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  • Writer's pictureAlperen Kürsat Demirbag

Historical Background of the Taiwan Issue and Some Reviews

The China-Taiwan tension, which flared up again after American diplomat Pelosi's attempt to visit Taiwan, has become the most critical issue on the agenda. In the past few years, a global pandemic has shaken the world's economic structure. While the effects of the pandemic were just beginning to be overcome, Russia's war on Ukraine made things even more difficult. The USA and many countries, which could not risk a hot conflict with Russia, attempted to fight in this way by applying economic sanctions to Russia. While the world's economic balance was shaken after these events in recent years, the re-igniting of the China-Taiwan crisis has caused alarm bells to ring.

Although the Sino-Taiwan tension has a history dating back to the 1600s, we can say those important breakdowns began during the Second World War. The real name of the country known as Taiwan in the world public is the Republic of China. A civil war broke out in 1927 as Chinese nationalists began purging the communists.

Conflicts between communists led by Mao Zedong and nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek continued for almost 10 years until Japan declared war on China.

To defend their country against Japan, both sides decided to join forces by making concessions. The red army under the Chinese communist party was also reorganized into the National army under the Government. After the surrender of Japan, these two sides, which were in cooperation until the end of World War II, flared up again in the Chinese civil war.

With the strategic superiority achieved, the communists who won in 1949 established the People's Republic of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong. But the nationalists, including Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan and founded the Republic of China, announcing to the whole world that the nationalists had not lost yet and that they would continue their struggle against the People's Republic of China in Taiwan. Of course, in the face of this situation, the USA, the head of the western bloc, which continued its struggle against communism, supported Taiwan and did not recognize the People's Republic of China, but instead recognized the Republic of China, which was established by the nationalists, and accepted the representation of the Republic of China in the United Nations.

Of course, the Republic of China, located in Taiwan, was not recognized by the People's Republic of China. The PRC was aware of Taiwan's strategic importance. In 1954 and 1958, there were two Taiwanese throat attacks. By signing a joint defense agreement with Taiwan in 1954, the USA showed that it would stand by Taiwan against China. In the first crisis, the Yijiangshan Islands and Tachen Islands came under Chinese control, forcing Taiwan to abandon these islands. The second Taiwan strait crisis was limited to only a brief gunfight. However, with the involvement of the Soviets and the USA, this diplomatic confusion deepened.

Photo by Dirk Spijkers on Unsplash

At the same time, the USA was dealing with the Vietnam war, and this war cost the USA more than necessary. The United States, fighting against the communists, was of course an important supporter of Taiwan, but it also recognized the strategic importance of China in the region. Therefore, Taiwan was expelled from membership at the 26th United Nations General Assembly in 1971, and the representation of the People's Republic of China was recognized instead. In this way, the validity of the joint defense agreement signed between the United States and Taiwan has also disappeared.

By 1979, the USA started official relations with the People's Republic of China. But at the same time, the USA, which did not want to give up on Taiwan, passed a law and started to sell weapons to Taiwan.

Also, Taiwan is no longer officially recognized by the United States. That's why the US started using cultural representations to improve relations with Taiwan. In the early 1980s, then-Chinese President Deng Xiaoping put forward the proposal for one country, two systems. According to this system, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau would continue to use their own economic and political systems and would integrate into China. Hong Kong 1997 and Macau in 1999 adopted this system. But Taiwan continued to maintain the status quo. In the same period, in 1995, Lee Teng-hui's desire to go to the USA and the USA's granting him a visa were negatively interpreted by China and the 3rd Taiwan Strait crisis occurred. However, this crisis was limited only to the Chinese navy and the US navy showing off each other.

As a result of the Peaceful Ascension Policy of Hu Jintao, who took office in 2003, China started to follow a softer policy towards Taiwan.

However, Chen Shui-bian, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, which won the Taiwanese elections in 2000, presented a bill, that led to a referendum in 2004. The subject of this referendum was to strengthen the defense or start a peace dialogue with China if China did not withdraw its missiles. This referendum was deemed invalid because turnout was below 50%. However, the People's Republic of China did not welcome such an attempt by the Taiwanese government and re-hardened its policy towards Taiwan. In 2005, the People's Republic of China passed a law stating that force would be used if Taiwan tried to secede. When we look at recent history, the volume of arms sales increased during the Obama era.

Taiwan's president's call to congratulate Trump's presidential election, and this call was not rejected, was another reason that increased the tension. The Chinese Government accused the US of not sticking to its "One China" policy.

Weapons sales to Taiwan continued during the Trump era. With Joe Biden becoming the US president, the US called for Taiwan to join the United Nations in 2021. In addition, the US stated that Taiwan will protect it from a possible Chinese attack. This escalation of tensions with the US was strongly condemned by the Chinese foreign ministry. Likewise, China continued to escalate tensions by staunchly denying Taiwan's political presence. The graphic of China's violation of Taiwan Airspace published by Taiwan was also a proof document.

The attempt by Nancy Pelosi, the head of the American Association of Representatives, to visit Taiwan today was also condemned by China. The fact that the US is constantly taking diplomatic steps against the One China policy is not welcomed by China. Despite China's threats to use force, Nancy Pelosi made her visit to Taiwan and gave the message that the United States is always on Taiwan's side. China held a military exercise around Taiwan for about a week. China, which carried out a large-scale exercise with its air, sea, and land forces, attracted the eyes of the whole world. In the face of the media, Joe Biden assured us that if China used force, it would intervene militarily in this crisis.

Photo by Winston Chen on Unsplash

Therefore, the risk that this China-Taiwan crisis will evolve into a war between the USA and China will drag the world into chaos irreversibly. Strategists and international relations experts from all over the world make inferences and evaluations about this crisis. The majority believes that this crisis will be overcome diplomatically and that this situation will not turn into a war. I agree with this idea. Any war between China and America will affect the whole world badly. The fact that there is a war in which there will be no winners must be hindering the motivation on both sides to use force. I do not think it is healthy for the US not to stick to the "One China" policy and to take diplomatic steps that provoke the Chinese government.

China, which is among the leading powers in the world, is not a weak country as it used to be, and they are very attached to its national motivations. The reason why Taiwan is so important is the risk of triggering the desire for independence of other nations under Chinese rule. Therefore, Taiwan has become an important strategic target for China. So why does the US not stick to its "One China" policy and continue to support Taiwan despite not recognizing it? This situation is generally considered to be the protection of the democratic regime in Taiwan and the fight against communism. In other words, as we have encountered before in history, the leader of the free new world is America's attempt to protect democracy.

But Taiwan occupies an important position in the US strategy to contain China by sea. In other words, Taiwan is an "Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier" like the other islands around China. Taiwan plays a critical role in US-Chinese relations. It would not be wrong to describe Taiwan as a playing field in the balance game played between the two great powers.

Will this crisis ever end? Xi Jinping is very determined to connect Taiwan to the mainland. On the other hand, he guarantees that he is with Taiwan in every way in the USA.

Of course, as I mentioned, considering the Taiwan Strait Crises in the past, I think that the risk of this crisis evolving into a war is low. Because these two great powers do not have a difference they can put pressure on each other. This balance of power can be presented as further evidence that reduces the likelihood of war. It is quite natural that this crisis has created fear in the world's public opinion, while the Pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine issue have not been fully overcome yet. We have no choice but to hope that these two superpowers will resolve this crisis through diplomatic means.

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