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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 42, New Delhi, October 3, 2020

The wrangle over Taiwan: An issue of muscle-flexing between China and the US | Sheel Bhadra Kumar

Friday 2 October 2020, by Sheel Bhadra Kumar

Recently visits of the US health secretary, Alex Azar and the U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and environment, keith Krach to Taiwan inspired further anger and wrath from China.China in retaliation against Taiwan sent 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-S anti-submarine aircrafts which crossed the Taiwan midline, some crossing Taiwan’s air defence identification zone and south-west coast. Taiwan has recently complained of repeated violation by Chinese aircrafts this year and has regularly had to scramble of its F-16s and other jets to intercept them. Thus we witness a sharp deterioration of the Geo-political climate in North-China Sea threatening peace and stability in this region. China and Taiwan last fought on a large scale in 1958, when Chinese forces carried bombardment on the Taiwan controlled Kinmen and Matsu islands, naval and air battles. But now situation is highly serious, challenging and having sufficient ignition to threaten global peace and stability already badly inflicted by pandemic covid-19.Thus it is aptly required to understand the complexity of Taiwan issue.

            The issue of Taiwan is one of the most vexed and complicated issues of world politics that shapes the Sino-U.S. relationships [ barring trade, cyber security,technology,Hong Kong’s national security and others]. China regards Taiwan as a break away province, but Taiwan regards itself to be a sovereign state having democratically elected government, a democratic constitution, freedom of press and freedom of speech and expression and an active troops of 300000 to protect its boundary and territorial integrity. China often threatens Taiwan to grab it militarily. The US factor in China-Taiwan dispute makes it regionally and globally highly sensitive.

Geographical Location

Taiwan is a vibrant democracy inhabited by 23 million people. The main island of Taiwan has an area of 35808sqkm.It is called the Republic of China (ROC) and is a partially recognised country in East Asia. It lays some 180 kms across the Taiwan Strait from the South-Eastern coast of mainland china. The East China Sea lies to its north, the Philippine Sea to its east, the Low zone strait directly to its south and the South China Sea to its South-West. Smaller islands include a number in the Taiwan Strait, Penghu archipelago, the Kinmen and Matsu islands and other some of the South China Sea islands.

Specificity about Taiwan

The population of Taiwan is highly educated. Its annual GDP is greater than the Scandinavian countries. It is a strong manufacturing and electronic based countries. It has world class infrastructure, free and robust manufacturing environment having extensive parks. Taiwan is strategic ally of the US, but the US has no official embassy in Taipei. Along with the US other global powers like, The UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, Israel, India and others have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Only 15 smaller countries like, Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Swaziland, Honduras, Paraguay, St. Lucia and others have recognised Taiwan till date.

Historical Background:

Taiwan was inhabited by Austronesian tribal people from southern china. It was briefly colonized by the Dutch colonizers from 1624 AD to 1661 AD. Afterwards it was conquered and administered by china’s Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1859 AD. In 1895, Japan conquered it in the first Sino-Japanese war. After defeat, the Qing government had to cede Taiwan to Japan. Taiwan remained under the occupation and governance of Japan till World War II. After World War II, the Republic of china stared ruling Taiwan after Japan’s surrender. Now Taiwan was taken over by China.

After World War II in 1945, we find an intensification of power struggle between the peoples’ republic of china, PRC lead by Mao Zedong and the republic of China (ROC) led by Chiang kai- shek, (KMT) Kuomintang of China. First we see a shift of Kuomintang under Chiang kai -shek to western part of China, but Chiang kai -shek soon realised that increasing influence of Mao Zedong and his ideologies in mainland China will not permit its survival. Therefore Chiang kai- shek shifted to a small tiny island of China named Formosa (then] and now [Taiwan).

In the 1950s Mao zedong’s Red army moved to conquer all lost territories (imperial possessions) by bringing them under communist rule. China conquered Tibet and Xinjiang. But his troops failed to conquer Taiwan.

Immediately his arrival to Taiwan (former Formosa), the Mandarin speaking Kuomintang party imposed its interpretations of Chinese identity on a people that spoke Japanese and a diverse mix of indigenous Austronesian tongues.

The legacy of forced sinicization under Chiang and his successor Ching-Ching-kuo continued.

