Political status of Taiwan

Political status of Taiwan

The controversy regarding the political status of Taiwan (or "Taiwan Issue" as referred to by the Communist Party of China) hinges on whether Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu should remain effectively independent as territory of the Republic of China (ROC, a distinct political entity from the People's Republic of China), become unified with the territories now governed by the People's Republic of China (PRC), or formally declare independence and become the Republic of Taiwan; furthermore, on whether its existence and status as a state ("country") is legitimate and recognized by the international community.

Currently, Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and some other minor islands effectively make up the jurisdiction of the state with the official name of Republic of China, widely known in the West as "Taiwan". The ROC, which took control of Taiwan (including Penghu and other nearby islands) in 1945, ruled mainland China and claimed sovereignty over Outer Mongolia (now Mongolia) and Tannu Uriankhai (part of which is present day Tuva, Russia) before losing the Chinese Civil War and relocating its government to Taipei, Taiwan in December 1949.

Since the ROC lost its United Nations seat as "China" in 1971 (replaced by the PRC), most sovereign states have switched their diplomatic recognition to the PRC, recognizing or acknowledging the PRC to be the sole legitimate representative of all China, though many including the United States deliberately avoid stating clearly what territories they believe China includes. As of 2011, the ROC maintains official diplomatic relations with 23 sovereign states,[1] although informal relations are maintained with nearly all others. Agencies such as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office and American Institute in Taiwan operate as de facto embassies without official diplomatic status.

Non-Kuomintang Taiwanese politician Wu San-lian (2L) celebrated his landslide victory (65.5%) in the first-time Taipei city mayoral election in January 1951 with his supporters. Taipei has been the capital of the Republic of China since December 1949.

The ROC government has in the past actively pursued the claim as the sole legitimate government over mainland China and Taiwan. This position started to be largely adjusted in the early 1990s as democracy was introduced and new Taiwanese leaders were elected, changing to one that does not actively challenge the legitimacy of PRC rule over mainland China. However, with the election of the Kuomintang (KMT, "Chinese Nationalist Party") back into executive power in 2008, the ROC government has changed its position back to that "mainland China is also part of the territory of the ROC."[2] Both the PRC and the ROC carry out cross-strait relations through specialized agencies (such as the Mainland Affairs Council of the ROC), rather than through foreign ministries. Different groups have different concepts of what the current formal political situation of Taiwan is. (See also: Chinese reunification, Taiwan independence, and Cross-Strait relations)

In addition, the situation can be confusing because of the different parties and the effort by many groups to deal with the controversy through a policy of deliberate ambiguity. The political solution that is accepted by many of the current groups is the perspective of the status quo: to unofficially treat Taiwan as a state and at a minimum, to officially declare no support for the government of this state making a formal declaration of independence. What a formal declaration of independence would consist of is not clear and can be confusing given the fact that the People's Republic of China has never controlled Taiwan since its founding and the fact that the Republic of China, whose government controls Taiwan, is still a sovereign state as established at Nanjing in 1911, but its territory is limited to the province of Taiwan, Penghu, a part of the Nansha Islands and Diaoyutai island. The status quo is accepted in large part because it does not define the legal status or future status of Taiwan, leaving each group to interpret the situation in a way that is politically acceptable to its members. At the same time, a policy of status quo has been criticized as being dangerous precisely because different sides have different interpretations of what the status quo is, leading to the possibility of war through brinkmanship or miscalculation.[citation needed]



Taiwan (excluding Penghu) was first populated by Austronesian people and was colonized by the Dutch, who had arrived in 1623. The Kingdom of Tungning, lasting from 1661 to 1683, was the first Han Chinese government to rule Taiwan. From 1683, the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan as a prefecture and in 1875 divided the island into two prefectures. In 1885 the island was made into a separate Chinese province to speed up development in this region. In the aftermath of the First Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan and Penghu were ceded by the Qing Dynasty to Japan in 1895. Japanese troops in Taiwan surrendered to the Republic of China at end of World War II, putting Taiwan under a Chinese government again after 50 years of Japanese rule. The ROC would then claim sovereignty on the basis of the Qing dynasty's administration, Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Declaration, and Japanese Instrument of Surrender, but this became contested by pro-independence groups in subsequent years due to different perceptions of the said documents' legality. Upon losing the Chinese civil war in 1949, the ROC government retreated to Taipei, and kept control over a few islands along the coast of mainland China and in the South China Sea. The People's Republic of China (PRC) was established in mainland China on October 1, 1949, claiming to be the successor to the ROC.[3]

Quemoy, Matsu and Wuchiu on the coast of Fukien, Taiping and Pratas in the South China Sea, are part of the ROC's present territory, but were not ceded to Japan. Some arguments supporting the independence of Taiwan do not apply to these islands.

Question of sovereignty over Taiwan

Cession, retrocession and self-determination of Taiwan

According to the Treaty of Shimonoseki Taiwan was part of Japan at the establishment of the ROC in 1912. The PRC (founded October 1, 1949) argues that the Treaty of Shimonoseki was never valid, saying it was one of several unequal treaties forced upon the Qing.

