Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China: the story of a conflict that frightens the world

Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China: the story of a conflict that terrifies the world. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic) (DADO RUVIC/)

Composed of several small islands that accompany the main one in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan is a nation recognized by only 12 countries in the world. Thus, it is in a complex situation in terms of its international political participation: until March 26 there were 13 countries, but after pressure from the government of the People’s Republic of China, Honduras broke ties with Taiwan. However, while powers like the United States do not officially recognize it, they implicitly count on its support as a strategic partner that polarizes with the government of the People’s Republic of China. Today Taiwan ranks number one – according to the Democracy Index 2022 of The Economist – as the most democratic nation in Asia, and ranked number ten globally. Regarding the Economic Freedom index, it ranks number six, with an unemployment rate of between 3% and 4% and a thriving economy that, beyond the small area that the country may have, leads some world industries such as technology in terms of semiconductor microchips, concentrating the export of 90% of the world supply (essential element of almost all electronic devices, such as cars, notebooks, Smart TV, etc.). In terms of education, the percentage of literacy of people over 15 years of age reaches and exceeds 99%. It is a diverse nation in which different religions and philosophies coincide, such as Christianity (due to the former Portuguese occupation in the north of the island), Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Now, what about Taiwan (or as the Taiwanese call it: the Republic of China) and the People’s Republic of China? Although it seems like a recent conflict, with its own autonomous causes, this region has a thousand-year history of unions and separations, of empires that expanded and then fell, dozens of dynasties that alternated.

At the end of World War II, the civil war began in China: Mao Tse Tung, heading the Chinese Communist Party, sought to carry out a revolution to install a political system that would mark the world for the next 40 years of cold war. On the other side was the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) led by Chiang Kai-sek, a controversial political-military leader who had controlled the entire Republic of China before the civil war, since 1927. But there were precedents: the internal war had started previously, under the government of Chiang Kai-sek, when he decided to break the alliance pact with the Chinese Communist Party and have his sympathizers assassinated in the north of the country. Then after the Japanese invasion in 1937, both parties decided to make a truce and unite in order to fight the Empire of the Rising Sun. It was after the defeat of Japan in World War II and the Chinese victory over the invasion, that the civil war resumed resulting in the communist victory of Mao Tse Tung. Given this, General Chiang Kai-sek fled to the island of Taiwan with about 1.5 million followers – mainly his military officials – who were threatened with death by the communist government after the defeat.

Over the past year, China has increased shipments of warships and planes to Taiwan's coast to scare the island.  (Photo: Eastern Theater Command/Distributed via REUTERS)
Over the past year, China has increased shipments of warships and planes to Taiwan’s coast to scare the island. (Photo: Eastern Theater Command/Distributed via REUTERS) (EASTERN THEATER COMMAND/)

Chiang Kai-sek maintained the illusion that communism was going to fall under its own weight, and that they were finally going to regain control of Mainland China (as the People’s Republic of China is called in Taiwan, today under the government of Xi Jinping). The United Nations Organization recognized its government (of what is now Taiwan) as the legitimate government of China, which is why it occupied the bench on its behalf, while the United States – which at first remained indifferent – ​​began to protect it and give him unconditional support in the face of the threat of communist advance after the start of the Korean Civil War. However, in 1971 the UN disavowed its government as the legitimate government of China and recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate one: today, Taiwan continues without a voice in the UN. The legacy of Chiang Kai-sek, seen as a hero and a villain at the same time, left an economic growth that allows Taiwan today to position itself as a developed and avant-garde nation, but also left blood spilled after executions, proscriptions and torture of any supporter of policies different from yours. In 1975, he died of pneumonia and his son took over, who gradually took steps towards greater political freedoms that would give way to a true republican democracy. As of 2017, there were 21 countries that recognized Taiwan internationally. Today, in the middle of 2023, only 12 remain: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Palau, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Nauru, and how number 13 can be mention the Vatican State.

The situation is delicate: both nations mutually recognize each other as separate, but not sovereign, administrations. They admit that there is a centralized political administration in Taiwan and another in Beijing, but they do not recognize that the counterpart has independence or sovereignty. For the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan is part of their nation, it was usurped by Chiang Kai-sek, and it needs to be liberated. For Taiwan, they are the legitimate representatives of China’s legacy, and through democracy they must achieve unification. That recognition that is limited to the administrative is a way of maintaining peaceful relations to avoid a war and also enabling trade between the two nations, in addition to the movement of people from one place to another. However, in Taiwan the positions on how to act with China are becoming more complex.

In the year 2024 there are going to be presidential elections in Taiwan, and the main two parties have different opinions.

He Democratic Progressive Party is the current ruler, headed by the first female president in Taiwan’s history, Tsai Ing-Wen. The position of the PDP, supported mainly by the youth that was born in times of a republican Taiwan no longer with historical ties or feelings of belonging to mainland China, is to go to a referendum in which the population votes to declare the independence of Taiwan, as a nation unique and distinct from China. It is considered the majority party that is furthest from mainland China in terms of claiming sovereignty.

FILE PHOTO.  Pedestrians walk past a giant screen broadcasting a news report on Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) military exercises around Taiwan, in Beijing, China.  August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
FILE PHOTO. Pedestrians walk past a giant screen broadcasting a news report on Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military exercises around Taiwan, in Beijing, China. August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter (THOMAS PETER/)

The Kuomintang (or Nationalist Party) would be his main political opponent, sometimes accused of being ‘pro-China’. Without major differences in economic matters, he presents a very high resistance to the Taiwanese independence proposal. For them, a supposed independence has a harmful flipside, which is losing legitimacy in the claim for mainland China: declaring Taiwan an autonomous and sovereign nation, is precisely recognizing the PRC as a different nation. An important detail is that for the PRC government – ​​headed by Xi Jinping – a hypothetical Taiwanese declaration of independence would imply a rebellion against them, since they perceive Taiwan as part of China, and a cause that would justify finally carrying out the invasion of the island to recover it, from your point of view. So the Kuomintang proposals vary between maintaining the status quo, or trying to achieve unification.

The tension between the two countries is constantly increasing: the military exercises in the last days of the PRC flying over the island of Taiwan and the naval fleets sailing around it do nothing but frighten the world of a possible event similar to the one that is happening. in Ukraine with the invasion of Russia. A China that has around 2 million soldiers far exceeds a Taiwan that has only 150,000 active soldiers. Last year, in October, the president of the People’s Republic of China warned that he would recapture Taiwan, “if necessary by force.”

In an attempt to achieve equal forces, although far from achieving it, Taiwan extended the duration of Compulsory Military Service to one year for each person: thus, they reach just over 2 million soldiers, although they are only reservists. At the same time, it must be remembered that Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022 increased the nervousness and tension in expectation on the part of China. Even, just a few days ago, the current president of Taiwan (Tsai Ing-wen) was in a bilateral meeting in the United States with the country’s leaders. For President Tsai, “the relationship between the United States and Taiwan has never been closer.” The stressed counterpart comes from Beijing, from where they warned that these acts could trigger a confrontation between the two countries.

The civilians who live on the island are going through a difficult situation: infobae he was touring the streets of Taiwan and talking with locals who showed all kinds of feelings. From the fear of a possible war with China, to the conviction that sooner or later the People’s Republic of China is going to fall to finally find a solution to the conflict with an eventual unification. Even a young man who was six days away from starting his military career – and preferred to keep his identity confidential – demonstrated his bravery and courage by expressing: “I am doing this to defend my country, I am becoming an adult and I am not going to let attack my nation, my family and my loved ones.” At that level is today the delicate tension between these two countries in which each recognizes sovereignty over the other.

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