China vs. Taiwan: A Dissolving Conflict

China vs. Taiwan: A Dissolving Conflict

On October 10, 1911, China’s weakened Qing Dynasty was ended by the Wuchang Uprising.  A new nationalist government was created in Nanjing, to lead the newly formed Republic of China.  It was headed by Sun Yat-sen, who ruled as the head of the Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party (“Fall of the Qing”).  As the development of this new nation progressed, Yat-sen reached for support from Western nations, such as the United States.  Unable to find allies in these giants, he went to the Soviet Union for aid.  The USSR accepted, but in an off-hand way.  They gave a joint alliance to the Kuomintang and the recently created Communist Party of China.  Thus began the conflict that would eventually evolve into the animosity between China and Taiwan (“Chinese Civil War”).

In 1923, the Soviet Union helped to unite the two parties into one: the First United Front.  However, this alliance wasn’t one that was destined to work.  In 1927, the First United Front began to split.  The original Communist Party and the liberal side of the Kuomintang decided to move the headquarters of the government from Guangzhou to Wuhan, where there was a great amount of communist influence.  In spite of that, the new successor of Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-Shek wanted to move away from communist authority, so he supported a move to Jiangxi.  He protested that the Communist Party was being affected by the Soviet Union.  This was against the rules that Sun Yat-sen had set forth for the nation (“Chinese Civil War”).  Thus, Chiang’s disapproval of the communists was increased, leading to the event now known as the Shanghai Massacre.  On April 12, 1927, his forces marched into several cities and captured then executed between 5,000 and 6,000 prisoners (“Shanghai Massacre”).  The Shanghai Massacre was the event that began the Chinese Civil War.

The Chinese Civil War was a great event, but the conflict between China, after the war known as the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, didn’t truly begin until the end of this war.  In 1949, the civil war ended, and Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang, and his nationalist party withdrew to Taiwan, an island just east of China, along with two million refugees.  Though they retreated to keep an amount of land to themselves, their overall goal was to challenge the communist party, and recover the China that they ruled before the Civil War.  The first problem encountered there in Taiwan was resistance from the natives, who wanted their land back.  In response to this opposition, a “martial law”, was enacted (“China-Taiwan History”), resulting in the executions of thousands of adversaries to the Nationalist Party ideas over the next thirty-eight years.

On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began.  The war was directly between the communist North Korea and the democratic South Korea, but both were supported by their allies.  China supported North Korea, and the United States supported South Korea.  This made the war a conflict between China and the US.  The US wanted to prevent China from expanding, to limit it.  Due to this, President Harry Truman sent US forces to defend Taiwan from China.  This allowed the US to prevent the expansion of communist countries all across Asia, since Taiwan was considered an intermediary from this (“China-Taiwan History”).

In the 1960s, the trouble began again.  At this point in time, Taiwan was still considered part of “China”, though this could be either the Republic of China or People’s Republic of China. The issue was that the natives of Taiwan began protesting for an independent state.  This caused the actual focus of the Kuomintang to advancing the country they had, Taiwan, rather than putting their resources into regaining control of the rest of China (“China-Taiwan History”).

Unfortunately, though, within the next ten years, the rest of the world began to turn against Taiwan.  As the Cold War was coming to an end, the US, among other countries, was looking to prevent Soviet ideas such as Soviet expansionism from spreading.  Of course, one of the main countries that would be affected by this ideology would be China.  Therefore, the US set to make alliances with China, with the intention of making it a more democratic nation.  This meant that they began to favor the People’s Republic of China’s (China’s) government over the Republic of China’s (Taiwan’s).  In 1971, the United States booted the nationalist government out of Taipei, in Taiwan, and replaced it with the communist government of the PRC.  Furthermore, in 1978, the US began to recognize the PRC as a State, so it lost its connections with Taiwan (“China-Taiwan History”).

In 1987, the Taiwanese martial law was ended by the leader, Chiang Chin-kuo, who had succeeded his father, Chiang Kai-Shek.  Only a year later, Chiang Ching-kuo died, and was replaced by his vice-president, Lee Teng-hui.  Lee tried a different strategy for Taiwan.  After he was reelected as president in 1990, he began to enhance Taiwan’s diplomatic relations with other countries around the world, specifically the US.  In fact, five years later in 1995, he even visited President Clinton in the US (“China-Taiwan History”).

