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Taiwan Independence (History Essay Example)

Taiwan or the Republic of China is a partially recognized state in East Asia that had a one-party system and took its widespread diplomatic recognition and control of the whole of China earlier. Now it has turned into a democratic state with limited diplomatic acknowledgement and monitor over Taiwan Island only and its surrounding isles. It is one of the founders of the UN and was previously included in the UN Security Council (in 1971, the place of the Republic of China was transferred to the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations). The Republic of China is recognized by 22 member states of the United Nations. However, in fact, it maintains its relations with the majority of countries around the world through its offices. Taiwan is an object of the so-called Taiwanese issue of its independence from China. The purpose of the paper is to analyze the history of this country, the reasons for its independence, and its place in the system of international relations.

The Brief History of Taiwan

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The issues related to independence of Taiwan traces back to the history of China-Taiwan relations. Trade and navigation across the Taiwan Strait between mainland China and the island had started long before the development of the Chinese one. The Chinese army committed a campaign to Taiwan and Penghu, after which the connection between China and the isles became more regular. In the 12th century, Taiwan was officially included in China as a part of Fujian province (Manthorpe 13). During the 16th century, the flow of immigration to the island from the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong had increased (Manthorpe 14). The process of development of the isle by the Chinese accelerated governments helped to develop agriculture and handicrafts.
Since the end of 16th – early 17th centuries, the invasion of foreign conquerors to Taiwan had begun (Manthorpe 28). Initially, the Japanese feudal lords and pirates tried to settle in Keelung, Kaohsiung, and Hualien. In 1683, the Manchu Qing dynasty army landed in Taiwan. The island was incorporated into the Chinese province of Fujian. The Eastern coast of the isle had remained quite deserted during the 18th century. However, in the 19th century, the Amoy traders planted rice and tea over the entire island being exported primarily to Japan (Manthorpe 121). In 1875, Taiwan became the capital of the north of Taipei. In 1886, it was isolated in a separate Chinese province. The defeat in the war with Japan forced the Qing government to cede Taiwan to the Japanese state in 1895. Chinese patriots tried to form an independent state in Taiwan called Taiwan Republic. However, the Japanese quickly suppressed this attempt (Manthorpe 110). From 1895 to 1945, the island had been a part of the empire of Japan. Therefore, it was divided into several prefectures (Manthorpe 130). After the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, the island became a part of the Republic of China.
The history of this republic began after the Qing dynasty in 1912. At that time, the formed Republic of China marked the end of the imperial rule in China that had lasted for more than two thousand years (Manthorpe 135). In 1928, the Han nationalist Kuomintang party united the country in the early stages of industrialization and modernization, when there were some conflicts between the Kuomintang, the remaining warlords, Japan, and the Chinese Communist Party.
A number of political, economic and military mistakes did not allow defeating the Kuomintang and forced it to retreat to Taiwan in 1949. Therefore, an authoritarian one-party state, considered as a legitimate government of all China, was established. However, after the beginning of political liberalization in the late 1970s, the Republic of China or Taiwan became a multi-party representative of democracy.
Through the infrastructure that were the remains of Japanese colonization and modernization reforms undertaken by the Kuomintang government in 1960-1970-ies, the state had gradually evolved into a prosperous industrial country, becoming one of the four Asian Tigers.
Nowadays, Taiwan’s problem is reduced mainly to the United States and China with its opposite vision of the political future of the island. The revitalization of Japan’s policy towards Taiwan is expected.

