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Taiwan is an island located about one hundred miles off the coast of China. It has a population of more than twenty one million people. This island has only been under the Chinese rule for a period of four years in the course of the twentieth century. In spite of this, the Chinese government has been presenting claims that Taiwan is part of China and this government is ready to engage in a war in case any international actor holds recognition that Taiwan is a state. To complicate things even more, even if the Taiwan government has presented claims that the island is part of China, it has not been clear as to whether it asserts that the island is or is not a separate state.
According to Khanna (n.d), “when one attempts to unravel the relationship between Taiwan and China, it is perhaps tempting to accept the conclusion that if Taiwan were a person, it would be in the hands of a psychiatrist” (Khanna, n.d., p. 1). Considering the history of Taiwan by putting focus on its relationship with China, it can be noticed that there was a change in attitude in a dramatic way in 1949, a time a proclamation was made by Mao Zedong of PRC (People’s Republic of China), and there was no inclusion of Taiwan. There was no inclusion for the reason that Taiwan did not belong to the People’s Republic of China, but it instead belong to Mao’s rival, Chiang-Kai shek.
Chiang and his party, KMT which was defeated, abdicated to Taiwan and set up a government which presented claims that it had legitimacy over the “mainland China” (Khanna, n.d, p.1). Beginning from that time, there has been evolution of opposition on Taiwan from “one between the communists and the Nationalists in to a basic opposition between mainland China’s efforts toward unification, and the Taiwanese drive toward independence” (Khanna, n.d, p.1). This paper is going to look at the issue of whether or not, Taiwan is part of China. In order to arrive at a conclusion, various views and opinions are going to be considered. It is eventually going to be concluded that Taiwan is part of China.
Is Taiwan Part of China?
Having the knowledge about the Chinese view about Taiwan is something which is complex and the historians have come up with a number of opinions, some of which are contrasting. The first view is that Taiwan is part of China and basing on history, this island has been a territory of China. According to Khanna (n.d), “the formal account of the claim to Taiwan as made by the PRC asserts that Taiwan has belonged to China since the ancient times”(Khanna, n.d, p.2). This version is in turn used as a basis to present an insistence that Taiwan has to be part of China. One historian, Chu Shulong, presents an argument that the people of China are “conscious of their history of several millennia, are fully aware that Taiwan has been part of China, if not for the past thousand years, then at least for a couple of hundred years” (Chu, 1996, p.98).
The island turned out to be officially a part of China in the year 1661, in the course of the Qing dynasty, and remained to be part of China for a period of two centuries and this ended with the Chinese government handing Taiwan to Japan in the year 1895.
In addition, the claim of China to Taiwan is on the basis of the ethnic composition of Taiwan. It is argued that the larger percentage of the population of people in Taiwan are Chinese by ethnicity and this follows Chinese emigration that took place over a period of more than eight centuries (Khanna, n.d, p.2). About 90% of the population of people in Taiwan are of the Chinese origin and the remaining ten percent “descended from the aboriginal people who inhabited the island prior to Chinese migration”(Qimao, 1987, p.1165). But this historian fails to point out that the inhabitants of Taiwan do have the national identity of their own even if they belong to the Chinese ethnic group, and that Taiwan is independent and has been able to govern itself in a successful way for the largest part of its history.
However, a counter argument is presented by Chang (1996) where he makes reference to the ‘Ethically Chinese Republic of Singapore’ in which he points out that; “if China can recognize and accept Singapore, why can it not recognize and accept Taiwan?” (Chang, 1996, p.104). This historian makes a comparison of the Chinese emigration to Taiwan to the emigration to America from Europe. In these two instances, those who migrated left their home country for the reason of poverty, possibility of being persecuted and looking for a better life. These people brought their home cultures as well as traditions but formed a personal attachment and original identity with their newly found homes (Chiang, 1996). According to Long (1991), historians present an argument as to whether “Taiwan was ever considered a part of the Chinese ‘motherland’ or whether the communist government created this need for reunification with an island that has been autonomous for most of its history” (Long, 1991, p.13).
The issue that brings in a great debate is the security threat that is posed by Taiwan to China. Since Taiwan is just about one hundred miles away from the Chinese coast, it can easily be used, as it has been seen in the past, as a stage for the attack of China. This is a threat that is possible basing on the way the island is geographically located and the distance between the two regions. Nathan (1996) presented an argument that the national security of China is a major concern of this country and this country has to rule in the independence of Taiwan which has been and could be possibly used as “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” (Nathan, 1996, p.88).
