Taiwan’s political situation is a bit complicated. Its official name is the Republic of China (ROC). According to Taiwan’s constitution, the Republic of China (ROC) claims ownership of mainland China. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Taiwan is a wayward province that rightfully belongs to the PRC and is under the illegitimate rule of the ROC.
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Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
To fully understand the situation, we need to go back to the Qing Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty encompassed all of what is modern day China, Mongolia, and Taiwan. As well as several parts of bordering nations.
In 1894, the first Sino-Japanese War began. Which primarily took place in Korea and Taiwan. The war ended with a decisive Japanese victory only a year later. It resulted in the Japanese annexation of Taiwan and the complete independence of Korea from China.
In 1910, the Japanese completely annexed the Korean Peninsula.
In 1912, the Chinese monarchy was overthrown and the first Chinese Republic was established, the Republic of China (ROC). Sun Yat-sen was made the first Provisional President of the Republic of China in Nanjing, (the former capital of China).
Even though Sun was elected as the first provisional president, Yuan Shikai had already assumed power in Beijing. He was in control of the Beiyang military, the largest military force in China.
In order to avoid conflict, Sun Yat-sen agreed to accept Yuan as president. As president, Yuan abused his power, which led to a failed revolution led by the Chinese Nationalist Party. Seeing the situation worsen, Sun Yat-sen fled to Japan in 1913. In turn, Yuan dissolved the Chinese Nationalist Party and in 1915, declared himself as Emperor of China.
Yuan Shikai’s rule was short lived. He died only a year later in 1916 which began the Warlord Era of Chinese history (1916-1928).
Warlord Era (1916-1928)
After Yuan Shikai’s death, China became fragmented into different factions. In 1917, Sun Yat-sen returned from exile in order to restore the Republic of China. He revived his nationalist part under the name Kuomintang (KMT) in the south of the country.
Sun Yat-sen wanted to unite China, but lacked the military power to defeat the warlords. He sought help from the West, but was refused. Eventually help came from the Soviet Union, which asked that the Kuomintang ally and cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Thus began the First United Front.
Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925 led to the ascension of the Chiang Kai-shek, who became the commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army.
The Warlord Era came to an end with a two year military campaign called the Northern Expedition (1926 – 1928). The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) and was led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.
The first phase of the Northern Expedition ended in a 1927 political split between the two factions of the KMT. The right-leaning Nanjing faction, led by Chiang, and the left-leaning faction in Wuhan, led by Wang Jingwei.
The split was partially motivated by Chiang’s massacre of communists within the KMT, known as the Shanghai massacre, which marked the end of the First United Front.
In an attempt to mend the schism, Chiang Kai-shek stepped down as the leader of the NRA and went into exile in Japan.
The second phase of the Northern Expedition began in January 1928, when Chiang Kai-shek returned from Japan. By April 1928, the nationalist forces had advanced to the Yellow River and eventually united China in December 1928.
Chinese Civil War (1927 – 1949)
The left-leaning KMT faction had also began executing communists, which led to its subsequent collapse. Leaving the original KMT as the sole legitimate government of China.
The execution of communists ended its alliance with the Soviet Union and led to the start of the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists in 1927.
The war began with the Nanchang Uprising in August 1927. This was the first major engagement of the Chinese Civil War.It was started by the Chinese Communists to counter the Shanghai massacre of 1927 by the KMT.
The communist military forces in Nanchang were under the leadership of Zhou Enlai and He Long, as well as Liu Bocheng. They successfully occupied Nanchang and escaped the siege of KMT forces, withdrawing to the Jinggang Mountains of western Jiangxi.
This uprising was considered the founding of the People’s Liberation Army under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
In 1931, with the Chinese Civil War still ongoing, the Japanese Imperial Army saw it as an opportunity to expand its territory by invading China.
The Japanese Army invaded the east coast of China and occupied Manchuria. It established its own puppet government known as Manchukuo in what is modern day Manchuria and China
All out war between China and Japan broke out in 1937. In the years between the 1931 creation of Manchukuo, the KMT and the Chinese Communists were still engaged in a civil war.
Many Chinese Nationalists had called for a truce between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalists in order to fight their common foe, the Japanese Imperial Army.
Chiang Kai-shek continued to refuse, until 1936, when he was kidnapped by one of his own commanders who forced him to agree to a military alliance with the communists against the Japanese.
The Second Sino-Japanese War escalated as the Japanese pushed into the Chinese capital of Nanjing, massacring tens of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers.
In 1941, Japan carried out its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attacked caused an immediate declaration of war by the United States. American involvement in the war and the threat of Soviet invasion of the Japanese mainland led to the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army and the end of the Pacific Theater.
In the 1945, the allied forces laid out the Potsdam Declaration, which called for the immediate surrender of all Japanese armed forces.
Part of the surrender agreement included that Japan return all territories that it gained through warfare. This didn’t just include the territories that Japan had acquired from World War II, but the territories acquired decades earlier.
The island of Taiwan, taken from the Qing Dynasty in 1895, was to be returned to China. After war with Japan was over, the Chinese Civil War started up again in 1946.
In the early years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union backed the Chinese Communists, while the US backed the KMT. Despite having superior forces and equipment, the Chinese Civil War was decisively won by the Chinese Communists.
The KMT government retreated to the island of Taiwan in 1949. This effectively ended the Chinese Civil War. Later that year, the CCP declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
Modern Era (1949 – Present)
Over the course of the next few decades, international recognition began to shift from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This culminated in 1971, with UN Resolution 2758 which recognized that the only lawful representatives of China is the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Although, the US voted against the resolution, the US broke off diplomatic ties with the ROC in 1979. The same year, the PRC attempted to open communication with the ROC. This proposal was known as the Three Links. This proposal was intended to open up postal, transportation, and trade links between China and Taiwan, with the goal of unifying mainland China and Taiwan.
The ROC responded with the Three Noes Policy: No Contact, No Compromise, No Negotiation. This policy had to be revised in 1986, when a China Airlines 747 aircraft was hijacked by a ROC pilot who defected to Guangzhou in the PRC.
This forced the ROC and the PRC to communicate with each other. In 1992, the two governments reached an agreement known as the 1992 Consensus. The consensus resulted in the adherence of the One China Policy.
The One China Policy is the belief that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China, but both sides see themselves as the legitimate government of China. Chinese reunification is the current goal and that the current situation is only temporary.
In 1996, Taiwan became a pluralistic democracy, though the KMT stayed in power. In 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were elected into government and are now the dominant party. The DPP reject the One China Policy and the 1992 Consensus. They also do not support Chinese unification and strongly support the idea of a Taiwanese identity.
Taiwan remains in an ambiguous status. It is not an official member of the United Nations and very few countries recognize it as a country.
While that may be the case, many countries have de-facto embassies in Taipei and vice-versa. Depending on which position you view it from, Taiwan may or may not be a country, but in every practical sense of the word, it is.
Taiwan has its own government and its own president, who has jurisdiction over the entire island. Taiwan has its own military and issues its own passports.
In day-to-day functionality, Taiwan is a country. It operates just as any other country in the world does. Its ambiguous international status has little impact on the day-to-day lives of the Taiwanese.
It is unfortunate the many countries avoid the issue of Taiwan due to the complexity of the relationship between Taiwan and China.
China continues to threaten to unify Taiwan through force because it considers Taiwan an inseparable part of China’s territory since antiquity.
The two solutions to the Taiwan dispute, unification and independence, both seem unlikely to happen anytime soon. The most likely outcome is the continuation of the status quo.