The Prerequisites for Taiwan Independence

After World War II, Taiwan was returned to China having both de jure and de facto. The emergence of the new Taiwanese issue is related to the ensuing of the anti-popular Kuomintang that had launched a civil war in China, especially with the intervention of foreign forces (Harner).
The relations between mainland China and Taiwan were based on The 1992 Consensus, when the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait was created. Moreover, Taiwan creates the current relations with the Chinese state on the rule of Three No’s by a president Ma Ying-jeou deciphered as “No unification, no independence, no war”. The 1992 Consensus means the recognition of one China by both parties of China and Taiwan, with each of them retaining their vision of the whole country. For example, the Government of the Republic of China considers itself the only Chinese state. The 1992 Consensus includes the support for economic and cultural relations between the parties, as well as the involvement of political parties and groups to develop a reunification program. There is also a denial of a military solution to the problem. Thus, the question of whether and under whose leadership the reunion happens remains unsolved. It is theoretically possible that China’s government would play a crucial role here as it is the country with its veto right in the UN.
Nevertheless, The 1992 Consensus today is increasingly questioned on the part of politicians and the population of the island, starting with the total defense concept. That theory was proposed by the President Chen Shui-bian in 2003 against the protection from a possible aggression by the Communists, when the incident with the capture of students in the Parliament of the Republic of China in 2014 happened. Many Taiwanese are not willing to take rapid steps towards reunification with the mainland. The most radical ones of them advocate a complete break of any relationships, breaking the bonds and the formation of a new government of the Republic of Taiwan. At the backbone of that idea is the Democratic Progressive (Green) Party (Chien-Min 119).
The radicalization of independence ideas in Taiwan is a clear concern on the mainland. For example, there was a warning of Shanghai to cancel the forum Shanghai-Taipei and boycott the Universidad in 2017 from China, in response to the statement by Ke Wenzhe, the mayor of Taiwan’s capital (Taipei) (Menconi). Instead of the regulation of “One state – two systems“, Ke proposed such one of “Two states – one system” (Menconi).
As for cultural prerequisites, the world significance of Taiwan is not limited to its role as one of the leading economies in the world. Taiwan is also unique in its kind of political and cultural education. It is the only country in the area of Chinese civilization and even the Far East, which has a full-fledged multi-party democracy with the experience of a peaceful transfer of power. Taiwan has its own government and its own powerful economy. Its investment is welcomed in the whole world. Taiwanese citizens are traveling around the globe with the passports of their country. Moreover, it is doubtful that they are willing to lose their right to live so voluntarily.
On the other hand, China has no legal rights for Taiwan (Yazhou 60). Post-war agreements do not determine the Chinese sovereignty over the Taiwanese state. Moreover, Beijing was not even a part of such agreements. Moreover, according to the international law, the territory can be passed from one state to another only by providing the signature and ratification. Therefore, the people of Taiwan have their legal right to self-determination, as enshrined in the international law. In addition, no other external parties, such as the US, China or even the United Nations’ Secretariat, can determine the status of the Taiwanese state, in accordance with the international law. However, it is only Taiwan itself that may define (Yazhou 68).

The Political Status of Taiwan on the Global Arena Now

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The complexity of political problems of Taiwan lies in the fact that China considers itself as a sole successor of the Republic of China formed in 1912. The Taiwanese country supposes itself to be the sole heir as well. The political position that “There is only one China” means that the political recognition of Taiwan automatically means non-acknowledgement of China and vice versa. From a perspective of the Chinese state, the hypothetical Taiwan Province is necessary for the territorial integrity of China. From the position of Taiwan, its lands are free as the Republic of China. Meanwhile it is a remaining part of China’s mainland in this free area being not included. The political system of either of other parties does not include the notion of the independent state of Taiwan. It constantly becomes the cause of disputes, including the military confrontation with serious complications and even a political threat.
There are some attempts to resolve the situation. Taiwan is trying to gain its membership in the UN as an independent state (and not as a only one China). In Taiwan, there are the political movements, seeking to achieve the radical political compromises. The Chinese party also has received some offers to Taiwan’s status (they are similar to the status of Hong Kong). However, the sole agreement has not been reached yet.
Since the 90s of the 20th century, the political opposition has significantly softened its position. Taiwan has ceased to be regarded as a constant threat of invasion (which led to the rapid development of coastal areas, especially the province of Fujian). Moreover, the streamlined policy formulation has been found (such as Chinese Taipei) and economic relations have been established, allowing the visits of citizens and economic activity. We also consider the projects of the tunnel under the Taiwan Strait for a high-speed rail link between Beijing and Taipei.