In 1996, the elections brought up new problems for Taiwan.  China began firing test missiles in the Taiwan Straits as a show of force meant to alter the voting.  However, the US, who supported the election of a leader like Lee rather than one that would support China, responded to this strongly.  It sent warships to the Taiwan Straits to show that the US was just as powerful as China, and on Taiwan’s side.  This worked, and Lee won a second term (“China-Taiwan History”).

The conflict between China and Taiwan is one that has fluctuated as other issues have come up in both countries.  But throughout all of this, China refuses to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state, and this alone causes much of the conflict between them.  There have been attempts to figure this out, such as Taiwanese President Lee’s 1999 statement to China that they could have negotiations one state to another, but these have been rejected by the opposite side, which refuses to negotiate with a government that is considered by them part of China (“China-Taiwan History”).  The simple fact is that China is so powerful right now that they won’t be swayed by anyone.  Though there are many solutions, the only ideal one is for China to just accept Taiwan as a state.

Since the Chinese Revolution at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Taiwan and China have been in conflict.  The underlying idea is that Taiwan wants to be recognized as an independent state by China, and more importantly, the rest of the world.  However, its people want to avoid violence, and believe that at the moment, the best solution is to simply stay put.

China’s main motivation depends on the so-called “One China” Principle.  It says that there can be no two Chinas, there is only one.  Either the Republic of China (Taiwan) or the People’s Republic of China (China) must be the one.  Of course, since it’s the more powerful one, China argues that it should be the one.  China uses the fact that this principle was confirmed by the 1992 Hong Kong Consensus of both countries to back this up (Roberge).

Taiwan, on the other hand, is motivated simply by the fact that it wants to be internationally recognized as an actual country.  One of their first demands is to be recognized and accepted by the United Nations.  Currently, Resolution 2758 bans Taiwan from the United Nations (Roberge).  According to the geographer Matt Rosenberg, Taiwan has all the criteria to be considered its own country.  It has, and controls, land that is within internationally recognized borders, even though some countries, such as China, dispute it.  Taiwan has year-round citizens.  The country has a working economy that trades with other countries, and has its own money, the new Taiwan dollar.  It has an education system.  A government that provides for it is present (Rosenberg).  Along with this, the KMT (Kuomintang), or the Chinese Nationalist Party, that controls Taiwan, had control of the Chinese government before the Chinese Civil War.  Even if Taiwan no longer wants to control the entire country of China, the KMT wants some land to control (Rosenberg).

Since the 1960s, when Taiwan’s focus changed from reclaiming the rest of China to developing itself, its politics have been somewhat oriented around independence from China.  Recently, though, the mentality has been changing.  The KMT recovered control of the government of Taiwan in 2008, after the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) had had authority for eight years.  The DPP has very different ideals.  Its goal, while it was in office, was to gain Taiwanese independence, at virtually any cost.  The KMT, however, was less demanding.  They decided to attempt to create peace with China.  As of now, this attempt has kept its integrity, and Taiwan’s relations with China are much friendlier.  China has backed down, and is not as aggressive or hostile as they were previously (Roberge).

The current military situation of both countries shows that both are more or less ready to go to war with each other, even if neither supports the idea of violence.  China is persistently developing new weapons technologies, especially amphibian attack machines and missiles.  Therefore, Taiwan is at a constant threat from China’s powerful military.  Taiwan, on the other hand, being a smaller and less powerful country than China, has a smaller military, as well, putting it at a disadvantage.  However, it is a very large weapons customer for the entire world, once again mainly the US.  In fact, between 2000 and 2007, Taiwan purchased $8.4 billion worth of weapons from international sources.  This number is highly variable, as yearly weapons purchases depend on the deals made in that year, but this is still a huge number, as part of Taiwan’s annual defense budget of $12.92 billion, compared to the top weapons consumer in the world, India’s, $34 billion dollars.  $4.1 billion of these weapons were bought from the US between 2003 and 2006.  The US, though, is one of China’s biggest trade partners.  Accordingly, the sales were a great risk for the US, since they could negatively impact their trade relations with China, who didn’t, and still doesn’t, support weapons sales to Taiwan.  China convinced the US to freeze these sales between 2007 and 2008, but in 2008, the US ended up selling $6.4 billion in military equipment to Taiwan.  This resulted in China dropping its “military contacts” (Roberge) with the US.  This didn’t work, so these were reinstated in July 2009 (Roberge).