Changing Mood:

We find a sense of growing resentment and subdued protests by the inhabitants of Taiwan. As the power (economic, military, technological and others) of china grew during Mao, China started asserting enormously. With the increase of its power, china started asserting regionally and globally (occasionally). Till 1970, Chiang Kai-shek, the Republic of China held UNSC seat and UN membership. Till date, it was recognised by many western countries as the only Chinese government representative. But in 1971, the UN switched its seat to mainland China. The comity of nations established diplomatic relations with mainland China. The ROC government was forced to relinquish its seat in in UNSC and the U.N since then only a few countries have recognised ROC, the government of Taiwan fearing wrath, retaliation and deprivation from China.

Taiwan Identity:

Slowly, we find an assertion of separate identity from China in Taiwan due to its provocations and interferences. Following are some of its reasons:

  • Separation from mainland china arose a growing feeling in Taiwanese that they deserve a natural right to continue as a separate state.
  • The political awakening of the youth and new generation of Taiwan impelled them to assert Taiwan identity.
  • The suppression and threatening measures taken by china led to Taiwan awakening. The Taiwanese started asserting ethnic Taiwanese identity.
  • The emphasis on one china principal of the communist party of china and repeated threat of military actions against Taiwan has generated a sense of alienation among the inhabitants of Taiwan.

 Conflicting claims

 Beijing and Taipei sharply disagree on the status of Island. The communist government of China asserts that there is one china and Taiwan lies in its integral and inalienable territory. China asserts that Taiwan is bound by 192 Consensus held between the representatives of CPC and KMT ruling party of Taiwan. But the Tsai Ing-Wen led DPP government has rejected this consensus.

After the normalization of relationship between China and the U.S, after 1972’s,the U.S.president,Richard Nixon visited Beijing and a joint communique was signed between the two countries in 1979.In this agreement the U.S. accepted one china policy and accepted Taiwan as the part of China. The U.S, administration switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei successor U.S.president, Richard Jimmy Carter terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to soften and hasten relations with China. But soon the U.S. realised its folly of giving excess leeway to China.China had started misusing the spirit of normalization of its relationship with the U.S. to hasten its power assertion in Asiatic regions. The U.S. congress passed Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] to assist Taiwan in situation of external threat to defend itself. Under this Act, the U.S. arm sales to Taiwan were worth 25 billion dollars between 2007-2018.The supplies of arms to Taiwan is one of the irritants between China and the U.S in normalization process.

 During Chiang kai -Shek regime in Taiwan, we find an even and stable relationship between China and Taiwan but after his demise, we see a growing democratic movement in Taiwan under Chiang Ching Kuo regime. He allowed the process of democratization which eventually led to the 2000 election of the island’s first non-KMT regime under Chen-Sui-been election in 2016 and 2020;Tsai Ing- wen defeated Eric Chu.The present incumbent asserts for independence of Taiwan from authoritarian and dictatorial regime of China.

Objectives of China

- China now intends to become a pacific power. Its mission can not be realised until it territorially integrates Taiwan in mainland China.

- It wants to control some of the world’s most cutting edge technologies. IN its realization of 5-G technology, it would be easier to get software micro chip from Taiwan which the U.S. has denied supply for China.

- By control of Taiwan, China would get a leverage it could use to restrict or close the U.S. military bases in this region.

- In this region lie the U.S. ally’s countries like Japan, South Korea and others. If China controls this region, it can easily choke off supplies of essential items like oil, vital for their survival.

- Taiwan was under the great Qing Empire.

The ethnic make-up of Taiwanese population favours China. It is overwhelmingly Han dominated population in Taiwan.

     The economic, military and geo-strategic compulsions force the pay its attention on this region and Taiwan. The U.S. seeks to balance China’s emergence as a regional and global power. In 1996, in the first presidential election in Taiwan, China conducted missile tests to influence the election process there. In its response, the U.S.president, Richard Bill Clinton ordered its biggest military display by sending military ships to Taiwan Strait to give clear message to China. In the same way, the present U.S president Donald Trump sent its military carrier Nimitz and Ronald Reagan to the south-China region in Taiwan’s support. In its effort to deepen its relations with Taiwan, the U.S.administration is proposing multiple arms deal, establishing embassy in Taipei and selling advanced weapons, missiles and latest warfare technology to it.

 In short, we find a stiff competition between China and the dominance and hegemony in south-east Asian region where lies a tiny islandic democratic country Taiwan where China wants to quell democratic aspirations of the Taiwanese by crude force.

[Dr. Sheel Bhadra Kumar, Associate Professor of Political Science, Government Girls’ college Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh]

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