Taiwan : Will It Retain Independence Or Be Taken Over ?

Taiwan : Will It Retain Independence Or Be Taken Over ?


Taiwan : Will It Retain Independence Or Be Taken Over ?

After the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, there continues over there a painful period of adjustment and as we hear, grave shortages of essentials to the general population. There also seem to be Afghans eligible to migrate to the US awaiting permission to go. The G7 has promised help and President Biden specifically stated much financial and other aid would come to the people of Afghanistan but through international aid agencies.

The current hot spot of probable conflict and growing tension is Taiwan, and yes, if inflamed, could be much worse than the Afghan conflagration. On October 10, President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, insisted in her speech at the National Day celebrations in Taipei, that Taiwan would not succumb to Chinese dominance nor join mainland China as a unified nation.

Tsai emphasized “resilience, unity, diversity, competitiveness, and renewed confidence and pledged to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and denounced unprecedented challenges brought by China’s recent military coercion.”

At the same time, China staged a massive show of force in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the revolution that established the first Chinese Republic. Chinese President Xi Jinping made it almost militantly clear that China calls for “Taiwan’s peaceful reconciliation with China in Taiwan’s best interests.” He urged the island state to “stand on the right side of history.” This statement was denounced by Taiwan’s President as a “distortion of history” and called on Beijing to stop threatening the island.

In The Island of October 13, Gwynne Dyer gives a fine analysis of the problem and says that China will baulk at the prospect of invading Taiwan because it will face blocking of all sea routes on which its trade is totally dependent. Western nations, Japan, Korea, even India will not stand by and merely watch a military invasion by Chinese forces of independent Taiwan.

Support for Taiwan

The G7 at the end of its meeting in Cornwall in June 2021, affirmed the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and their strong opposition to any “unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.” China immediately denounced G7 for interfering. “For the Chinese Communist Party, the status of Taiwan is a sensitive topic.

Together with Tibet, and the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989, foreign visitors to China are routinely advised to avoid any discussion of it. To China’s leaders, Taiwan is an indivisible part of the ‘big Motherland’, a ‘renegade province’ that will eventually, by persuasion, coercion or force if necessary, be ‘reunited’ with mainland China. Alternative views are firmly suppressed.”

Taiwan, smaller in area than the Netherlands, is considered to be on par with Australia in its economy and population. “For a country that in 1950 was poor, overwhelmingly agricultural and exported labour to the Philippines, this has been a huge achievement and one that owes nothing to China.”


Reading about Taiwan was very interesting. That island was originally named Formosa, which dates from 1542 when Portuguese sailors sighted an uncharted island and named it ‘Ilha Formosa’ – beautiful island. In 1625, the Dutch East India Company established a base in Taiwan.

The Ming rulers in China were increasingly preoccupied with a growing threat from the Manchu, or Qing, to the north. In 1644, Beijing fell and the Ming dynasty ended, succeeded by the Qing who ruled Formosa too. In 1911, the Qing Dynasty collapsed and that date is when the Republic of China in the island was established.

In 1861, Great Britain opened the first consulate on the island and “early consular reports are peppered with frustration at the unwillingness or outright refusal of government representatives on the island to adhere to agreements set down in bilateral treaties.”

The Japanese had controlled Taiwan for 50 years (1895-1945) with Tokyo sending 19 governors general to rule Taiwan. Upon the defeat of Japan in August 1945, Chiang Kai-shek, who was head of China sent troops and administrators to take control of Taiwan. “The Taiwanese had been expecting liberation from Japanese rule to lead to self-government, not the imposition of another regime. The move was far from popular, dissatisfaction only compounded by Chiang’s handling of it. Corruption, nepotism and minor altercations grew, and hardly any locals spoke Mandarin, yet overnight this was imposed as the official language. Not surprisingly, resentment grew while the economy collapsed, culminating in major riots at the end of February 1947. These were brutally put down. By some estimates as many as 20,000 Taiwanese lost their lives.”

Beginnings of modern Taiwan

Chiang was an ally to the Brits and Americans, helping them to defeat Japan in WW II. Then came the civil war with the communists led by Mao Zedong and Chiang’s Nationalists were defeated in 1948. The next year his government and army retreated to Taiwan where he presided over a tumultuous period of martial law, social reforms and economic prosperity. He was President of the Republic of China for five six-year terms and also Director General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975. It was a rival government to China and the world’s nations had to choose between the two. Most recognised mainland China. “Just 15 nations, most of them small island states in the Caribbean or Pacific, have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.” Between 1946 and 1949 an estimated one million mainland Chinese fled to Taiwan, whose own population in 1940 had been less than six million.

After Chiang died in 1975, his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, sensing the changing tide of global opinion in favour of the People’s Republic of China, took the first steps towards the introduction of democratic government. Martial law was lifted in 1987 and in 1996 the Taiwanese were finally able to choose their own president through direct elections. Since then, democratic governance has taken firm root and the present President is the fourth and first woman to head the nation. Opinion polls show a growing majority consider themselves Taiwanese, not Chinese; proud of their country’s history and identity.

Mao Zedong, once he came into power, had aimed at bringing Taiwan under the party’s control as part of the ‘Motherland’. “Mao might have succeeded, too, had he not intervened in support of Kim Il-sung in the Korean War in 1950, prompting the US to move to support Chiang on Taiwan.”

The San Francisco Conference of 1951 was convened to conclude the peace agreement with Japan and agree on the post-war order in Asia. “Although Japan renounced its claim to Taiwan, with the US and UK recognising different Chinese governments, both of which were excluded from the conference, no agreement was reached and a decision on the status of Taiwan was shelved. As far as Britain was concerned, de jure sovereignty over Taiwan remained undetermined, while the US recognised Chiang’s Republic of China in Taipei as the legitimate Chinese government, a position that only changed in 1979.”

Taiwanese companies are among the biggest investors, exporters and employers in China. “The rapprochement reached its pinnacle in 2015 in Singapore, with the first ever meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan. The move was widely interpreted in Taiwan as an attempt to boost the prospects of a ‘China-friendly’ president in the election due in early 2016; which misfired badly. After Tsai Ing-wen’s victory, China largely cut off official contact and stepped up its threats and intimidation against the island. In 2020 Tsai was re-elected in a landslide, her success widely attributed to Taiwanese reactions to China’s clampdown in Hong Kong in the preceding months.” And now unless mainland China, it is said, can bring itself to accept reality, the Taiwan Strait will remain one of the world’s potential flashpoints.

Source : The Island


Facts given above are mainly from a long article by Michael Reilly, who is a non-resident Senior Fellow in the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham.