What’s the China-Taiwan Conflict all about?
China considers Taiwan as its province; Taiwan thinks China is theirs. Both claim they are the real China and the world should recognize them as such. The story of the China and Taiwan conflict makes for an interesting geopolitical read.
China faced a civil war from 1927-1949 between the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and Communists – who wanted to take over the throne. When the Japanese attacked and occupied Manchuria – the northwestern part of China – in 1937, both the warring factions ceased hostility and unitedly resisted the Japanese. The civil war resumed in 1945 between the two factions: CPC (Chinese Communist Party) led by Mao Zedong and KMT led by Chiang Kai Shek. once the Japanese left Manchuria following their surrender in WW2.
This second spell of the civil war was going to be decisive. With Soviet Russia – emboldened after their victory in WW2 – helping fellow communists in china, the KMT began to lose ground. In a matter of 4 years (1945-1949), communists emerged victorious. KMT government was overthrown from mainland china and the monarch – Chiang Kai Shek – had to flee to Taiwan.
It is ever since that mainland china is being ruled by CPC. Taiwan remained under the autocratic control of KMT till 1980s before making its transition to democracy. China, and its ruling elite, wanting to occupy Taiwan (reunification) is nothing but finishing the unfinished civil war.
Why don’t Taiwan declare independence and get recognised as a separate independent country?
It’s a combination of greed and fear. The greed of controlling an economic giant like china one day, in case the communist falls. Fear that China would attack if it tries to create a separate political identity for itself.
Recognizing Taiwan comes with a geopolitical catch. It is not like recognising any other country. You can either recognise mainland china or Taiwan as an independent country since both claim to be the rightful ruler of the same territory. If Taiwan declare independence and leaves its claim over mainland Chinese territory, it’d be a whole lot easier for the whole world to recognize it.
How many countries recognize Taiwan as rightful china?
All of 13 countries. Most of them very small and insignificant recognise Taiwan as a sovereign, independent country. That too in exchange for considerable economic help they get from Taiwan.
China, thanks to its humongous economic and diplomatic clout, pressurizes countries – especially significant ones – not to recognise Taiwan as a separate, independent, sovereign state.
Holy See (Vatican City): 1942-present
Nauru: 1980-2002, 2005-present
Saint Kitts and Nevis: 1983-present
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: 1981-present
Saint Lucia: 1984-1997, 2007-present
Marshall Islands: 1998-present
What triggered the recent spate of hostilities between China and Taiwan?
China can’t see Taiwan growing close to any major power, especially the US. It vehemently protested the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. Not only did China issue a warning to shoot down Pelosi’s aircraft but also started to conduct a massive naval exercise near Taiwan.
About 10 warships, 100 fighter aircraft, and a lot of ballistic missiles are taking part in the exercise. Aircraft and missiles are intruding into the sovereign sky and water of Taiwan and Japan as a menacing gesture to both the countries in general and the US in particular.
How different is Taiwan from China? Are they the same or different?
They are basically the same people, the Han Chinese: with common culture, language, ethnicity and forefathers. Just like us Indians. Even though we have not always been governed under one political system, but are the same people.
It was the 17th century when the island first came under the control of the ruling monarchy of mainland china: the Qing dynasty. They ruled it till 1895, before losing it to the Japanese after a humiliating loss in the first Sino-Japanese war. As Japan surrendered in the second world war, the Chinese took it back.
What is Taiwan stated position:
Taiwan claims all of the Chinese territories including the one they are currently ruling. They claim to be the rightful heir to the Chinese throne since they were replaced illegally through violent means by the CPC.
Can Taiwan defend itself against China?
Not very likely! Unless a major power like the US comes to its rescue: directly or indirectly.
Taiwan stands nowhere in comparison to China’s overall might and influence: with an economy, military power, size, and population multiple times smaller than that of China.
It’s an open secret that China is the second biggest spender on defence after the US. From army to naval power, air power to cyber-security, the imbalance is massive between the two sides. Taiwan can withstand Chinese aggression for some time. But any long-drawn-out warfare without significant external help, and we might see the end of a nation as we know it.
Has China ever tried to invade Taiwan?
Three Times, to be precise.
All it separates Taiwan from China is a narrow water body called Taiwan Straight – just 130 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. So far it has done a good job of protecting Taiwan from the might of China. Much of it has to do with China having a weak navy – a reality, china is trying to change lately with heavy investment in its navy.
First China Taiwan War
China launched artillery strikes on two small islands of Taiwan, namely Kinmen and Matsu. China claimed it was done in response to Taiwan increasing its military build-up over there. In the end, Taiwan lost Yijiangshan island to China.
Second China Taiwan War
China made (and failed) another attempt to take over these two islands from Taiwan in 1958. The US was determined to put its nuclear weapon to use to save its ally Taiwan from Chinese occupation. A stalemate developed and Mao announced a ceasefire. Though his troops kept shelling these two islands now and then till 1979.
Third China Taiwan War
Taiwanese president Lee Teng Hui – a big proponent of declaring Taiwan as a sovereign, independent nation – visited the US, and it had China fuming. China pays in kind by test-firing multiple missiles into Taiwanese waters. Tension escalated.
Lee Teng Hui became a hero in Taiwan and easily won the next presidential election held a year later in 1996. Further missiles were test-fired into Taiwan, again.
Is Nancy Pelosi the first US House Speaker to visit Taiwan?
No. Newt Gingrich is: in 1997.
How dangerous is the Taiwan issue?
Political and military tensions are not new in the region. It has happened several times before and China had to back down on each of those occasions. But now we are dealing with a richer, mightier, more confident, and more aggressive China. We never know what tomorrow might bring. We can just hope it doesn’t escalate into something horrible. The world is already reeling under rising inflation, and the food-and-energy crisis brought about by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Why CPC is so adamant about occupying Taiwan?
To maintain the legitimacy and popularity of the Communist government and political system in the eyes of the people. Its been their stated position since the time of Mao. If Taiwan goes independent and they fail to prevent it. The government and political system might collapse OR get overthrown by nationalist forces in the ranks.
Does America have an obligation to defend Taiwan if it’s attacked?
No. The US is not legally obliged by any treaty to come to the defence of Taiwan, if and when China attacks. However, it will feel cornered to join the war on the side of Taiwan, to save the face it lost in the case of Ukraine.
China-Taiwan War: The impact on India will be massive.
Taiwan is a semiconductor – the electronic brain that processes data in devices – factory of the world. All the phones, laptops, and smart homes, along with some advanced cars and electronic gadgets you use, will stop functioning without the semiconductor. Manufactures cant produce new devices nor we can get our old ones fixed. This massive supply chain issue will give rise to inflation and unemployment in sectors that employ such chips. The world is still reeling under food and energy crises following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We can’t afford another war. If this crisis is not resolved soon, the world can get pushed into another cycle of recession.