This scholar goes ahead to present an argument that the people of China have to attain adequate control over the island in order to prevent those who rule to have the capacity to turn out to be an ally to a prospective foe such as Japan and the U.S. The scholar makes a comparison of Taiwan with other territories of China such as Mongolia and Tibet among others, which serve as “defensive buffers” between Russia, India and the countries in central Asia. Nathan (1996) points out that “Taiwan represents the buffer against the United States and that, control of Taiwan is essential for Chinese defense of the Mainland” (Nathan, 1996, p.88).
The view presented by Nathan (1996) is opposed by Chiang (1996) in which he argues that it is not realistic to make an assumption that Taiwan will collude with the enemies of China and serve as a base for the attack of China “unless there was a highly organized political force in Taiwan that favored such a course of action” (Chiang, 1996, p.88). This author points out in his work that the PRC does not accept to acknowledge Taiwan for what it is and goes on to follow “a policy of military intimidation intended to isolate Taiwan internationally and force capitulation” (Chiang, 1996, p.104). By taking this measure, China is offering Taiwan with an opportunity to look for friends as Chiang points out, “Chinese fears of unfriendly Taiwan and its possible alignment with nations hostile to the PRC could prove self-fulfilling” (Chiang, 1996, p.104).
The security issue is intimately connected with the role played by the United States of America in the affairs of Taiwan. The U.S has offered protection to Taiwan against China in the times that have passed. The U.S has also used the “military leverage” to deter against the military aggression of China. In addition, the U.S has supplied large amounts of military as well as civilian assistance to Taiwan. At some points, the United States of America sent direct military assistance to the island for its protection against China’s aggression. One of such occasions took place in the course of the Korean War during the 1950’s.
According to Fogg (2008), “the Taiwan Strait is perhaps the most volatile area in the East Asian region, and has commanded the attention of U.S policymakers and security thinkers ever since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949” (Fogg, 2008, p.2). At times, there has been a tendency of the U.S policy for Taiwan within over the last 60 years not to be consistent and the goals of the United States in the region have certainly changed. In the year 1971, the United States policy on China was reversed by President Nixon together with Kissinger who was the national security advisor. The reversing of the policy was intended to have formal recognition of “The People’s Republic of China (PRC, or China) as the legitimate government of China….for the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan), the United States has remained as ambiguous as possible” (Fogg, 2008, p.2).
The United States does not officially recognize the government as the lawful ruler of, be it China mainland or Taiwan. However, the U.S engaged in selling of ‘high-tech weapons systems’ worthy billions of dollars to Taiwan in order for it to defend itself and it “sent aircraft carrier task forces of its Pacific Fleet to intervene when China launched flurries of short-range ballistic missiles in the waters near Taiwan” (Fogg, 2008, p.2). This strategic vagueness has enabled the United States of America to maintain strong economic links and generally warm diplomatic dealings with the two entities, but this implies that the actions of Washington are unpredictable in relative terms. Following these, it can be clearly seen that the United States of America has a vested interest in Taiwan and its independence.
By the United States getting involved in the Taiwanese affairs, these does not just pose a security threat but it also bringing about painful memories for the people of China. Wang (2006) presents an argument that “losing Taiwan to the Japanese in 1895 was the most humiliating experience ever endured and getting Taiwan back is the most fundamental task for the Chinese to wash out their historical indignity” (Wang, 2006, p.216). Wang goes ahead to point out that “the Taiwan issue has been the most fundamental obstacle in the path of China’s development…and the Chinese taking back Taiwan is imperative and reunifying with the island is the most fundamental task of the nation” (Wang, 2006, p.216) The theme of “Chinese humiliation” over Taiwan is also echoed by Chu (1996) where he points out that Taiwan is a living representation of the humiliation of China in the course of more than the past one hundred and fifty years when nearly all the imperial nations, regardless of their sizes, “invaded and bullied China, taking Chinese land one piece after another” (Chu, 1996, p.99).
