Since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, surged to power and forced the defeated Nationalist government to exile into Taiwan, China has claimed sovereignty over the region. Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, is an island in East Asia. Taiwan only has formal diplomatic relations with a limited number of countries since China contends that countries cannot have relations with China and Taiwan. The US is Taiwan’s most significant ally and defender.
In addition to China’s occupation of the nearby islands, Taiwan is purportedly a key strategic location in the South China Sea. Taiwan also has its own issues with China. Because it is where the US and Japan conduct their military drills, China has always desired to control the vital island. Only a few nations acknowledge Taiwan. Instead, Beijing is where most people recognise the Chinese government. Despite not having diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the US is obliged to give the island the tools to defend itself. The US has supported the nation in all ways besides through formal diplomatic ties.
Why Is China Interested in Taiwan?
Taiwan perceives itself as a sovereign state, but China views democratic Taiwan as a separatist province. Taiwan is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China’s maritime strategy focused on the first island chain, which is defined as the first significant archipelagos off the East Asian continental mainland, including the Japanese archipelago, Ryukyu Islands chains, China’s Taiwan, and the northern Philippine islands.
The region’s plentiful raw materials, which are needed to produce chips, make them an ideal technological component. China and the US do not produce the most advanced chip in the world at 10 nanometers, which is made in Taiwan. China purchases 60% of the semiconductors sold worldwide. In parallel, 90 of every 100 semiconductors produced in China come from overseas. Taiwan contends they are truly global because it imported materials from other countries to build its chips. According to some analysts, an attack on Taiwan will trigger the global economy to collapse because it will disrupt the electronic supply chain.
However, Taiwan’s status as a democratic middle power with a majority of residents of Chinese descent shows that a traditional Chinese community can successfully modernise without following the consultative Leninist or Maoist approach. Taiwan is a democratic country, and PRC citizens can travel there more frequently. Taiwan is therefore plainly seen by China as a very vital geostrategic asset rather than just as an open territorial dispute, and with good cause.
What Happens if China Annexes Taiwan?
If China were to annex Taiwan, the Chinese navy and air forces could easily eliminate the psychological and physical barrier created by what is known as “the first island chain” by Chinese naval strategists. China could also challenge Japan’s southwest approaches directly and probably cut off from its air and sea communication routes. The Taiwanese islet of Itu Aba, the largest island in the Spratlys controlled by Taiwan, would allow the People’s Liberation Army to impose more pressure on smaller littoral governments across maritime Southeast Asia.
If China were in charge of Taiwan, its submarines could easily enter the Pacific Ocean from Taiwan’s deep-water ports. Further, such a situation could pose a new threat for Japan, which depends entirely on the East Asian sea routes for its oil and other raw supplies. The US Seventh Fleet, Guam, Hawaii, and potentially the United States West Coast might all be at greater risk from Chinese submarines and an improved ability to project power into the Pacific.
Furthermore, China’s expansive fleet might directly jeopardise South Korea’s security to the extent that it would detour Washington and Tokyo and strengthen North Korea’s already irrational leader. Due to its strategic importance and abundant resources, China is growing interested in the region. Despite all the difficulties, China may soon seize the land as it does not want America to have it.
Strained Relationship Between China and Taiwan
Going back to the beginning, Austronesian tribal people, who are assumed to have originated in what is now southern China, were the first known settlers in Taiwan. Beijing utilises this historical fact to support its claim to the island, which first appears in Chinese chronicles in AD239 when an emperor ordered an expeditionary army to explore the region.
The Qing Dynasty
Taiwan was governed by China’s Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1895 after a relatively brief period (1624–1661) as a Dutch possession. Significant numbers of immigrants from China began to arrive starting in the 17th century, frequently escaping unrest or hardship. Most were Hakka Chinese, mainly from Guangdong or Hoklo Chinese from the province of Fujian. The two migrations’ offspring currently comprise most of the island’s population. Taiwan had to be given up by the Qing government to Japan after Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895.
World War II and the 1949 Revolution
Following World War II, Japan gave up possession of the land it had seized from China. With the support of its allies, the US and the UK, the Republic of China, one of the war’s winners, took control of Taiwan. However, civil war came out in China in the following few years, and Mao Zedong’s Communist army routed the troops of the country’s then-leader, Chiang Kai-shek.
In 1949, Chiang and the other members of his Kuomintang (KMT) regime migrated to Taiwan. Despite making up only 14% of the population, this 1.5 million-strong group of individuals, known as the Mainland Chinese, controlled Taiwan’s politics for many years.
Although there are no legal connections between the two countries, the US has promised to provide Taiwan with defence equipment and has emphasised that any invasion by China would have been of “major concern.” China increased its pressure on foreign businesses throughout 2018, requiring them to declare Taiwan as a part of China on their websites and threatening to stop them from conducting business in China if they did not.
