The China-Taiwan Relationship: Current Status and Potential Directions
BY MATTHEW KENNEDY | MARCH 01, 2012
Taiwan is a primary flashpoint in East Asia. Its explosiveness results from China’s ongoing insistence – and Taiwan’s refusal – that Taipei fall under Beijing’s auspices. It’s a periodic dispute which has lasted for over 60 years. China has not openly attempted to force Taiwan to reunify, yet there have been several times when it has initiated borderline provocations. Both sides are starting to reconcile their differences albeit slowly and with little progress. The key to resolving the dispute will probably occur within one-to-two generations, plus via a currently unthoughtof solution.
The article is divided into several sections. First, it will briefly analyze the issue; Second, the piece will examine the current state of affairs between Taiwan and China. And finally, the article will explore the difficulties of finding an answer to the reunification controversy.
The Taiwan-China Relationship is one of the most paradoxial affiliations in Pacific Rim affairs. Both countries have strong economic, yet strained political ties as a result of the reunification issue. The controversy could disappear overnight, if Beijing recognized Taipei’s status as an independent country; acknowledging Taiwan’s stature would require China to abandon a primary foreign policy objective. Chinese policymakers and independent analysts have suggested a solution is for Taiwan to adopt Hong Kong and/or Macao type model. The proposition’s difficulty is both entities and Taiwan share dissimilar backgrounds. Taipei would lose its de facto political and economic independence, if it agreed to similar conditions. The other solution is for China to force Taiwan to accept Beijing’s jurisdiction. The scenario will probably not occur considering the United States is obligated by American to law to militarily intervene if China attacks Taiwan (an issue for another article). Resolving the controversy probably won’t occur within the current generation’s timeframe, since leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are from or are distantly linked from the era when the dispute started. The most likely scenario is the reunification issue will remain unresolved for years to come – and that a discounted and/or unconsidered solution will present itself when a new generation of leaders occupies Beijing and Taiwan’s political reins.
Historical roots, China’s Perspective, and Taiwan’s Viewpoint
The Taiwan conflicts’ origins are historical and political in nature. Its roots are traceable to the 1940s, while the current difficulties are linked to differences between how Beijing and Taipei interpret a settlement of the reunification problem.
The dispute started in 1949. Throughout the 1930s forces loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and General Chaing Kai-Shek clashed in a civil war. Both sides set aside their differences and coordinated their efforts between 1937 and 1945 against the Japanese when Tokyo invaded and occupied a significant part of the country. Their dispute reemerged after Japan’s defeat. The civil war lasted for another four years until 1949 when Chaing Kai-Shek fled to Taiwan after his forces were defeated by the CCP. A key objective of the Chinese authorities has been the reunification of Taiwan under Beijing’s auspices since.
China’s policy towards Taiwan is defined in the Chinese Constitution’s Preamble and the 2005 Anti-Secessionist Law. The Constitution’s Preamble states,
“Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China. It is the inviolable duty of all Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland..”[i]
Beijing’s 2005 Anti-Secessionist Law further explains China’s policies towards Taiwan. Article 2 notes that there is only “One China” and Taiwan is a part of it. Article 5 contends Beijing will seek reunification with Taipei under peaceful means. Article 6 details issues China will collaborate with Taiwan over to encourage peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits. These subjects range from economic activities, such as trade, to combating crime and encouraging cultural exchanges between both entities. Article 7 examines the steps Chinese authorities are willing to initiate with Taiwan on the reunification matter. These include ending hostilities, establishing procedures for the development of cross strait relations plus a peaceful reunification, ascertaining the political status of Taiwan’s authorities within the Chinese government hierarchy, determining Taipei’s international status within Beijing’s strategic apparatus, and related issues relevant to Taiwan’s status within China. And finally Article 8 endows Chinese authorities with the latitude of utilizing military force against Taiwan, if Taipei’s officially declares independence from Beijing.[ii]