
Until the mid-sixties, the country enjoyed wide diplomatic recognition throughout the world and a booming economy, and more governments around the world including the United Nations recognized ROC as the legitimate government of China as compared to the PRC. Such international support, along with a booming economy, allowed Chiang Kai-Shek to consolidate his political powers and he continued to head a one-party authoritarian government in Taiwan.
Gradually, however, more and more countries started to form diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China
and since the PRC would not form formal ties with any country that recognized ROC, Taiwan began to lose international support.
The United States Changes Track
In the early 1970s the United States decided to seek closer ties with Communist China and the People's Republic was given China's seat in the United Nations after Taiwan's expulsion from the world body. Several other nations followed the lead of the U.S. And the UN and shifted their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the mainland Communist government. The Communist government in Beijing followed a hardline policy on Taiwan and would not have diplomatic relations with any country that recognized Taiwan or had diplomatic ties with its government. Hence, when the United States formalized its diplomatic relations with mainland China in 1979 it had to cut-off its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Despite the ending of its diplomatic relations, trade relations between the two countries have continued unabated and Taiwan's economy has thrived becoming one of the 'Asian tiger' economies in the 1990s. In 1980 the United States-Taiwan defense treaty of 1954 lapsed and only a handful of nations (mostly African and South American countries) continued to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, thereafter.
The Chinese Position: A Three Pronged Policy
As stated earlier, when the Communists defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War, they proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and claimed to be the successor state of the ROC over all of China, including Taiwan. Since the Communist government was prevented from invading Taiwan and forcebly ejecting the ROC government from the island by U.S. intervention, the PRC has followed a three-pronged policy towards Taiwan while consistently proclaiming that it was an integral part of China. In order to achieve its objective of re-unification of China, it has followed a policy of "Military Offensive," "Diplomatic Offensive" and the "Peaceful Offensive."
The PRC had first contemplated the use of military force for "re-unifying" China and Taiwan in 1950. Its plans for invading Taiwan by launching an amphibious opeartion across the Taiwan Strait were frustrated by the start of the Korean War and a subsequent change in the "hands off" policy of the United States on Taiwan. President Truman's sending of the Seventh Fleet to prevent Communist China's attack on Teipei precluded the option of a military offensive for some time. (Lee 1) The signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty in December 1954, between Washington and Taipei, also clearly demonstrated to PRC that the U.S. was serious in preventing a military attack by China on Taiwan.
The inability of PRC to exercise the military option forced it to look for other policy alternatives for the re-unification of China.
After realizing that the military offensive was a non-option, the People's Republic of China launched an all-out diplomatic…