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The history as well as awareness of experiencing bullying from other countries plays a very big role in the Taiwan issue. As on one hand this agonizing history puts some level of pressure on the leadership of PRC to ensure retention of Taiwan, on the other hand, there is overstating of the effect. The apprehension of foreign control in China is utilized by PRC, the same way it was utilized in the course of the Korean War, to gather support behind dubious government policies, and potential war over Taiwan. There can be no acceptance by PRC of an autonomous Taiwan because its “’one China’ policy is critical to its legitimacy” (Khanna, n.d, p.4). Carrying out the analysis of the historical connection of China with Taiwan gives an indication that the mainland exhibited small interest in the island for a large part of history, and it is also indicated that Taiwan turned out to be well-known in the Chinese politics as a result of the KMT escaping to Taiwan.
According to Peng (2004), from the time Chen Shui-bian was elected again as president in March 2004 by nurturing and boosting a ‘Taiwanese identity’ and ‘de-sinification’, “the Taiwanese issue has once again become a hot topic for the region and the world” (Peng, 2004, p.2). Following this, Peng goes ahead to point out that handling this “potentially explosive issue on a bilateral basis turns out to be the most pressing concern between China and the United States” (Peng, 2004, p.2).
For the Chinese, which hold a belief that Chen was working hard to attain his objective of official Taiwan independence, preventing the island from “de jure” autonomy and at the same time formulating a fresh Taiwan policy has turned out to be “one of the two top policy priorities, the other being preventing its economy from over-heating” (Peng, 2004, p.2). On the part of the U.S. the Taiwan issue has, in the recent times, turned out to be one of the national security issue with great significance, “just behind post-war reconstruction in Iraq and just as urgent as the North Korean nuclear crisis”(Peng, 2004, p.2). In the absence of proper Taiwan issue management, other than the American counter-terrorism strategy probably being destroyed, other hotspots the world over could also turn out to be explosive, pushing the U.S to come face to face with “constant crises at the cost of its national power” (Peng, 2004, p.2).
In the year 2008, President Chen was removed and was replaced by President Ma Ying-jeou. According to Smith (2010), since the time President Ma came in to power, there has been a marked improvement in the relationship between Taiwan and China mainland. Smith points out that “the removal of President Chen and his DPP from government has substantially decreased the prospect of a military confrontation between the two sides” (Smith, 2010, p.1). Smith is optimistic that having a new Taiwanese president taking up a more accommodating approach to China-Taiwan relations, there are apparent indications that the two sides are taking minor but very important steps in the direction of having sustained peace (Smith, 2010).
The KMT government under the leadership of President Ma has been swift to set up “cross-strait” agreements in those areas where “cooperation has been relatively uncontroversial for each side, such as the long delayed Three Links” (Smith, 2010, p.1). On top of the negotiations in line with the “total normalization” of economic ties as well as financial ones, “rapprochement has included explicitly political agreements” (Smith, 2010, p.1).
The military, political and economic landscapes have driven Taiwan and China to take up new priorities that are different from those that have dictated “cross-strait relations” beginning form the time the cold war came to an end. On the part of Taiwan, forming closer links with the mainland China is greatly a practical step to promote the economy of the island. President Ma was elected in to the office for the reason that he could save the stagnant economy but his plans encountered a big blow following the global financial crisis and there was a 1.9 percent contraction in the economy in the year 2009. This was the sharpest drop since the year 1951.
However, this drop would have been even much more worse had it not been for the strong last quarter of the year when there was an economic recovery in China that raised the demand for Taiwan’s exports and there was surging of the economy by 9.2 percent. The global financial crisis has played a major role in renewing the island’s sense of urgency to boost cross-strait links in order to take advantage of the strength of the Chinese market (Smith, 2004).
The Taiwan issue has brought about a major debate, with some arguing that Taiwan is part of China while others do not agree to this. However, several issues have been raised that give strong suggestions that China is part of China. One of these issues is in relation to the ethnic connection between people of China and the Taiwanese inhabitants. Most of these people are Chinese and have a lot in common and they have been operating together for a long time. It has also been established that Taiwan has been a Chinese territory since the “ancient times”.
It is also clear that, in order to avoid a security threat, Taiwan needs to be part of China. Taiwan could easily be used by the China’s enemies as a base for attacking China because of its geographic location and the distance. Historically, such Countries as the U.S have strived to create closer links with Taiwan by offering it military support and such moves can serve to put China at a disadvantage. The moves that are being made by the current president, Ma, indicate that closer links are being created between Taiwan and China for mutual political, economic and military gains. As much as Taiwan may claim to be independent, it needs to operate closely with China and that is why it is concluded that Taiwan is part of China.
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