China, during the Qing Dynasty, ceded the island of Taiwan, including Penghu, to Japan "in perpetuity" at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War by signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In the Cairo Conference of 1943, the allied powers agreed to have Japan restore "all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese", specifically listing "Formosa" and Penghu, to the Republic of China after the defeat of Japan. According to both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, this agreement was given legal force by the Instrument of Surrender of Japan in 1945. The PRC's UN Ambassador, Wang Yingfan (Chinese 王英凡), has stated multiple times in the UN general committee: "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China's territory since antiquity" and "both the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration have reaffirmed in unequivocal terms China's sovereignty over Taiwan as a matter of international law." The PRC rejects arguments involving the lack of a specific treaty (San Francisco Peace Treaty) transferring Taiwan's sovereignty to China by noting that neither PRC nor ROC was a signatory to any such treaty, making the treaties irrelevant with regard to Chinese claims. The ROC argues that the Treaty of Taipei implicitly transferred sovereignty of Taiwan to it, however the US State Dept. disagreed with such an interpretation in its 1971 Starr Memorandum[4]

On the other hand, a number of supporters of Taiwan independence argue that Taiwan was only formally incorporated as a Chinese territory under the Qing Dynasty in 1683, and as a province in 1885. Subsequently, because of the Shimonoseki Treaty of 1895, Taiwan had been de jure part of Japan when the ROC was established in 1912 and thus was not part of the Chinese republic. Also, because the Cairo Declaration was an unsigned press communiqué, the independence advocates argue that the legal effectiveness of the Declaration is highly questionable. Furthermore, they point out that the Instrument of Surrender of Japan was no more than an armistice, a "modus vivendi" in nature, which served as a temporary or provisional agreement that would be replaced with a peace treaty. Therefore, only a military occupation of Taiwan began on Oct. 25, 1945, and both the Treaty of San Francisco and Treaty of Taipei hold legal supremacy over the surrender instrument. These treaties did not transfer the title of Taiwan from Japan to China. According to this argument, the sovereignty of Taiwan was returned to the people of Taiwan when Japan renounced sovereignty of Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco (also known as San Francisco Peace Treaty, SFPT) in 1951, based on the policy of self-determination which has been applied to "territories which detached from enemy states as a result of the Second World War" as defined by article 76b and 77b of the United Nations Charter and also by the protocol of the Yalta Conference. The United Nations General Assembly has not been particularly receptive to this argument, and the ROC's applications for admission to the United Nations have been rejected 15 times.[5]

Although the interpretation of the peace treaties was used to challenge the legitimacy of the ROC on Taiwan before the 1990s, the introduction of popular elections in Taiwan has compromised this position. Except for the most extreme Taiwan independence supporters, most Taiwanese support the popular sovereignty theory and no longer see much conflict between this theory of sovereignty and the ROC position. In this sense, the ROC government currently administering Taiwan is not the same ROC which accepted Japanese surrender because the ruling authorities were given popular mandate by different pools of constituencies: one is the mainland Chinese electorate, the other is the Taiwanese constituencies. In fact, former president Chen Shui-bian has been frequently emphasizing the popular sovereignty theory in his speeches.

A shopping bag produced by an independence-leaning pastry establishment. The address uses "State of Taiwan" (台灣國) rather than "Taiwan Province" (台灣省) or "Republic of China" (中華民國)

However, as of 2010, the conflict between these two theories still plays a role in internal Taiwanese politics. The popular sovereignty theory, which the pan-green coalition emphasizes, suggests that Taiwan could make fundamental constitutional changes by means of a popular referendum. The ROC legal theory, which is supported by the pan-blue coalition, suggests that any fundamental constitutional changes would require that the amendment procedure of the ROC constitution be followed.

Position of the People's Republic of China (PRC)

Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents. This permit is issued by the People's Republic of China to enable the Taiwanese to travel to mainland China. The People's Republic of China refuses to accept the Republic of China passports.

The position of the PRC is that the ROC ceased to be a legitimate government upon the founding of the former on October 1, 1949 and that the PRC is the successor of the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China, with the right to rule Taiwan under the succession of states theory.[6]

The position of PRC is that the ROC and PRC are two different factions in the Chinese Civil War, which never legally ended. Therefore both factions belong to the same sovereign country—China. Since Taiwan's sovereignty belongs to China, the secession of Taiwan should be agreed upon by 1.3 billion Chinese citizens instead of the 23 million ROC citizens who currently live in Taiwan.[7] Furthermore, the position of PRC is that UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, which states "Recognizing that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations", means that the PRC is recognized as having the sovereignty of all of China, including Taiwan (established by Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation and Japanese Instrument of Surrender). Therefore, the PRC believes that it is within their legal rights to extend its jurisdiction to Taiwan, by military means if necessary.

In addition, the position of PRC is that the ROC does not meet the fourth criterion of the Montevideo Convention, as it is recognized by only 23 states and has been denied access to international organizations such as the UN. The PRC points out the fact that the Montevideo Convention was only signed by 19 states at the Seventh International Conference of American States. Thus the authority of the United Nations as well as UN Resolutions should supersede the Montevideo Convention.

It is clear that the PRC still maintains that "there is only one China in the world" and "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China", however instead of "the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China", the PRC now emphasizes that "both Taiwan and the mainland belong to one and the same China"[citation needed]. Although the current position allows for flexibility in terms of defining that "one China", any departure from the One-China policy is deemed unacceptable by the PRC government. The PRC government is unwilling to negotiate with the Republic of China government under any formulation other than One-China policy, although a more flexible definition of "one China" such as found in the 1992 consensus is possible under PRC policy. The PRC government considers the 1992 consensus a temporary measure to set aside sovereignty disputes and to enable talks.

The PRC government considers perceived violations of its "One-China policy" or inconsistencies with it such as supplying the ROC with arms a violation of its rights to territorial integrity.[8] International news organizations often report that "China considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be united with the mainland by force if necessary", even though the PRC does not explicitly say that Taiwan is a "renegade province" in any press releases. However, official PRC media outlets and officials often refer to Taiwan as "China's Taiwan Province" or simply "Taiwan, China", and pressure international organizations to use the term. (Note: the PRC also claims Quemoy, Wuchiu and Matsu as part of its Fujian Province, and the South China Sea Islands part of its Guangdong and Hainan provinces.)

