Around Taiwan’s Sovereignty and China’s Hegemony

| Deeksha Singh D

As the war of words between the United States and China over Taiwan escalates, the latter has vowed to “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwanese independence and warned that foreign interference is “doomed to fail”. The latest wasr of words between the two powers is stoking already soaring tensions with the US over the self-ruled island. “If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will … fight at all costs and we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China,” Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit.

Pentagon stated that when United States secretary of defense Lloyd James Austin met with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, he reiterated that the US remains committed to the longstanding one-China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. However, tensions have grown in a severe manner between the US and China over Taiwan amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Taiwan – A  Sovereign Nation, not part of China

The split between China and Taiwan came about after World War Two, when there was fighting in mainland China between nationalist government forces and the Chinese Communist Party. The communists won in 1949, and their leader, Mao Zedong, took control in Beijing.  The Kuomintang has been one of Taiwan’s most prominent political parties ever since – ruling the island for a significant part of its history. The territories of two separate political entities i.e The Republic of China (Taiwan) and People’s Republic of China (PRC) overlap. The PRC claims to be a successor of historical China, while the ROC claims it is not! The reality is somewhere in between. The PRC has succeeded the ROC in most places, but not everywhere. Since the overlap is significant, they are basically claiming to be the same country.

The territory of Taiwan currently has its own government, population, currency, military forces, etc. It is for all intents and purposes an independent state. The territory of “China” has never been fixed. Many of the territories that used to be considered part of the Chinese civilization are now sovereign independent states. While PRC is an autocratic, Communist country, ROC is a democracy which is ruled by a constitution. Taiwan’s law states that its own Republic of China is the real China, which is different from the mainland’s People’s Republic of China.  Though the ethnicities of the people of the two entities are mostly the same, the political realities have separated them for decades.

Relations between China and Taiwan started improving in the 1980s. China put forward a formula, known as “one country, two systems”, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification. Taiwan has been an independent country for decades. Taiwan fully satisfies all criteria of a sovereign independent country with a government in effective control of territory, people and resources. Australia’s current population is around 26 million and Taiwan’s around 24 million. There are around 160 U.N. countries — over 80% of total membership — with a lower population.

Why does China oppose Taiwan’s independence?

Since the 1990s, Taiwan has been a vibrant democracy and an increasingly prosperous one. The IMF estimates Australia’s current GDP as $1.61 trillion, Japan’s as $5.37 trillion and Taiwan’s as $0.68 trillion (almost 20 times the world median). Using purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars, Taiwan’s GDP per capita ($56,959) is more than Australia ($54,891), the EU ($46,888) and Japan ($44,585).

China’s control of Taiwan would give China control over a significant part of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing industry. Taiwan is the world’s largest IC manufacturing region and the second largest IC design region. Taiwan MediaTek, the world’s top five chip companies, supplies a large number of electronic chips to Xiaomi, oppo, Huawei and other mainland brands. Taiwan’s high-precision industrial machine tools play an important role in the global industrial chain. Taiwan is also the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of life saving drugs. Taiwan occupies a key position in the supply chain of industrial automation, medical technology, information communication, semiconductor, petrochemical, materials, aerospace, etc. Taiwan’s independence  will seriously threaten the security of China’s high-tech industries and shake China’s peaceful development and national interests.

China has much more to lose  from any military confrontation that would be a big setback to its economic stability and international reputation. Taiwan would act as an island aircraft carrier for China, unsinkable and would greatly increase China’s dominance in the South China Sea. Beijing’s rule over Taiwan against its will would be a major strategic setback for the US and its friends and allies in the region, and indeed for democracy. Taiwan also qualifies for U.N. membership but unfortunately, a Security Council recommendation is required and China would veto any such effort. This does not preclude the General Assembly from adopting an annual resolution declaring that Taiwan is fully qualified to be a member state.

Taiwan’s defence minister has said relations with China are the worst they have been for 40 years. “I believe that China uses the Taiwan issue as a feel good issue. It promotes nationalism, makes the people feel strong and powerful. But the real reasons China threatens to invade free and independent Taiwan are strategic and economic”, he said.

Countries that recognise Taiwan

Currently, only 13 countries (plus the Vatican) recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country and have established full diplomatic relations. They are Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tuvalu which are small island nations themselves. 

The Western world is worried that recognizing Taiwan would provoke an angry China into military action to invade and conquer Taiwan. The hope was that as China integrated into the global order, it would be socialized instead into the liberal norms and perhaps one day acknowledge Taiwan’s right to exist as an independent country if that was the people’s democratic choice. That does not seem to come true any day soon.

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