Though both countries have an ongoing conflict, there’s one thing they definitely agree on.  They want to quickly deal with the economic issues of transportation and trade before larger, more complex problems, so as to continue their economic integration (Roberge).  Both countries are very powerful economic players.  According to the CIA World Factbook, China’s GDP is the third greatest in the world, and Taiwan’s is the twentieth (“Country Comparison”).  This means that to both of them, their main priority is to maintain their economic standing.  Furthermore, they must do this together.  Both became part of the World Trade Organization in 2001, Taiwan as Chinese Taipei.  In 2007, the “bilateral trade” (Roberge) between the two countries amounted to $102 billion, which was up from $8 billion in 1991.  Also, thirty percent of Taiwan’s exports are to China (Roberge).  The conflict between the two is almost strictly political.  When it comes to money, the two countries will make peace if it means even more money.

Overall, the current situation between China and Taiwan is mellowing from the violence of the twentieth century.  The KMT, which has recently recovered control of Taiwan, is working to make peace with China.  This is through negotiations and compromises.  The advantage of this is that it has raised the bilateral trade between China and Taiwan tremendously since the 20th century.  From here, Taiwan wants to be recognized as an independent country because it has all the criteria, and it wants to be recognized on international committees, such as the United Nations.  China wants to completely annex Taiwan, and create One China.  Many countries, especially the US, will have a huge role in deciding that.

Currently, China and Taiwan have opposing viewpoints on many issues, specifically ones concerning Taiwan.  Taiwan wants to be internationally recognized as an individual country.  China wants Taiwan to be part of the “One China” that includes Taiwan, China, and Tibet.  Both countries have lately become less aggressive.  Taiwan isn’t as insistent on gaining independence as before, and China isn’t as insistent on annexing Taiwan.  This period of peace has resulted in immensely increased economic interactions between the two countries.  Between 1991 and 2007, the bilateral trade increased nearly thirteen times.  There are really three solutions to this conflict.  The first is for Taiwan and China to preserve the status quo.  The second is for China and Taiwan to unify into one China.  The final solution would be for China, and the rest of the world along with it, to recognize Taiwan as an independent country.

Fairly recently, on June 29th, 2010, both countries signed a pact, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.  This arrangement served to lower economic trade barriers between the two countries (Kohli).  With the already massive bilateral trade between China and Taiwan, $102 billion in 2007, this signified a lightening of relations as well (Roberge).  However, it further shows an economic alliance that is so large that nothing else should interfere with it.  With the current situation of relative political stability, a unification of the two, or full independence of Taiwan could cause conflict that would disrupt this balance.  Simply keeping the relations as they are right now could strengthen the ties even further, and empower the economies of the two countries with it (Kohli).

The only negative side of this solution is that it doesn’t address some of the main reasons Taiwan wants independence.  One of these would be admittance onto the United Nations, and therefore, recognition as an independent nation by other countries.  Resolution 2758 currently forbids Taiwan from the United Nations, but the country has recently joined the World Health Assembly, a segment of the United Nations, as Chinese Taipei.  China didn’t object to this.  Therefore, it could mean that in the near future, Resolution 2758 could be nullified, and Taiwan accepted onto the United Nations (Roberge).

