By Alex Cox
In 1945 World War II ended, but in China it was to be followed by another conflict deciding the nation’s future. On one side was the Chinese Nationalist Party, the first power to succeed in uniting China after the fall of the last imperial dynasty in 1911. On the other, the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong.
The civil war that had started in the 1920s and killed millions of people saw the violence largely end, with the Nationalist Party withdrawing south and finally crossing the Taiwan Strait in 1949. There the Nationalist government would rule. in the Republic of China (ROC), more commonly known as Taiwan. Back on the mainland, the Communist Party would rule as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), now known as China.
Since then, the civil war has stagnated, but is not officially over. The ROC and Communist China continued to see themselves as the only government representing China internationally, the other being an illegal occupant of part of their territory. This relationship also involves another major power, namely the United States, which plays the role of Taiwans’ most valuable ally and counterweight to China.
The ROC and Communist China continued to see themselves as the only government representing China internationally.
After the Communist takeover of mainland China, many countries still recognized the ROC as the official Chinese government, but during the Cold War it was an increasingly untenable position, due to the fact that the China’s historic territory was decisively controlled by the PRC. . In 1971, the UN changed its official headquarters for China from the ROC to the PRC, and in 1979 the United States also transferred diplomatic recognition to the PRC while strengthening relations with the Maos regime.
The United States had no plans to abandon Taiwan to the mainland, however. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 provided for the maintenance de facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and also allowed the United States to continue to sell arms to Taiwan.
Whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s military aid in war had been intentionally left unclear, as part of a policy of strategic ambiguity. This policy has the advantages of not formally engaging the United States in an unwanted war, while leaving that possibility open, making China less willing to invade and Taiwan less likely to act recklessly knowing it has the power. support from the United States.
The United States and the world must navigate the increasingly complex context of Taiwan
Over the past 40 years, China has opened up its economy and grown into a superpower, both economically and militarily. Taiwan, on the other hand, has become a thriving democracy. However, with China’s recent authoritarian turn under Chinese President Xi Jinping, this set of circumstances has put Taiwan in a precarious position.
China still sees its goal as reuniting Taiwan with the mainland, with Xi saying it must and will happen. At the same time, Taiwan’s democratic culture has led to the success of the Democratic Progressive Party, which strongly opposes reunification and regards Taiwan as a sovereign country independent from China, resulting in deep tensions related to these contradictory positions.
Careful and patient thinking will be needed to end a costly and damaging conflict in this region
To add to this, we have had four years of a destabilizing Trump presidency that undermined many of the unwritten rules underpinning the US approach to Taiwan. Now the United States and the world must navigate the increasingly complicated context of Taiwan, torn between historic commitments, support for democracy, and the prospect of conflict between the military superpowers.
It is therefore important that more people understand this history and the importance of Taiwan in the relations between China and the United States. Either way, careful and patient thinking will be needed to end a costly and damaging conflict in this region.
Image by tomscy2000 via Flickr