Participation in International Organizations

Currently, 22 states have recognized the independence of the Republic of China. Taiwan is a full member of 32 international organizations and their bodies (Pease 98). In addition to the WTO, Taiwan is a member of the Asian Development Bank as Chinese Taipei (the name given under the Chinese influence) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as the Republic of China or ROC (for the same reason as mentioned above). The ROC has been actively seeking its membership in the UN, as well as in other international organizations for many years. Since 1993, Taipei has annually submitted an application for its participation in the United Nations Organization with the support of several countries that are its diplomatic allies. However, these efforts have always been unsuccessful. Given the fact that many states refuse to recognize the independence of the Republic of China in favor of China (Malawi, Costa Rica, Grenada, Liberia, Vanuatu, Chad, Dominica, and Senegal), the probability of its acknowledgement by the UN is gradually reduced (Winkler 1). The Chinese Taipei was one of the founders of the United Nations (along with the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France). Nevertheless, in 1971, after the adoption of the UN resolution on the right of China to be the representative that happened under the pressure from China’s Republic of China, Taiwan was forced to leave the ranks of this most important international organization. Since 1993, the ROC has carried out its annual campaigns and actions (usually in September) for the return to the ranks of the UN members (Winkler 3). Most countries-initiators appeal to the United Nations and the international communities to maintain diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. There is a recent trend of growing support for the island joining the UNO from large countries with only informal (though close) relations with the island. For example, the United States and several other states have recently acquired a more positive attitude to the issue of membership of the Chinese Taipei in international organizations.
Much attention is paid to the cooperation of the Republic of China with the World Trade Organization. The ROC is not only a full-fledged member of the most important international trade organization, but also actively participates in its activities. Moreover, in some areas, it affects the adoption of important decisions of the WTO (“A Decade of Taiwan WTO Membership”). The Republic of China has expressed interest in developing relations with the United States and the European Union concerning the access to markets not only related to agriculture though as well other areas. Taiwan as a full and active participant of the WTO continues to strengthen its economic and trade position and expand its activity in the framework of this international organization.
For many years, Taiwan has been trying hard to get membership in the World Health Organization. The country’s leaders have repeatedly called to the international community to support the Republic of China in the ranks of the WHO (Pease 78). Many times, the delegation from Taipei tried to participate in international conferences on medicine and health care, including the forums conducted by the World Health Organization itself. Its representatives have had lengthy talks about the forms of Taiwan’s participation in the work of this organization but unsuccessfully.
Taiwan launched the campaign to join the WHO as an observer in 1997. However, the need for entering the Republic of China in the World Health Organization became especially apparent in 2003 after a severe crisis caused by the Asian epidemic of SARS. That year, the Republic of China was among the countries that had been the hardest hit by this disease (DeLisle).
However, the chances of the ROC to enter the ranks of the WHO have increased more. The outbreaks of SARS, the recent start of H1N1 flu, have swept across the countries and continents. They were confirming the importance of the fight against international infections together and once again reminded of the long overdue need for Taiwan in the World Health Organization ranks (DeLisle). This organization is a main international coordinating body, the membership of which would allow a coordinated cooperation with other countries to solve pressing health problems faced by any state.
All this once again confirms a long and overdue need for the Republic of China’s full membership in the World Health Organization. That is why the ROC has been aggressively trying to join the ranks of the WHO for the past several years. Meanwhile it was seeking the support of its diplomatic allies. In the last two years, it was getting the support of the United States.
The Republic of China is also actively involved in the work of one of the major international organizations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Taipei has been a member of this body for many years. It is actively involved in its work as a full member. The main objectives of the organization are providing a free open trade regime and strengthening regional cooperation. However, due to political reasons, the President of the Republic of China is not able to participate in the APEC summits personally and sends a representative (Copper 1).

Taiwanese Foreign Policy

In the political history and international relations of the Republic of China, the so-called public diplomacy plays an important role. In the 1990s and especially after the election of the President Chen Shui-bian, the role of diplomacy has grown considerably. The concept of people’s diplomacy implies a mutual dialogue and cooperation and the involvement of all Taiwanese people in a process of international discussion within inter-ethnic and inter-social relations. This principle also implies the democratization of international politics, including the approaches of accountability and transparency and the complete involvement of the public in this process. Taiwan carries out essential diplomatic relations with many other countries around the world through their economic and cultural representatives (actually the embassies).
Despite the fact that the efforts of the Republic of China to become the UN member state do not lead to concrete results, these issues as well as appeals of diplomatic allies of Taiwan are rather debatable. Many participants in the discussion have certain sympathetic reactions to the proposals of Taipei. The participation of the ROC in the United Nations also finds its support in some meetings of other organizations associated with the UNO. The desire of the Chinese Taipei to participate in the united organization and in the activities related to the UN-related international bodies and the commitment to the consolidation of peace in the Taiwan Strait has been appreciated by the international community.

