After the spread of Covid 19 China is in regular news but for the wrong reasons. In this context let me take you through the hostile relationship between China and Taiwan. This relationship is also known as the Cross-Strait relations between China and Taiwan.
Cross-Strait relations (is sometimes called Mainland–Taiwan relations or Taiwan–China relations). It refers to the relationship between the following two political entities, which are separated by the Taiwan Strait in the west Pacific Ocean. These political entities are:
- The People’s Republic of China(PRC), commonly known as “China.”
- The Republic of China(ROC), commonly known as “Taiwan”. Be very clear—PRC is China and ROC is Taiwan.
Their relationship is complex and controversial due to the dispute on the political status of Taiwan after the administration of Taiwan was transferred from Japan at the end of World War II in 1945 and the subsequent split of China into the above two in 1949 as a result of a civil war. The matter hinges on two key questions: Whether the two entities are two separate countries (either as “Taiwan” and “China” or two Chinas: that is “Republic of China” and “People’s Republic of China”) or they are two “regions” or parts of the same country (i.e. “One China”) with rival governments. The English expression of, “Cross-Strait relations” is considered to be a neutral term that avoids any reference to the political status on either side.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the administration of Taiwan was transferred to the Republic of China (ROC) from Japan, though, legal questions remained regarding the language of the ‘Treaty of San Francisco.’ In 1949, with the Chinese Civil War turning decisively in favour of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Republic of China government led by the Kuomintang (ie KMT a major political party in Taiwan) retreated to Taiwan and established the provisional capital in Taipei, while the CPC proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and formed their government in Beijing. No armistice or peace treaty was ever signed so the debate continues even today, as to whether, the civil war had legally ended.
Since then, the relations between the governments in Beijing and Taipei have been characterized by limited contact, tensions, and instability. In the early years, military conflicts continued, while diplomatically both governments competed to be the “legitimate government of China”. Since the democratization of Taiwan, the question regarding the political and legal status of Taiwan has shifted focus to the choice between political unification with mainland China or de jure Taiwanese independence. The PRC—People’s Republic of China nevertheless remains hostile to any formal declaration of independence and maintains its claim over Taiwan.
In the meanwhile, non-governmental and semi-governmental exchanges between the two sides have increased. From 2008 onwards, negotiations began to resuscitate the three vital links of postal, transportation and trade between the two sides that was cut off since 1949. Diplomatic contact between the two sides has generally been limited to Kuomintang (KMT) administrations in Taiwan.
Let us now dig a little deeper into the history of Taiwan. The early history of Cross-Strait relations involved the exchange of cultures, people, and technology. However, no Chinese dynasty formally incorporated Taiwan into the mainland China in ancient times. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Taiwan first caught the attention of Portuguese, then Dutch and Spanish explorers. In 1624, the Dutch established their first settlement in Taiwan. In 1662, Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), a Ming dynasty loyalist, defeated the Dutch rulers of Taiwan, and took over the island, establishing the first formally Han Chinese regime in Taiwan. Koxinga’s heirs used Taiwan as a base for launching raids into mainland China against the Manchu Qing dynasty. However, they were defeated in 1683 by Qing forces. The following year, Taiwan was incorporated into the Fujian province in the south eastern coast of mainland China. However, over the next two centuries, the Imperial government of Qing dynasty paid little attention to Taiwan.
But the situation changed in the 19th century, with other powers increasingly eyeing Taiwan for its strategic location and resources. In response, the administration began to implement a modernization drive. In 1887, a Fujian-Taiwan Province was announced by an Imperial decree. Within 10 years, Taiwan had become one of the most modern provinces in the Empire. However, the fall of the Qing dynasty outpaced the development of Taiwan, and in 1895, following its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Government ceded Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity—forever. Qing loyalists briefly resisted the Japanese rule under the banner of the “Republic of Taiwan”, but were quickly put down by Japanese authorities.
Japan ruled Taiwan until 1945. During this time, Taiwan, as part of the Japanese Empire, was a foreign jurisdiction in relation to the first Qing Empire, and after 1912, the Republic of China. In 1945, Japan was defeated in World War II and surrendered its forces in Taiwan to the Allies, with the ROC, Republic of China being then ruled by the Kuomintang (KMT), taking custody of the island. The period of post-war Kuomintang rule over China (1945–1949) was marked in Taiwan by conflict between local residents and the new KMT authority. The Taiwanese rebelled against KMT on 28 February 1948 in the February 28 incident, which was put down violently by the KMT. But in the process the seeds for the Taiwan independence movement, were thus sown.
China was soon engulfed in a full-scale civil war. In 1949, the war turned decisively against the KMT and in favour of the CPC—Communist Party of China. On 1 October 1949, the CPC under Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. The capitalist ROC—Republic of China government retreated to Taiwan, eventually declaring Taipei its temporary capital in December 1949.
The island of Taiwan has an area of 35,808 square kilometres (13,826 square miles), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two-thirds and plains in the western one-third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. Taipei is the capital and largest metropolitan area. Other major cities include Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan and Taoyuan. With 23.7 million inhabitants, Taiwan is among the most densely populated countries in the world, with a big population and a large economy. The political status of Taiwan remains uncertain. It is no longer a member of the UN, having been replaced by the PRC-People’s Republic of China in 1971. Taiwanese indigenous people settled in the island of Taiwan around 6,000 years ago.
Although ROC-Republic of China government, continue to claim, to be the legitimate representative of China, since 1950 its effective jurisdiction has been limited to Taiwan and numerous smaller islands.
Taiwan is claimed by the PRC—People’s Republic of China, which refuses diplomatic relations with countries that recognise the ROC—Republic of China. Taiwan maintains official ties with only 14 out of 193 UN member states and the Holy See (jurisdiction of Bishop of Rome). International organisations in which the PRC—People’s Republic of China participates either refuse to grant membership to Taiwan or allow it to participate only on a non-state basis. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asian Development Bank under various names. Nearby countries and countries with large economies maintain unofficial ties with Taiwan through representative offices and institutions that function as de facto embassies and consulates. Domestically, the major political division is between parties favouring eventual Chinese unification and promoting a Chinese identity contrasted with those aspiring for independence and promoting Taiwanese identity, although both sides have moderated their positions to broaden their appeal.
What will you call People’s Republic of China (PRC)? I would certainly call it a big bully.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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