| Taiwan is an island
located just off the southeast coast of China and is said to be the custodian
and preserver of the world’s oldest traditions.
Formerly known as Formosa, it was in the beginning
occupied by mainland Chinese until the 17th
century. The island was then inhabited by the Dutch
and Spanish for 40 years.
In 1684, the country was influenced
by supporters of the overthrown Ming Dynasty and was a tao (a sub-province or county)
of the mainland province of Fukien across the
Taiwan Straits. (The island’s use as a refuge for overthrown
governers from the mainland is a frequent feature of Taiwanese history.)
In 1885, Taiwan was fully influenced by the Qing Dynasty and made into a province in its own right.
10 years later, Chinese
failure in the first Sino-Japanese
War brought the first occupations of Chinese territory
by the Japanese. The country was 'ceded
in perpetuity' to Japan by Article 2 of the Treaty
of Shimonoseki. Though it was sternly resented and
actively opposed by the population, the country was under Japanese
control from 1895 until its overthrow at the end of World War II.
The Chinese Civil War, having already been
in movement for some years, came to a head in 1948.
The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek were
overthrown by Mao’s Communists, and the nationalist
leadership, as well as many thousands of supporters, fled to Taiwan.
Here, their political vehicle, Kuo Min-Tang (KMT)
quickly came to take over Taiwanese politics – having insured
its own survival, the KMT then set about developing the
economy. In this, the KMT regime was
outstandingly successful and Taiwan has been one of the fast-developing
‘tiger economies’ of the Pacific
Rim (see Business Profile).
In a political way, Taiwan relied for a long time on the support of
the USA until the early-1970s, when the rapprochement between
Beijing and Washington happened. The Chinese still believe
Taiwan to be part of the national territory and continue
to harbour the long-term objective of reuniting Taiwan with the
mainland. International recognition of Taiwan (by the United Nations,
for example) is therefore unbearable to Beijing.
For all their political conflict, a great deal of trade, travel
and communications links have increased between Taiwan and China
since the early 1970s: yearly bilateral trade
is currently worth well over US$50 billion and one
million people travel between these 2 countries each year.
Many people in Taiwan believe that the 2 countries should be reunified
but disagree on the terms under which this should happen;
the idea of a Hong Kong-type solution is given short shrift. But
in the mid-1990s, an unusual alternative
came under consideration for the first time – full
independence. This drew a fuming reaction from Beijing
but, inside Taiwan, it has attracted growing support.
The main part of the reason has been the shift in Taiwanese domestic
politics which took place after the death of Chiang Ching-Kuo
(Kai-Shek's son, president from 1978) in 1988.
His Kuo Min-Tang successor, Lee Teng-Hui,
took over as the president. President Lee modified
the original ROC constitution to strengthen representative
democracy on the island.
The KMT gained control of the presidency
and the national assembly during the 1990s, but its share
of the vote was unavoidably declined.
Lastly, in March 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),
the most important opposition party, took control of the presidency through its candidate Chen
Shui-Bian. The DPP also became the biggest
party in the Li Fa Yuan (see Government) the
following year, even though it was short of an overall majority.
For the very first time, the KMT was
from political power. KMT-led pan-blue opposition camp
still rules the legislature, having won 114 of the 225 seats
in legislative elections in December 2004.
Not long after that the election of President Chen,
George W Bush, who at that time was the Republican candidate
at the 2000 US presidential election, indorsed Taiwanese
independence and gave a huge boost to the pro-independence
lobby. This however is not representative of US policy on Taiwan.
The US remains steadfast to both the 'One China' policy and the
defense of Taiwan (Taiwan Relations Act).
While disapproving what it describes as ‘splittist
forces’, the Chinese continued to build up their
relations with Taiwan. Trade particularly has developed since the
launch of new airline connections and China’s entry into
the World Trade Organisation.
Taiwan and China started historic charter flights on Jan 29,
2005 for the Lunar New Year celebrations with commercial
jets flying non-stop between the 2 countries for the
first time since 1949.
Many people hope that this is the sign of bettering relationships. Chen
was elected again by a narrow majority in the 2004 elections.
The Election Day referendum was not on the issues
of sovereignty or renaming Taiwan but on improvement of anti-missile
defence systems and opening talks with Beijing. Voting
on the referendum fell short of the required 50%.
In the foreign policy arena, the ‘recognition competition’
carries on. 28 countries recognise Taiwan, against more than those
who recognise the People’s Republic. Both sides have ‘bought’
certain countries, characteristically by offering a substantial
aid package and/or soft loans in exchange for recognition.