Since the beginning of the conflict between China and Taiwan, China has supported the Once China Principle.  This policy ultimately says that there cannot be two Chinas, a People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (Taiwan).  Therefore Taiwan is a definite part of the original China (Roberge).  Although this seems like it completely favors China, it could potentially be a good thing for Taiwan.  With increasingly close economies, the people of Taiwan could support a similarly close political system.  Unification could make it easier for Taiwanese citizens to work on the mainland and for Taiwanese companies to have more access to profitable business in China.  If this type of solution were to be put in place, Taiwan would be considered part of China, but it could have its own government, with an individual congress and executive branch.  This would allow Taiwan and China to have even closer economic relations, increasing the economic power of both, while solving the debate on Taiwan’s political status (Kohli).

The negative aspects of this solution, though, are strong enough to ensure that this solution doesn’t happen.  Foreign and defensive policy would be controlled by China.  It’s quite obvious that, as two separate countries, the two won’t agree on all of these.  Therefore, this solution would end up with Taiwan pushing back for independence from China, so as to reinstate their own policies (Kohli).  The issue with the previous solution remains here, although it is increased.  As a part of another country, Taiwan definitely can’t join the United Nations, whereas, it is currently only forbidden from the United Nations because Resolution 2758 refers directly and solely to Taiwan.  In the end, this solution solves none of Taiwan’s political problems (Roberge).

The final resolution to the conflict between China and Taiwan is for China to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent country, thus allowing it to be internationally recognized, and allowing it to join the United Nations.  This is perhaps the simplest solution because it keeps the situation relatively close to the status quo, while giving Taiwan what they want.  It isn’t a loss to China from the current situation, since Taiwan doesn’t consider itself a part of China anyways.  Along with that, the economic relations between the two countries could be sustained without any risk of political unrest.  The only negative consequence is that this could end up imposing more economic barriers between the two countries.  Ideally, this could be avoided through their unification, but that, as was earlier stated, is not practical.

The three solutions for the conflict between China and Taiwan are for both countries to sustain the current state of affairs, and just wait it out, for the both to unify into “One China”, or for China to simply recognize, and allow the rest of the world to recognize Taiwan as an individual country.  All of these solutions have their own viability, and all of them have their own negative aspects, though unification perhaps has the most.  Each one could work, or could end up causing a war between the two.  China and Taiwan will have to decide which will be the most acceptable to both parties, and work to make sure that violence does not erupt out of it.

As for all conflicts, there is a set of solutions for the conflict between China and Taiwan.  The most common solutions are for Taiwan to join China, to create one China, for China to recognize Taiwan as an independent country, or for the two countries to sustain the current state of affairs.  The ideal solution to end this problem would be for China to recognize Taiwan as an independent country.  This solution satisfies the demands that Taiwan has been putting forth since the 1960s, to develop their country independently (“China-Taiwan History”).  Furthermore, it could leave the economic relations between the two countries undisturbed if executed correctly.  It addresses what both countries really want.

For a country to have a seat on the United Nations, it must be internationally recognized as an independent state (Rosenberg).  Until 1971, Taiwan was part of the United Nations.  However, on the twenty-fifth of October in the specified year, the United Nations passed Resolution 2758, expelling Taiwan from the United Nations, and replacing it with the “real” China, the People’s Republic of China, informally known as China (“China-Taiwan History”).  The world had formally declared that Taiwan was controlled by China.  If China, the country controlling Taiwan, were to declare Taiwan’s independence, as Taiwan has declared to no avail against China, Taiwan would also be recognized by most other countries.  These countries have simply sided with China because their economies are dependent on China, and they don’t want to anger an ally.  If China supported Taiwan, much of the world would support Taiwan.  These other countries could then accept Taiwan’s petitions to join the UN, and everybody would be satisfied.

One of the reasons that Taiwan has toned down its appeals to China for independence is because it is afraid of disturbing the economic interdependency that has been created between it and China.  However, if China were to make the first move towards recognizing Taiwan’s independence, and ensure that violence wouldn’t break out, the economic situation could remain status quo.  Furthermore, if the relationship between the two countries is improved, Taiwanese companies could become less reluctant to do business in China, increasing their economic interdependency even further.  This solution might not resolve China’s demands to annex Taiwan, but it sustains the tremendous amounts of bilateral trade, as well as the low trade barriers.  Taiwan’s independence has the potential to improve economic relations between it and China to a point even better than they are right now.