The PRC also pressured the International Olympic Committee to use the pseudonym "Chinese Taipei" to eliminate the appearance of the "Republic of China" name in the Olympics.[citation needed]

Position of the Republic of China (ROC)

The ROC argues that it maintains all the characteristics of a state and that it was not "replaced" or "succeeded" by the PRC because it has continued to exist long after the PRC's founding. According to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, the most cited source for the definition of statehood, a state must possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The ROC claims to meet all these criteria as it possesses a government exercising effective jurisdiction over well-defined territories with over 23 million permanent residents and a full fledged foreign ministry.

Both the original 1912 constitution and the 1923 'Cao' version failed to list Taiwan as a part of the ROC since the framers at the time considered Taiwan to be Japanese territory. It was only in the mid 1930's when both the CCP and KMT realised the future strategic importance of Taiwan that they altered their party positions to make a claim on Taiwan as a part of China. After losing the Civil War against the Communist Party in 1949, Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang JieShi) and the Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan, establishing a new government there, but always maintained that their government represented all of China, i.e. both Taiwan and the mainland.

The position of most supporters of Taiwan independence is that the PRC is the government of China, that Taiwan is not part of China, and the 'Republic of China (Taiwan)' is an independent, sovereign state. The Democratic Progressive Party states that Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the PRC, and that the PRC does not exercise any hold over the 23 million Taiwanese on the island. On the other hand, the position of most Chinese reunification supporters believe the Chinese Civil War is still not concluded as no peace agreement was even signed. Therefore, the current political separation across the Taiwan strait is only temporary and a reunified China including both mainland China and Taiwan will be the result.

The position of the Republic of China had been that it was a de jure sovereign state. "Republic of China," according to the ROC government's definition, extended to both mainland China and the island of Taiwan.[9]

In 1991, President Lee Teng-hui unofficially claimed that the government would no longer challenge the rule of the Communists in mainland China, the ROC government under Kuomintang (KMT) rule actively maintained that it was the sole legitimate government of China. The Courts in Taiwan have never accepted President Lee's statement, primarily due to the reason that the (now defunct) National Assembly never officially changed the national borders. Notably, the People's Republic of China claims that changing the national borders would be "a precursor to Taiwan independence". The task of changing the national borders now requires a constitutional amendment passed by the Legislative Yuan and ratified by a majority of all eligible ROC voters, which the PRC has implied would constitute grounds for military attack.

Exit and Entry Permit Taiwan, Republic of China. This permit is issued by the Republic of China to enable mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents to travel to Taiwan. The Republic of China refuses to accept the The People's Republic of China passports.

On the other hand, though the constitution of the Republic of China promulgated in 1946 does not state exactly what territory it includes, the draft of the constitution of 1925 did individually list the provinces of the Republic of China and Taiwan was not among them, since Taiwan was arguably de jure part of Japan as the result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895. The constitution also stipulated in Article I.4, that "the territory of the ROC is the original territory governed by it; unless authorized by the National Assembly, it cannot be altered." However, in 1946, Sun Fo, son of Sun Yat-Sen and the minister of the Executive Yuan of the ROC, reported to the National Assembly that "there are two types of territory changes: 1. renouncing territory and 2. annexing new territory. The first example would be the independence of Mongolia, and the second example would be the reclamation of Taiwan. Both would be examples of territory changes." Japan renounced all rights to Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951 and the Treaty of Taipei of 1952 without an explicit recipient. While the ROC continuously ruled Taiwan after the government was directed to Taiwan by the General Order No. 1 (1945) to receive Japanese surrender, there has never been a meeting of the ROC National Assembly in making a territory change according to the ROC constitution. The explanatory memorandum to the constitution explained the omission of individually listing the provinces as opposed to the earlier drafts was an act of deliberate ambiguity: as the ROC government does not recognize the validity of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, based on Chiang Kai-shek's Denunciation of the treaty in the late 1930s, hence (according to this argument) the sovereignty of Taiwan was never disposed by China. A ratification by the ROC National Assembly is therefore unnecessary.

The Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China have mentioned "Taiwan Province," and the now defunct National Assembly passed constitutional amendments that give the people of the "Free Area of the Republic of China", comprising the territories under its current jurisdiction, the sole right, until reunification, to exercise the sovereignty of the Republic through elections [9][10] of the President and the entire Legislature as well as through elections to ratify amendments to the ROC constitution. Also, Chapter I, Article 2 of the ROC constitution states that "The sovereignty of the Republic of China shall reside in the whole body of citizens." This suggests that the constitution implicitly admits that the sovereignty of the ROC is limited to the areas that it controls even if there is no constitutional amendment that explicitly spells out the ROC's borders.

The building of the Provincial Government of the Taiwan Province of the Republic of China at Jhongsing Village
The Republic of China Presidential Office Building is located in the Zhongzheng District of Taipei.

In 1999, ROC President Lee Teng-hui proposed a two-state theory (兩國論) in which both the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China would acknowledge that they are two separate countries with a special diplomatic, cultural and historic relationship.[11][12] This however drew an angry reaction from the PRC who believed that Lee was covertly supporting Taiwan independence.[13]

President Chen Shui-bian (2000-May 2008) fully supported the idea that the "Republic of China is an independent, sovereign country" but held the view that the Republic of China is Taiwan and Taiwan does not belong to the People's Republic of China. This is suggested in his Four-stage Theory of the Republic of China. Due to the necessity of avoiding war with the PRC however, President Chen had refrained from formally declaring Taiwan's independence. Government publications have implied that Taiwan refers to the ROC, and "China" refers to the PRC.[9] After becoming chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party in July 2002, Chen appeared to move further than Lee's special two-state theory and in early August 2002, by putting forward the "one country on each side" concept, he stated that Taiwan may "go on its own Taiwanese road" and that "it is clear that the two sides of the straits are separate countries." These statements essentially eliminate any "special" factors in the relations and were strongly criticized by opposition parties in Taiwan. President Chen has repeatedly refused to endorse the One China Principle or the more "flexible" 1992 Consensus the PRC demands as a precursor to negotiations with the PRC. During Chen's presidency, there had not been any successful attempts to restart negotiations on a semi-official level.

