- Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island separated by the Taiwan Strait from China.
- It has been governed independently of mainland China since 1949. The People’s Republic of China views the island as a renegade province and vows to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland.
- Taiwan has its own democratically elected government and is home to 23 million people; political leaders of Taiwan have differing views on the island’s status and relations with the mainland.
- China opposes any engagement by Taiwan with foreign governments or officials. About 15 small and remote island countries around the world recognise Taiwan.
- China also rejects Taiwan’s participation as a member of UN agencies and other international organizations that limit membership to states.
- The ROC became the non-communist frontier against China during the Cold War.
US-Taiwan and China:
- In 1971 the US inaugurated ties with the PRC through the secret diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to President Richard Nixon.
- The US has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan. This means that it maintains ties with Taipei, and sells weapons to it, but officially subscribes to the PRC’s “One China Policy” in which Taiwan does not exist as a separate entity.
First and Second Taiwan Crisis:
- In 1954-55, and in 1958, the PRC bombed the Mazu, Jinmen, and Dachen islands under Taiwan’s control, bringing in the US.
- The U.S. Congress passed the Formosa Resolution authorizing President Dwight D Eisenhower to defend RoC territory.
Third Taiwan Crisis:
- In 1995, President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui visited Cornell University in the U.S.and China conducted military drills and missile tests in the Taiwan Strait, triggering the Third Strait Crisis.
- U.S. President Bill Clinton responded by sending U.S. aircraft carriers to the Strait, eventually forcing China to de-escalate.
Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis:
- The US deepened ties with Taiwan under President Donald Trump by selling more than $18 billion worth of arms to Taiwan and unveiling a $250 million complex for its de facto embassy in Taipei.
- Trump also sent several senior administration officials to Taiwan.
- The Biden administration has taken a similar approach, continuing arms sales and affirming the Trump administration’s decision to allow U.S. officials to meet more freely with Taiwanese officials.
- The latest proposed legislation, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 includes designating Taiwan as a major non–NATO ally and the recent visit by Nancy Pelosi.
- China’s response to the above developments is manifesting as the fourth Taiwan Strait crisis.
Relevance of Taiwan to China:
- China and Taiwan’s economies are inseparably linked. China is Taiwan’s biggest export partner, with an export value of 515 billion dollars from 2017 to 2022, more than double of its next biggest partner the U.S
- Taiwan is much closer to mainland China than the other islands, and has been claimed by Beijing since Nationalists were driven there during the Chinese revolution in 1949.
- Geopolitically, Taiwan is critical for China to establish regional hegemony and become a global superpower.
- China, despite its military capabilities, is a caged naval power in a crowded neighbourhood.
- Taking control of Taiwan fulfils a historical promise and builds up its geopolitical stature as a great power in the western Pacific.
Roadblocks ahead for China:
- Taiwan has been outside China’s control since 1949.
- Given Taiwan’s topography and nationalist groups, it will be difficult to keep the situation under control once China takes over the island.
- There is no geographical contiguity from the mainland to Taiwan, which could continue to pose security challenges.
- Any strategic miscalculation would prove counterproductive to China’s standing in the region.