The driving force behind increasing US involvement with Taiwan is the shared values, close economic and commercial ties, and solid people-to-people contacts between nations. Deep and expanding trade, financial, and commercial links between the US and Taiwan boost US interests and open up new business opportunities in the US. Since 2020, the US and Taiwan have collaborated on supply chain security and resilience, investment screening, health, science and technology, and the digital economy as part of the Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue, which is sponsored by AIT (American Institute in Taiwan) and TECRO (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States).
Additionally, the US and Taiwan collaborate on scientific projects in meteorology, nuclear science, environmental protection, thoracic cancer research, atmospheric research, public health, and preventative medicine.
US’s Recent Participation in the Region and Its Repercussions
In a recent phone call between Biden and Xi Jinping, there have been tense exchanges due to the increasing military activity in the region that has frayed relations between the two nations. As a result, China asserted that US intervention in the region has hurt its fundamental interests and will impact their economic relations. China has also accused the US of trying to hold on to the region by developing its own core, multilateralism. The US has merely said “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea in response to any complaints.
Washington and Beijing are at differences over trade, human rights, China’s practices in Tibet, and its treatment of primarily Muslim Turkic minorities in the northwest region of Xinjiang, in contrast to Taiwan and the South China Sea. In the past, the US has turned toward Taiwan as it has distanced itself from China. Despite periodic setbacks, US support for Taiwan will likely increase. US policy toward Taiwan will likely continue to be updated and discussed as long as US impatience with China is high.
Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan
The trip to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on August 3, 2022, has drawn criticism. The reasons for Pelosi’s travel have been theorised to include ensuring her political career to promoting the Democrats’ record of being tough on China before the Midterms.
The House Speaker emphasised Taiwan-U.S. collaboration in terms of shared ideals of self-governance and identity, economic ties, and common security interests. Pelosi appreciated the CHIPS Act as a platform for collaboration between the US and Taiwan, which is a strange framing given that the act’s stated goal is sometimes thought to be lowering US dependence on Taiwanese chips. She stated that the congressional delegation’s visit should be interpreted as an unambiguous declaration that America favours Taiwan.
Furthermore, at the conclusion of her trip, she claimed that the United States support for Taiwan’s democracy was “impenetrable.” Congress has a significant role to play in the effectiveness or failure of such deterrence, both de jure and de facto. The United States intends to dissuade Beijing from employing military force against the island. De jure, the Taiwan Relations Act and the United States Constitution give Congress a significant say in how the country would react to a situation in the Taiwan Strait. De facto, although presidents have claimed vast individual power in determining whether to use military force, the executive’s intimidating threats are much more credible when supported by Congress.
China’s Reaction to Pelosi’s Taiwan Visit
There have been increased fears of cyber attacks during Pelosi’s visit after attacks availed government websites inaccessible. China attempted to exert economic sanctions on Taiwan by repeating previous import bans on custard apples, grouper, and pineapples. Bans on 100 Taiwanese foodstuffs were announced ahead of Pelosi’s visit. Bans on natural sand experts, citrus, and certain goods were stated after Pelosi landed.
In addition, China’s military conducted a few days of activities, including warplanes flying toward the island and warships sailing across the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial buffer between the mainland and Taiwan. China also sent several ballistic missiles into waters north, east, and south of Taiwan. Taiwan’s defence ministry, on the other hand, failed to notify the public that several of the missiles that touched down in the east had taken this route over Taiwan.
US Congressional Delegation Visits Taiwan
Following the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a group of US delegations arrived in Taiwan on August 21, 2022, to further strengthen cooperation between Washington and Taipei. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb led the delegation. The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has openly discussed China’s military drills and called on minded nations to support Taiwan. She also stated that the US and Taiwan are major security allies in the Indo-Pacific region. However, on the other hand, the governor has obliged to provide aid to strengthen ties because they share common principles, interests, and objectives. He also mentioned that their markets should grow alongside one another.
The visit is part of an economical trip that includes discussions with representatives from Taiwanese semiconductor companies and signing various technology and trade memos of understanding. In addition to recent foreign visits, Japanese lawmakers visited Taiwan to discuss rising aggression and the islands’ improved defence mechanisms with US officials.
China urges the US to quit trying to salvage history, terminate military cooperation with Taiwan, and refrain from adversely affecting Sino-US relations and Taiwan Strait stability.
China regards exchanges with foreign governments as violating its allegation of self-governed Taiwan. On the other hand, Taiwan welcomes all compatible nations in order to counter China. If the US army cannot secure Taiwan in the long run, deterrence should come from the Taiwanese government itself. China can carry out extensive attacks regardless of international pressure, the US and Taiwan should be prepared to resist China.
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About the Author
In addition to international news, cupcakes, and coffee lift Shamini’s spirits. She holds a master’s degree in international relations from Women’s Christian College, Chennai, and she has a knack for understanding what is going on in the overseas market and never fails to stay up to date on current events. Her primary research area is the Indo-Pacific region, but she also studies maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean, Middle Eastern culture, global governance, and foreign relations. Shamini is a driven professional who chose ‘The International Prism’ as a career launching pad.