In the 2008 ROC elections, the people delivered KMT's Ma Ying-jeou with an election win as well as a sizable majority in the legislature. President Ma, throughout his election campaign, maintained that he would accept the 1992 consensus and promote better relations with the PRC. In respect of Taiwan political status, his policy was 1. he would not negotiate with the PRC on the subject of reunification during his term; 2. he would never declare Taiwan independence; and 3. he would not provoke the PRC into attacking Taiwan. He officially accepted the 1992 Consensus in his inauguration speech which resulted in direct semi-official talks with the PRC, and this later led to the commencement of weekend direct charter flights between mainland China and Taiwan. President Ma also interprets the cross-strait relations as "special", "but not that between two nations".[14] He later stated that mainland China is part of the territory of the Republic of China, and laws relating to international relations are not applicable to the relations between mainland China and Taiwan, as they are parts of a state.[2][15][16]

Position of other countries and international organizations

See also Foreign relations of the Republic of China
With President Chiang Kai-shek, the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower waved hands to Taiwanese people during his visit to Taipei, Taiwan in June 1960.
Voting situation in the UN general assembly respect to resolution 2758 (1971).

Because of anti-communist sentiment at the start of the Cold War, the Republic of China was initially recognized as the sole legitimate government of China by the United Nations and most Western nations. On January 9, 1950, the Israeli government extended recognition to the People's Republic of China. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 505, passed on February 1, 1952 considered the Chinese communists to be rebels against the Republic of China. However, the 1970s saw a switch in diplomatic recognitions from the ROC to the PRC. On 25 October 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the UN General Assembly, which "decides to restore all its rights to the People's Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it." Multiple attempts by the Republic of China to rejoin the UN, no longer to represent all of China but just the people of the territories it governs, have not made it past committee, largely due to diplomatic maneuvering by the PRC, which claims Resolution 2758 has settled the matter. (See China and the United Nations.)

The PRC refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC,[6] but does not object to nations conducting economic, cultural, and other such exchanges with Taiwan that do not imply diplomatic relation. Therefore, many nations that have diplomatic relations with Beijing maintain quasi-diplomatic offices in Taipei. For example, the United States maintains the American Institute in Taiwan. Similarly, the government in Taiwan maintains quasi-diplomatic offices in most nations under various names, most commonly as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Republic of India, Pakistan and Japan have formally adopted the One China policy, under which the People's Republic of China is theoretically the sole legitimate government of China. However, the United States and Japan acknowledge rather than recognize the PRC position that Taiwan is part of China. In the case of Canada[17] and the UK, bilateral written agreements state that the two respective parties take note of Beijing's position but do not use the word support. The UK government position that "the future of Taiwan be decided peacefully by the peoples of both sides of the Strait" has been stated several times. Despite the PRC claim that the United States opposes Taiwanese independence, the United States takes advantage of the subtle difference between "oppose" and "does not support". In fact, a substantial majority of the statements Washington has made says that it "does not support Taiwan independence" instead of saying that it "opposes" independence. Thus, the US currently does not take a position on the political outcome, except for one explicit condition that there be a peaceful resolution to the differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.[18] All of this ambiguity has resulted in the United States constantly walking on a diplomatic tightrope with regard to cross strait relations.

President Chen Shui-bian (far left) attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. As the Holy See's recognized head of state of China, Chen was seated in the front row (in French alphabetical order) beside the first lady and president of Brazil.

The ROC maintains formal diplomatic relations with 23 countries, mostly in Central America and Africa. Notably the Holy See also recognizes the ROC, a largely non-Christian/Catholic state, mainly to protest what it sees as the PRC's suppression of the Catholic faith in mainland China. However, Vatican diplomats were engaged in talks with PRC politicians at the time of Pope John Paul II's death, with a view towards improving relations between the two countries. When asked, one Vatican diplomat suggested that relations with Taiwan might prove "expendable" should PRC be willing to engage in positive diplomatic relations with the Holy See.[19] Under Pope Benedict XVI the Vatican and PRC have shown greater interest in establishing ties, including the appointment of pro-Vatican bishops and the Pope canceling a planned visit from the Dalai Lama.[20]

During the 1990s, there was a diplomatic tug of war in which the PRC and ROC attempted to outbid each other to obtain the diplomatic support of small nations. This struggle seems to have slowed as a result of the PRC's growing economic power and doubts in Taiwan as to whether this aid was actually in the Republic of China's interest. In March 2004, Dominica switched recognition to the PRC in exchange for a large aid package.[21] However, in late 2004, Vanuatu briefly switched recognition from Beijing to Taipei,[22] leading to the ousting of its Prime Minister and a return to its recognition of Beijing.[23] On January 20, 2005, Grenada switched its recognition from Taipei to Beijing, in return for millions in aid (US$1,500 for every Grenadian).[24] However, on May 14, 2005, Nauru announced the restoration of formal diplomatic relations with Taipei after a three-year hiatus, during which it briefly recognized the People's Republic of China.[25]

On October 26, 2005, Senegal broke off relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic contacts with Beijing.[26] The following year, on August 5, 2006, Taipei ended relations with Chad when Chad established relations with Beijing.[27] On April 26, 2007, however, Saint Lucia, which had previously severed ties with the Republic of China following a change of government in December 1996, announced the restoration of formal diplomatic relations with Taipei.[28] On June 7, 2007, Costa Rica broke off diplomatic ties with the Republic of China in favour of the People's Republic of China.[29] In January 2008 Malawi's foreign minister reported Malawi decided to cut diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China and recognize the People's Republic of China.[30]