China’s and American Attitudes to the Taiwanese Problem

China recognizes the administrative division of Taiwan province the same as it was in 1949. Administrative changes in the internal structure taken by the Government of Taiwan are not considered legitimate. In particular, Taipei is considered the capital of the province but not Chung Hsing. Increasing the administrative status of municipalities of Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, and New Taipei City to the towns of the sub-provincial value is not recognized. In addition, the difference lies in the political status of some of the islands near the isle of Taiwan. Penghu Islands formally have the state of district in the province. However, in many official documents of the Republic of China, they are referred to as the isles with a special status. A lot of small islands belonging to the Chinese Taipei do not belong to the province, but to other districts that include Fujian, Guangdong, and Hainan. From both points of view (China and Taiwan), the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan, are related to the province of Taiwan.
Taiwan has some problems with getting membership in international organizations. The Republic of China is constantly faced with the objections of China and some other members of the UN. One of the main reasons for the annual attempts to Taipei to join the United Nations Organization being unsuccessful is the influence of China and its firm position on this issue.
There is a term Two Chinas denoting two existing current states, having the word China in official titles. They are the Republic of China more commonly known as Taiwan and the Chinese People’s Republic known as China that controls the mainland and the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The United States takes an active part in the Taiwanese issue. The main strategies of the USA in East Asia’s actions are aimed towards regional leaders – Japan and China. America has to simultaneously restrain, control, and appease China, quickly gaining not only an economic but also political force weight. One of the levers of power and ways to influence the Chinese state is through Taiwan. The Taiwanese issue is an important destructive factor of bilateral cooperation since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the US and China in 1979 until recently (Harner).
The constant threat that the Chinese country will choose the power scenario for solving the problem determines the development of the military cooperation between Washington and Taipei. Its scale and pace have varied depending on the position of the American administration, the political situation in the United States, the events affecting the interests of Washington and Beijing or occurring in the international arena. At the same time, the Chinese government has always reproached the USA for its military cooperation with Taiwan. Behind every fact of the US arms have followed a micro crisis in the US-Chinese relations. The dependence of Taiwan from the United States should continue to decrease as the exports to Southeast Asia and China grow. Therefore, Taiwan increases efforts to cooperate with the European market. In the current complex set of the US-Chinese relations, the issue of Taiwanese country is periodically updated mainly in the course of each new transaction for the sale of another batch of American arms to Taipei (Ma 3). Moreover, the format of such trans can show the state of the US-Chinese relations at a given length of time. However, there is an increasing importance of the development of Taiwan’s high-tech weapons.
The highest development of this military cooperation was reached during the presidency of Bill Clinton and the first term of George W. Bush. The high activity in this period had been prompted by the emergence of the real risks of China using a military option to return Taiwan. The total power of China had been rapidly growing, the military modernization was carried out at an accelerated pace, and the Chinese society saw a rise of nationalist ideas. However, in the current years, China has been losing its leading position due to outdated methods of business doing.
There is no constant vector in Taiwan’s attitude towards the US. When the typhoon Morakot covered Taiwan at the beginning of August 2009 and caused a severe flooding, the Taiwanese authorities had refrained from seeking assistance from Washington for a few days (Iok-Sin 1). Upon the receipt of assistance request from Taiwan’s side, the United States promptly took a direct part in the operations in the aftermath of this devastating natural disaster (Iok-Sin 1). However, during the annual message on the National Day of Taiwan on 10 October 2009, the President Ma Ying-jeou, expressed his appreciation for the assistance in the aftermath of the typhoon Morakot, highlighted the promotion of China and did not mention the large-scale US involvement in rescue operations. Moreover, he did not mention the American meaningful financial assistance (Iok-Sin 1). Perhaps, it was a signal to the Chinese authorities on the change of the foreign policy priorities of Taipei about the significance that Taiwan gave to the development of its dialogue with China.

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The Economic Status of Taiwan

