Explained: Why Is China At Loggerheads With Taiwan?
While Taiwan has strived to carve out its identity as an independent country, China views it as a renegade province, waiting to be annexed.
In the past week, China has sent over 140 aircraft into Taiwanese defence zone, marking the most number of incursions by the former into the latter's territory in history.
Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said tensions with China were at its worst, and warned the risk of accidental strike between the two countries.
They are fighting over the existence of Taiwan itself - while Taiwan has strived to carve out its identity as an independent country, China views it as a renegade province, which should be part of sovereign Chinese territory, and aims for unification.
How did the two countries come to such a situation? To answer this question, we have to look back in the past, all the way to the Xinhai revolution of 1911, and the fall of monarchy in China.
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The Formation Of Republic Of China
The 1911 Xinhai revolution in China saw the end of China's last imperial monarchy led by the Qing dynasty.
The following year, the Republic of China was established, with Dr. Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintag (KMT) party, as its leader. Sun formed a brittle alliance between the KMT and the newly formed Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Sun's death in 1925 led to the rise of Chiang Kai-shek as the leader of the KMT and the country, who led a military conquest and a series of political manoeuvrers known as the Northern Expedition, to defeat the warlords and finally unify the country under the Republic.
However, Chiang, unlike his predecessor Sun, was heavily right leaning, which led to the end of the alliance between KMT, CCP and the left-leaning KMT members (who eventually joined the CCP), and the eventual start of the Chinese civil war.
The Chinese Civil War
The split between KMP and CCP initially led to sporadic insurgency by Chinese communists, with the conflict slowly rising to the point of civil war.
During this time, an eager CCP worker and an ardent follower and admirer of Dr. Sun, Mao Zedong, started gaining popularity as he founded the Chinese People's Red Army - a mostly-peasant-led military unit.
The Red Army was initially met with defeat. In 1934, Communist armies made a series of military retreats towards the northern and western regions of the country.
The Long March, as the retreat is now called, was one of the turning points in Chinese history, and for Mao too. Mao's leadership during the retreat gained him immense popularity among the Red Army soldiers and surviving CCP members, and further sealed his popularity in a leadership position.
The Civil War came to an abrupt pause between 1937 and 1945, when the KMT and CCP came together under the moderation of the Allied forces, to form the Second United front against the Japanese invasion of China.
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The Communist Revolution
As soon as Japan was defeated in 1945, the CCP, under the leader of of Mao, launched an offensive against the KMT government and its forces.
CCP's newly formed military unit, and the successor of the Red Army, the People's Liberation Army, with some help from the Soviet Union, and weapons and hardware left by the Japanese military, defeated the KMT.
On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the formation of the People's Republic of China, with Beijing as its capital. During this time, Chiang and the rest of KMT's leadership fled the ascending CCP army to a southern island of Taiwan, and declared the city of Taipei as the capital of the Republic of China.
PRC, under Mao, still continued to look at Taiwan as breakaway province left to be annexed, while KMT militants continued their insurgency in China through the Burmese borders.
This eventually led to brief periods of armed conflicts between Taiwan and China, leading to the First, Second and Third Taiwan Strait Crises.
This also became a proxy battle for the Soviet Union and the United States, who were supporting China and Taiwan, respectively, on ideological grounds.
While hostilities subsided in the 1990's between the two countries, there was never any peace treaty or agreement signed between the two, paving the way for future conflicts.
In 1992, the two countries reached a consensus (known as the 1992 consensus), which set the basis for diplomatic exchanges between the two countries for the decades to come.
The Volatile Cross-Strait Relations
The 1990's and 2000's were periods of no-contact between the two countries, following the 1992 consensus. However, in 2008, KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou came to power in Taiwan and slowly took a softer approach towards China.
From 2008 onwards there were increasing talks between high-level KMT and CCP officials, leading to relations between the two countries improving partially.
November 2015 marked another historic moment, when Chinese leader Xi Jingping and Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou met and shook hands in Singapore, marking the first ever meeting of leaders since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
While KMT officials were slowly leaning towards China, its opposition in Taiwanese politics were more sceptical of Chinese intentions, suspecting them of attempting to annex the country through a political approach.
In 2016, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in Taiwan with majority vote share, with its leader Tsai Ing-wen becoming its President. The DPP then stopped top-level KMT leaders from going to China and Hong Kong, marking a deterioration of relations between the two country.
While Tsai had called for further talks to take place, there has not been any top-level diplomatic meetings between the two countries.
In 2017, in his opening speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress, CCP supremo Xi Jinping brought up the topic of China's sovereignty over Taiwan, thus signalling the possibility of attempted reunification of the two countries under Chinese rule.
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How Do Taiwanese People And Politicians Feel About China?
Professor Lai I-Chung, the president of Taiwanese foreign policy think tank Prospect Foundation, revealed that an overwhelming majority of people did not want unification, with most favouring the current situation, and a growing number of people opting for independence.
He also felt that China's recent behaviour may have pushed more and more people towards independence.
"Various opinion polling show that there's a super majority of Taiwanese people for not unifying with China (over 90%). Among them, the majority is in favour of staying "status quo", a smaller portion prefers to go for independence (either now or later). The attitude has been hardened recently due to PRC intimidation and its treatment toward Hong Kong," Lai told BOOM.
While public sentiments are clear on the issue, political take on the matter is a mixed bag, feels Professor Lai.
"The attitude of the political elites are less as clear cut as the general public, probably due to PRC's elite capture tactics that was effective in the past, particularly during the eight years of Ma Ying-Jeou government when President Ma advocated closer Taiwan-China tie (2008-2016). The composition in Taiwan's parliament seems to exhibit heavier China friendly attitude, especially for legislators from political parties such as KMT, NP (New Party) and PFP (People First Party," he said. "The parties for stronger Taiwanese identity and leaning toward independence are DPP, New Power Party and Taiwan Statebuilding Party. The parties are outright against Taiwan Independence and for unification with China are KMT, New Party and People First Party."
Further adding to his comment, he said, "There is a recent emerging party called Taiwan People's Party, whose chairman is the current Taipei City mayor Ko Wen-Jer. This party does not pay out a clear position on independence vs. unification. However, since many of its supporters are from some disgruntled/disappointed former supporters of KMT, PDP and NP, thus people here also tended to paint this party as "not for Independence"."
While Taiwanese politics is divided in its view on unification with China, as opposed to independence, it can be certain that the ruling political class led by Tsai and the DPP, along with a majority of Taiwanese people are opposed to unification with China.
How China responds to that remains to be seen.
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