Currently, the countries who maintain formal diplomatic relations with the ROC are:

Under continuing pressure from the PRC to bar any representation of the ROC that may imply statehood, international organizations have adopted different policies toward the issue of ROC's participation. In cases where almost all UN members or sovereign states participate, such as the World Health Organization,[31] the ROC has been completely shut out, while in others, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) the ROC participates under unusual names: "Chinese Taipei" in the case of APEC and the IOC, and the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kimmen and Matsu" (often shortened as "Chinese Taipei") in the case of the WTO. The issue of ROC's name came under scrutiny during the 2006 World Baseball Classic. The organizers of the 16-team tournament intended to call Taiwan as such, but reverted to "Chinese Taipei" under pressure from PRC. The ROC protested the decision, claiming that the WBC is not an IOC event, but did not prevail.[32] The ISO 3166 directory of names of countries and territories registers Taiwan (TW) separately from and in addition to the People's Republic of China (CN), but lists Taiwan as "Taiwan, Province of China" based on the name used by the UN under PRC pressure. In ISO 3166-2:CN, Taiwan is also coded CN-71 under China, thus making Taiwan part of China in ISO 3166-1 and ISO 3166-2 categories.

Naming issues surrounding Taiwan/ROC continue to be a contentious issue in non-governmental organizations such as the Lions Club, which faced considerable controversy naming its Taiwanese branch.[33]


Many political leaders who have maintained some form of One-China Policy have committed slips of the tongue in referring to Taiwan as a country or as the Republic of China. United States presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have been known to have referred to Taiwan as a country during their terms of office. Although near the end of his term as U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell said that Taiwan is not a state, he referred to Taiwan as the Republic of China twice during a testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 9, 2001.[34] In the People's Republic of China Premier Zhu Rongji's farewell speech to the National People's Congress, Zhu accidentally referred to Mainland China and Taiwan as two countries.[35] There are also those from the PRC who informally refer to Taiwan as a country.[36] South Africa delegates once referred to Taiwan as the "Republic of Taiwan" during Lee Teng-hui's term as President of the ROC.[37] In 2002, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, referred to Taiwan as a country.[38] Most recently, former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in a local Chinese newspaper in California in July 2005 that Taiwan is "a sovereign nation". The People's Republic of China discovered the statement about three months after it was made.[citation needed]

In a controversial speech on February 4, 2006, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso called Taiwan a country with very high education levels because of previous Japanese colonial rule over the island.[39] One month later, he told a Japanese parliamentary committee that "[Taiwan's] democracy is considerably matured and liberal economics is deeply ingrained, so it is a law-abiding country. In various ways, it is a country that shares a sense of values with Japan." At the same time, he admitted that "I know there will be a problem with calling [Taiwan] a country".[40] Later, the Japanese Foreign Ministry tried to downplay or reinterpret his remarks.[citation needed]

In February 2007, the Royal Grenada Police Band played the National Anthem of the Republic of China in an inauguration of the reconstructed St George's Queen's Park Stadium funded by the PRC. Grenada had broken off diplomatic relations with Taiwan just two years prior in favor of the PRC.[41]

When the Kuomintang visited Mainland China in 2005, the government-controlled PRC media called this event a "visit," and called the KMT one of "Taiwan's political parties" even though the Kuomintang's full name remains the "Chinese Nationalist Party." Interestingly in Mainland China, there is a legal party called the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang that is officially one of the nine "consultative parties," according to the PRC's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

On the Foreign Missions page of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China, the embassy of the People's Republic of China was referred to as the 'Republic of China'.[42]

Possible military solutions and intervention

Until 1979, both sides intended to resolve the conflict militarily.[citation needed] Intermittent clashes occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with escalations comprising the First and Second Taiwan Strait crises. In 1979, with the U.S. change of diplomatic recognition to the PRC, the ROC lost its ally needed to "recover the mainland." Meanwhile, the PRC's desire to be accepted in the international community led it to promote peaceful unification under what would later be termed "one country, two systems", rather than to "liberate Taiwan" and to make Taiwan a Special Administrative Region.

PRC's condition on military intervention

Notwithstanding, the PRC government has issued triggers for an immediate war with Taiwan, most notably via its controversial Anti-Secession Law of 2005. These conditions are:

  • if events occur leading to the "separation" of Taiwan from China in any name, or
  • if a major event occurs which would lead to Taiwan's "separation" from China, or
  • if all possibility of peaceful unification is lost.

It has been interpreted that these criteria encompass the scenario of Taiwan developing nuclear weapons (see main article Taiwan and weapons of mass destruction also Timeline of the Republic of China's nuclear program).

Much saber-rattling by the PRC has been done over this, with Jiang Zemin, after assuming the mantle of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, becoming a leading voice.

The third condition has especially caused a stir in Taiwan as the term "indefinitely" is open to interpretation.[citation needed] It has also been viewed by some as meaning that preserving the ambiguous status quo is not acceptable to the PRC, although the PRC stated on many occasions that there is no explicit timetable for reunification.