Taiwan has a dynamic capitalist economy in which the level of government control over investment and foreign trade is gradually reduced. In accordance with this trend, there is a process of privatization of some large banks and state-owned industrial enterprises. The real GDP growth in average is about 4% per year and has been stable over the past 30 years (Berger and Lester 112). Exports grow even more rapidly and provide adequate conditions for industrialization. Inflation and unemployment rates are low. Over the years, the trade balance has been positive. Traditional labor-intensive industries are gradually transferred abroad and replaced by capital intensive and high-tech areas. Taiwan maintains its close investment ties with China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Poverty in the Taiwanese state is eliminated; and less than 1% of the population lives in some conditions defined as poverty. It means that more than 99% of the population benefit from the economic prosperity of Taiwan. It has significantly improved their quality of life (Berger and Lester 180). The Social Security Policy in Taiwan is based on three principles: the well-being, the distribution of social wealth, as well as “the creation of a peaceful and gracious society.” The Taiwanese state has quickly recovered from the effects of the global financial crisis of 2007-2010. Therefore, its economy continues to grow. Concerning the industry, the electronics sector is the most important industrial area of Taiwan’s exports and the largest recipient of the US investment.
Taiwan is the world’s largest supplier of computer chips and a leading manufacturer of liquid crystal displays, DRAM computer memory, network equipment, as well as a developer and manufacturer of consumer electronics. Textile sphere is another major industrial export area, although its volume reduced due to the shortage of labor, an increase in overhead costs, land prices, and environmental costs. Imports are dominated by raw materials and the means of production, which accounted for over 90% of the total number. Taiwan imports most of its energy needs. In order to promote the industrial research and development of Taiwanese science, the government has begun the creation of science parks, economic zones offering tax incentives, and specialized lending rates to attract investments (Kung 380).
The economic development of the Republic of China is large due to the international economic assistance that the country has received in the early stages of its development. This help had a major impact on the initial growth of the Republic of China and helped to create the so-called Taiwan economic miracle. In addition, the international support has also greatly strengthened and enhanced political democratization in the ROC.

The Independence Movement and Current Events


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There are outbreaks of revolutionary ideas in society and on media. For example, Chou Tzu-yu, who is a Taiwanese singer, disturbed the Chinese community (“S Korea Website ‘hacked'”). She was born in Taiwan and works in South Korea, singing in a Korean pop group Twice. The scandal arose when she showed the flag of the Republic of China in South Korea. After the Chinese television boycotted the group, Zhou officially apologized. She said that she was proud to be Chinese (“S Korea Website ‘hacked'”).
In 2015, there were the clashes between the police and demonstrators directly in front of the parliament building in the capital of Taiwan. People opposed the meeting between the presidents of the Taiwanese state and China. The Taiwanese fear was that these negotiations might be a harbinger of that their country could become a part of the Chinese country. That was the first meeting of the officials of both countries since 1949.
In January 2016, the opposing Democratic Progressive Party won the elections in Taiwan (“Tsai Ing-Wen Elected”). It is advocating for the formal recognition of the independence of the island from mainland China. After counting the votes, the Democratic Progressive Party is gaining about 60% of the ballots (“Tsai Ing-Wen Elected”). For the first time in the Taiwanese history, Tsai Ing-wen, a female candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party, will be a head of the state. The important point of the party program is to carry out a referendum in the country to change the constitutional name of the state from the Republic of China to Taiwan Republic (“Tsai Ing-Wen Elected”). In recent years, the party has noticeably softened its position though it strictly advocated the strengthening of the independence of Taiwan.
The Nationalist Party of Kuomintang that gained power in Taiwan after losing a civil war to the communists controlling the island until 2000 is traditionally regarding itself as a legitimate government of the whole country of China. Accordingly, it considers Taiwan as an integral part of the unified Chinese state. In 2008, the Taiwanese Kuomintang leadership adopted the policy of economic rapprochement with China. The victory of the opposing Democratic Progressive Party can cause new tensions in relations between both countries.


Taiwan is a unique example of international practice. It is supposed to be one of the largest economies in the Asian region with the high standards of living. It has the area with all the attributes of the state: the constitution, the parliament, the government, its currency, and its own army. However, most modern actors in international relations do not recognize Taiwan as a state. At the same time, it itself is not a de facto subject to the sovereignty of China. This country does not seek to declare its independence as soon as possible taking into account the possible reaction on the part of the Chinese mainland. Despite the absence of diplomatic recognition, Taiwan seeks to play an increasingly important role in international processes. It is a part of the most developed states in the struggle for human rights.
Despite the apparent opposition of the mainland to the supporters of the Taiwanese independence their victory seems as almost a fait accomplishment for many people. They suppose that it could put China in front of such an unpleasant fact of another Chinese-language state called the Republic of Taiwan. That may become a precedent for restructuring of all continental space. Against the background of the rapid strengthening of regional groupings in China and weakening the ideological influence of the Communist Party, the debate on the issue of Taiwanese risks goes far beyond diplomacy.

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