It can be said, however, that other solutions could be more favorable towards the economic desires of both countries.  For example, the unification of China and Taiwan would lower trade barriers even further.  Politically, though, this would be a very impractical plan.  Firstly, unification would allow Taiwan to have independent legislative and executive branches of government, but its foreign and defensive policy would be controlled by China’s government.  Such a politically and defensively active country as Taiwan wouldn’t last long under this type of rule.  The unification would quickly dissolve as Taiwan’s separate opinions from China caused it to force a separation upon China.  Ideally, Taiwan would come to Western countries, especially the US for political help.  However, if Taiwan is actually a part of China, these countries will be even more reluctant to help, as the economic consequences with China would be even larger than they currently are.  Therefore, unification would be a complete and utter success solely for China.

After the recent Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, trade barriers have been lowered even further.  This could potentially signify that if developments continue at this rate into the future, economic interdependence will expand to a point where the political status of Taiwan no longer matters to either country, simply by sustaining the status quo.  Unfortunately, that directly references the future.  Presently, the relationship is relatively stable on the outside, simply because the current leaders are afraid of interference to their economic affairs with China, but just underneath, the relationship is just on the verge of tipping.  Though both sides might prefer to leave the cause of this instability, the disagreement on how to recognize Taiwan, out of negotiations for now, this relative peace can’t last forever.  Eventually, if a decision isn’t made, the conflict will return, and nothing will have been solved.  Therefore, since this eliminates two of the three options, only the option of giving independence to Taiwan is left.

Unfortunately for Taiwan, China has refused to give the country independence for the decades that it has been seeking independence.  So how can they achieve it now?  Some would say that it is even harder now than ever before, as China is steadily becoming the most powerful nation in the world, leaving virtually no one to change their opinions.  However, ideally, now would be the time to act, as the world is slowly leaving a recession behind.  If Taiwan could gather enough countries that have close economic interactions, such as the power giant, the US, it could influence China through these countries to give it independence, with threats of disruption to economic relations.  Of course, this particular solution wouldn’t be ideal at this moment as much of the world is still reeling from its deficits and debts, especially places such as Europe and North America, and could still use as much economic help as possible.  In the long term, though, its potential is huge.

The most mutually acceptable solution to the conflict between China and Taiwan is for China to recognize Taiwan as a fully independent country because this would satisfy Taiwan’s demands for independence and acceptance onto the United Nations, as well as sufficiently sustaining and potentially strengthening economic relations between the two countries, which is one of China’s biggest needs from Taiwan.  It is better than the solution of reunifying China and Taiwan because it fairly solves the conflict for both sides, rather than greatly favoring China.  It is better than the solution of sustaining the status quo because it doesn’t leave a great underlying instability.  This might ultimately be the solution for the conflict between China and Taiwan, but it isn’t ideal to undertake the responsibility of doing this at such a rough time for the entire world, what with the giant recession, several natural disasters, and the issues in the Middle East.  Therefore, one might wonder, with such a huge conflict that seems to be dissolving itself, is it really worth trying to solve it?

 Works Cited

“China-Taiwan History.” PBS Online NewsHour. MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, 07 mar 2000. Web. 1 May 2011. <;.

“Chinese Civil War.” New World Encyclopedia. 24 Oct 2008, 20:40 UTC. 11 May 2011, 04:43 <>.

“Country Comparison: GDP (Purchasing Power Parity.” CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 2011. Web. 3 May 2011. <;.

“Fall of the Qing.” Chinese History. Chinavoc, 2007. Web. 30 Apr 2011. <;.

Kohli, Jitinder. “Where Will China and Taiwan Go from Here.” Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress, 29 Jun 2010. Web. 8 May 2011. <;.

Roberge, Michal, and Lee Youkyung. “China-Taiwan Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 11 aug 2009. Web. 2 May 2011. <;.

Rosenberg, Matt. “Is Taiwan a Country?.” Geography., 02 mar 2011. Web. 3 May 2011. <;.

“Shanghai Massacre: China 1927.” Wars of the World16 DEC 2000. n. pag. Armed Conflict Events Database. Web. 30 Apr 2011. <;.


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