Concern over a formal declaration of de jure Taiwan independence is a strong impetus for the military buildup between Taiwan and mainland China. The former US Bush administration publicly declared that given the status quo, it would not aid Taiwan if it were to declare independence unilaterally.[43]

According the US Department of Defense report "Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011" conditions that mainland China has warned may cause the use of force have varied. They have included "a formal declaration of Taiwan independence; undefined moves “toward independence”; foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs; indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue on unification; Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons; and, internal unrest on Taiwan. Article 8 of the March 2005 “Anti-Secession Law” states Beijing would resort to “non-peaceful means” if “secessionist forces . . . cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China,” if “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession” occur, or if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted".[44]

According to President Chen Shui-bian who was President of the Republic of China between 2000 and 2008, China accelerated the deployment of missiles against Taiwan up to 120 a year (May 2007), bringing the total arsenal to 706 ballistic missiles capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads that are aimed at Taiwan. Some believe that their deployment is a political tool on the part of the PRC to increase political pressure on Taiwan to abandon unilateral moves toward formal independence, at least for the time being, although the PRC government never declares such deployment publicly.[citation needed]. Legislative elections were held in Taiwan on January 12, 2008. The results gave the Kuomintang and the Pan-Blue Coalition a supermajority (86 of the 113 seats) in the legislature, handing a heavy defeat to President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, which won the remaining 27 seats only. The junior partner in the Pan-Green Coalition, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, won no seats. The election for the 12th-term President and Vice-President of the Republic of China was held in the Republic of China (Taiwan) on Saturday, March 22, 2008. Kuomintang nominee Ma Ying-jeou won, with 58% of the vote, ending eight years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential power. Along with the 2008 legislative election, Ma's landslide victory brought the Kuomintang back to power in Taiwan.

Balance of power

The possibility of war, the close geographical proximity of ROC-controlled Taiwan and PRC-controlled mainland China, and the resulting flare-ups that occur every few years, conspire to make this one of the most watched focal points in the Pacific. Both sides have chosen to have a strong naval presence. However, naval strategies between both powers greatly shifted in the 1980s and 1990s, while the ROC assumed a more defensive attitude by building and buying frigates and missile destroyers, and the PRC a more aggressive posture by developing long-range cruise missiles and supersonic surface-to-surface missiles.

Although the People's Liberation Army Air Force is considered large, most of its fleet consists of older generation J-7 fighters (localized MiG-21s and Mig-21BIs), raising doubts over the PLAAF's ability to control Taiwan's airspace in the event of a conflict. Since mid-1990s PRC has been purchasing, and later localizing, SU-27 based fighters. These Russian fighters, as well as their Chinese J11A variants, are currently over 170 in number, and have increased the effectiveness of PLAAF's Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capabilities. The introduction of 60 new-generation J10A fighters is anticipated to increase the PLAAF's firepower. PRC's acquisition of Russian Su30MKKs further enhanced the PLAAF's air-to-ground support ability. The ROC's air force, on the other hand, relies on Taiwan's second generation fighters, consisting of 150 US-built F-16 Fighting Falcons, approximately 60 French-built Mirage 2000-5s, and approximately 130 locally developed IDFs (Indigenous Defense Fighters). All of these ROC fighter jets are able to conduct BVR combat missions with BVR missiles, but the level of technology in mainland Chinese fighters is catching up. Also the United States Defense Intelligence Agency has reported that few of Taiwan's 400 total fighters are operationally capable.[45][46]

In 2003, the ROC purchased four missile destroyers—the former USS Kidd class, and expressed a strong interest in the Arleigh Burke class. But with the growth of the PRC navy and air force, some doubt that the ROC could withstand a determined invasion attempt from mainland China in the future. These concerns have led to a view in certain quarters that Taiwanese independence, if it is to be implemented, should be attempted as early as possible, while the ROC still has the capacity to defend itself in an all-out military conflict. Over the past three decades, estimates of how long the ROC can withstand a full-scale invasion from across the Strait without any outside help have decreased from three months to only six days.[47] Given such estimates, the US Navy has continued practicing "surging" its carrier groups, giving it the experience necessary to respond quickly to an attack on Taiwan.[48] The US also collects data on the PRC's military deployments, through the use of spy satellites, for example.[citation needed] For early surveillance may effectively identify PRC's massive military movement, which may imply PRC's preparation for a military assault against Taiwan.

However, numerous reports issued by the PRC, ROC and US militaries make mutually wild contradictory statements about the possible defense of Taiwan.[citation needed]

Naturally, war contingencies are not being planned in a vacuum. In 1979, the United States Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, a law generally interpreted as mandating U.S. defense of Taiwan in the event of an attack from the Chinese Mainland (the Act is applied to Taiwan and Penghu, but not to Jinmen or Matsu). The United States maintains the world's largest permanent fleet in the Pacific Region near Taiwan. The Seventh Fleet, operating primarily out of various bases in Japan, is a powerful naval contingent built upon the world's only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). Although the stated purpose of the fleet is not Taiwanese defense, it can be safely assumed from past actions, that is one of the reasons why the fleet is stationed in those waters.[citation needed]

Starting in 2000, Japan renewed its defense obligations with the US and embarked on a rearmament program, partly in response to fears that Taiwan might be invaded. Some analysts believed that the PRC could launch preemptive strikes on military bases in Japan to deter US and Japanese forces from coming to the ROC's aid. Japanese strategic planners also see an independent Taiwan as vital, not only because the ROC controls valuable shipping routes, but also because its capture by PRC would make Japan more vulnerable. During World War II, the US invaded the Philippines, but another viable target to enable direct attacks on Japan would have been Taiwan (then known as Formosa). However, critics of the preemptive strike theory assert that the PRC would be loath to give Japan and the US such an excuse to intervene.[citation needed]

The United States Department of Defense in a 2011 report stated that the primary mission of the PRC military is a possible military conflict with Taiwan, including also possible US military assistance. Although the risk of a crisis in the short-term is low, in the absence of new political developments, Taiwan will likely dominate future military modernization and planning. However, also other priorities are becoming increasingly prominent and possible due to increasing military resources. Many of mainland China's most advanced military systems are stationed in areas opposite Taiwan. The rapid military modernization is continually changing the military balance of power towards mainland China. [49]

A 2008 report by the RAND Corporation analyzing a theoretical 2020 attack by mainland China on Taiwan suggested that the US would likely not be able to defend Taiwan. Cruise missile developments may enable China to partially or completely destroy or make inoperative US aircraft carriers and bases in the Western Pacific. New Chinese radars will likely be able to detect US stealth aircraft and China is acquiring stealthy and more effective aircraft. The reliability of US beyond-visual-range missiles as a mean to achieve air superiority is questionable and largely unproven.[50]

Third Taiwan Strait Crisis

ROCS Kang Ding-class frigate with S-70C helicopter

In 1996, the PRC began conducting military exercises near Taiwan, and launched several ballistic missiles over the island. The saber-rattling was done in response to the possible re-election of then President Lee Teng-hui.[citation needed] The United States, under President Clinton, sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, sailing them into the Taiwan Strait. The PRC, unable to track the ships' movements, and probably unwilling to escalate the conflict, quickly backed down. The event had little impact on the outcome of the election, since none of Lee's contestants were strong enough to defeat him, but it is widely believed that the PRC's aggressive acts, far from intimidating the Taiwanese population, gave Lee a boost that pushed his share of votes over 50 percent.[citation needed]

The possibility of war in the Taiwan Straits, even though quite low in the short-term, requires the PRC, ROC, and U.S. to remain wary and vigilant[who?]. The goal of the three parties at the moment seems to be, for the most part, to maintain the status quo[who?].

Developments since 2004 and future prospects


On October 24, 2006, Dr. Roger C. S. Lin led a group of Taiwanese residents, including members of the Taiwan Nation Party, to file a Complaint for Declaratory Relief in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. According to their lawyer, Mr. Charles Camp, "[t]he Complaint asks the Court to declare whether the Taiwanese plaintiffs, including members of the Taiwan Nation Party, have certain rights under the United States Constitution and other US laws".[51] Their central argument is that, following Japanese renunciation of all rights and claims to Taiwan, Taiwan came under U.S. jurisdiction based on it being the principal occupying power as designated in the Treaty of Peace with Japan and remains so to this day. This case was opposed by the United States government.

The District Court agreed with United States government on March 18, 2008 and ruled that the case presents a political question; as such, the court concluded that it had no jurisdiction to hear the matter and dismissed the complaint.[52] This decision has been appealed by plaintiffs[53] and the appeals court unanimously upheld the district court ruling.[54]

The PRC and Taiwan have agreed to increase cooperation in the area of law enforcement. Mainland police will begin staffing a liaison office in Taipei in 2010.[55]


Although the situation is confusing, most observers believe that it is stable with enough understandings and gentlemen's agreements to keep things from breaking out into open warfare. The current controversy is over the term one China, as the PRC insists that the ROC must recognize this term to begin negotiations. Although the Democratic Progressive Party has moderated its support for Taiwan independence, there is still insufficient support within that party for former President Chen Shui-bian to agree to one China. By contrast, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) appear willing to agree to some variation of one China, and observers believed the position of the PRC was designed to sideline Chen until the 2004 presidential election where it was hoped that someone who was more supportive of Chinese reunification would come to power. Partly to counter this, Chen Shui-bian announced in July 2002 that if the PRC does not respond to Taiwan's goodwill, Taiwan may "go on its own ... road."[citation needed]

With Chen's re-election in 2004, Beijing's prospects for a speedier resolution were dampened, though they seemed strengthened again following the Pan-Blue majority in the 2004 legislative elections. However, public opinion in Taiwan reacted unfavorably towards the anti-secession law passed by the PRC in March 2005. Following two high profile visits by KMT and PFP party leaders to the PRC, the balance of public opinion appears to be ambiguous, with the Pan-Green Coalition gaining a majority in the 2005 National Assembly elections, but the Pan-Blue Coalition scoring a landslide victory in the 2005 municipal elections.

Legislative elections were held in Taiwan on January 12, 2008. The results gave the Kuomintang and the Pan-Blue Coalition an absolute majority (86 of the 113 seats) in the legislature, handing a heavy defeat to President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, which won the remaining 27 seats. The junior partner in the Pan-Green Coalition, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, won no seats.

The election for the 12th President of ROC was held on March 22, 2008. Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou won, with 58% of the vote, ending eight years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership. Along with the 2008 legislative election, Ma's landslide victory brought the Kuomintang back to power in Taiwan. This new political situation has led to a decrease of tension between both sides of the Taiwan Strait and the increase of cross-strait relations, making a declaration of independence, or war, something unlikely.

Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart – the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) signed four agreements in Taipei on November 4, 2008. Both SEF and ARATS have agreed to address direct sea links, daily charter flights, direct postal service and food safety.[56]

Public opinion

Public opinion in Taiwan regarding relations with the PRC is notoriously difficult to gauge, as poll results tend to be extremely sensitive to how the questions are phrased and what options are given, and there is a tendency by all political parties to spin the results to support their point of view.[citation needed][dubious ]

According to a November 2005 poll from the Mainland Affairs Council, 37.7% of people living in the ROC favor maintaining the status quo until a decision can be made in the future, 18.4% favors maintaining the status quo indefinitely, 14% favors maintaining the status quo until eventual independence, 12% favors maintaining the status quo until eventual reunification, 10.3% favors independence as soon as possible, and 2.1% favors reunification as soon as possible. According to the same poll, 78.3% are opposed to the "One Country, Two Systems" model, which was used for Hong Kong and Macau, while 10.4% is in favor.[57]

According to a June 2008 poll from a Taiwanese mainstream media TVBS, 58% of people living in Taiwan favor maintaining the status quo, 19% favors independence, and 8% favors unification. According to the same poll, if status quo is not an option and the ones who were surveyed must choose between "Independence" or "Unification", 65% are in favor of independence while 19% would opt for unification. The same poll also reveals that, in terms of self-identity, when the respondents are not told that a Taiwanese can also be a Chinese, 68% of the respondents identify themselves as "Taiwanese" while 18% would call themselves "Chinese". However, when the respondents are told that duo identity is an option, 45% of the respondents identify themselves as "Taiwanese only", 4% of the respondents call themselves "Chinese only" while 45% of the respondents call themselves "both Taiwanese as well as Chinese". Furthermore, when it comes to preference in which national identity to be used in international organizations, 54% of people in the survey indicated that they prefer "Taiwan" and only 25% of the people voted for "Chinese Taipei".[58]

According to an October 2008 poll from the Mainland Affairs Council, on the question of Taiwan's status, 36.17% of respondents favor maintaining the status quo until a decision can be made in the future, 25.53% favors maintaining the status quo indefinitely, 12.49% favors maintaining the status quo until eventual independence, 4.44% favors maintaining the status quo until eventual reunification, 14.80% favors independence as soon as possible, and 1.76% favors reunification as soon as possible. In the same poll, on the question of the PRC government's attitude towards the ROC government, 64.85% of the respondents consider the PRC government hostile or very hostile, 24.89 consider the PRC government friendly or very friendly, while 10.27% did not express an opinion. On the question of the PRC government's attitude towards the people in Taiwan, 45.98% of the respondents consider the PRC government hostile or very hostile, 39.6% consider the PRC government friendly or very friendly, while 14.43% did not express an opinion.[59]

May 2009 Taiwan's (Republic of China) Department of the Interior published a survey examining whether people in Taiwan see themselves as Taiwanese, Chinese or both. 64.6% see themselves as Taiwanese, 11.5% as Chinese, 18.1% as both and 5.8% were unsure.[60]

According to a December 2009 poll from a Taiwanese mainstream media TVBS, if status quo is not an option and the ones who were surveyed must choose between "Independence" or "Unification", 68% are in favor of independence while 13% would opt for unification.[61]

Changing Taiwan’s status with respect to the ROC constitution

From the perspective of the ROC constitution, which the mainstream political parties such as the KMT and DPP currently respect and recognize, changing the ROC’s governing status or completely clarifying Taiwan’s political status would at best require amending the ROC constitution. In other words, if reunification supporters wanted to reunify Taiwan with mainland China in such a way that would effectively abolish the ROC or affect the ROC’s sovereignty, or if independence supporters wanted to abolish the ROC and establish a Republic of Taiwan, they would also need to amend or abolish the ROC constitution and redraft a new constitution. Passing an amendment requires an unusually broad political consensus, which includes approval from three-quarters of a quorum of members of the Legislative Yuan. This quorum requires at least three-quarters of all members of the Legislature. After passing the legislature, the amendments need ratification from at least fifty percent of all eligible voters of the ROC, irrespective of voter turnout.

Given these harsh constitutional requirements, neither the pan-greens nor pan-blues can unilaterally change Taiwan’s political and legal status with respect to the ROC’s constitution. However, extreme Taiwan independence supporters view the ROC’s constitution as illegal and therefore believe that amendments to the ROC constitution are an invalid way to change Taiwan’s political status.

Note on terminology

Political status vs. Taiwan issue

Some scholarly sources as well as political entities like the PRC refer to Taiwan's controversial status as the "Taiwan question", "Taiwan issue", or "Taiwan problem" (台灣問題). The ROC government does not like these terminologies, emphasizing that it should be called the "Mainland issue" or "Mainland question", because from the ROC's point of view, the PRC is making an issue out of or creating a problem out of Taiwan. Others use the term "Taiwan Strait Question" because it implies nothing about sovereignty and because "Cross-Strait relations" is a term used by both the ROC and the PRC to describe their interactions. However, this term is also objectionable to some because it still implies that there is an issue, which they feel is created only by the PRC.

De facto vs. de jure and whether ROC ceased to exist

The use of the terms de facto and de jure to describe Taiwan's as well as the Republic of China's status as a state is itself a contentious issue. This partially stems from the lack of precedents regarding derecognized, but still constitutionally functioning states. For instance, it is regularly argued that Taiwan satisfies the requirements of statehood at international law as stated in the Montevideo Convention. At the same time, there is continued debate on whether UN membership or recognition as a state by the UN is a decisive feature of statehood (since it represents broad recognition by the international community); the debate arises because non-state entities can often satisfy the Montevideo Convention factors, while the list of states recognised by the UN, for the most part, correlate well with entities recognised as states by customary international law. If the latter argument is accepted, then the Republic of China may have ceased to be a state post-1971 as a matter of international law ("de jure"), yet continued to otherwise function as the state that it previously was recognised as ("de facto").

From the 1990s onwards, media wire services sometimes describe Taiwan as having de-facto independence, whereas the Republic of China has always considered itself as a continuously functioning de jure state.

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  61. ^ "Taiwanese text" (PDF). TVBS. http://www.tvbs.com.tw/FILE_DB/DL_DB/doshouldo/200912/doshouldo-20091218191946.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 

Further reading

  • Bush, R. & O'Hanlon, M. (2007). A War Like No Other: The Truth About China's Challenge to America. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-98677-1
  • Bush, R. (2006). Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 0815712901
  • Carpenter, T. (2006). America's Coming War with China: A Collision Course over Taiwan. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-6841-1
  • Cole, B. (2006). Taiwan's Security: History and Prospects. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-36581-3
  • Copper, J. (2006). Playing with Fire: The Looming War with China over Taiwan. Praeger Security International General Interest. ISBN 0-275-98888-0
  • Federation of American Scientists et al. (2006). Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning
  • Gill, B. (2007). Rising Star: China's New Security Diplomacy. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 0-8157-3146-9
  • Shirk, S. (2007). China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-530609-0
  • Tsang, S. (2006). If China Attacks Taiwan: Military Strategy, Politics and Economics. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-40785-0
  • Tucker, N.B. (2005). Dangerous Strait: the U.S.-Taiwan-China Crisis. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-13564-5

External links

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