The bilateral ties between the United States of America and Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) have developed through a peculiar and complex course. The relationship, however ambiguous, continues to form a crucial aspect of security relations in East Asia.
When the Communist forces led by Mao Zedong expelled Chiang Kai shek’s Nationalist regime, who fled to the isle of Taiwan in 1949, US President Harry Truman decided to accept the inevitability of the Communist victory in China and even planned to work out a bilateral relationship with the newly established People’s Republic of China without heeding much to the plight of his former ally Chiang. It was the eruption of the Korean War (1950-1953), which displayed the strength and danger of a Communist alliance between the Soviet Union, China and North Korea, that made President Truman realise the importance of supporting the staunchly anti-Communist regime of Chiang’s Kuomintang (KMT) as a bulwark against what became apparently the rising tide of Communism in the third world nations of Asia. The raison d’être of Chiang’s regime was to overthrow the Communist Party rule in Beijing and “reunify” Taiwan and Mainland China, an act that both the KMT and CCP believed would restore China’s historical rights over the island snatched away by the Japanese and would redeem the historical injustices it faced at the hands of the colonial powers. Chiang constantly insisted for the United States to help him in waging a war against Mao to achieve this objective. However, Washington was not ready to support another war in the region.
Chiang finally succeeded in framing Mao’s maritime offensive acts during the early 1950s as a growing threat and pursued the Eisenhower administration to sign with him the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty which promised military protection for his regime. The United States abdided by Chiang’s One China policy under which it recognised that Chiang’s Republic of China was the sole legitimate representative government of the one China that exists on the face of the earth.
It was by utilising Washington’s vast diplomatic clout that Chiang did not just earn non-socialist allies but also found place in the United Nations Security Council as a Permanent Member.
However, the golden days couldn’t last long. The growing differences between China and the Soviet Union became more apparent by the 1970s and gave way to clear enmity as border clashes and ideological tensions ensued. The United States saw this development as an opportunity to crack the socialist international alliance and decided to turn the dynamics of the security triangle between itself, Moscow and Beijing in its favour by recognising the People’s Republic of China. US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 and the Shanghai Communiqué that followed stated that ‘Chinese on both sides of the border believe that there is but one China’ and that ‘Taiwan is a part of China’. Washington left it to the CCP and KMT to decide which one represented the “One China” and promised not to intervene. In 1979, came a decisive shift as the United States established official ties with the PRC. Following Beijing’s non-negotiable One China Policy, Washington broke away all official ties with the ROC and officially recognised the PRC as the sole legitimate representative of the one China.
This came as a major setback for Chiang not just as a great betrayal but also as following Washington, several non-socialist allies like Canada shifted to recognise Beijing. Chiang refused to budge on his One China policy and broke away all ties with any country who recognised Beijing which costed him much of his diplomatic standing.
A major shock came when the issue of the permanent seat at the UNSC was raised. Washington asked Chiang to accept simultaneous representation of both ROC and PRC but the latter refused it and as UNSC Resolution 2758 was raised at the 26th United Nations General Assembly to oust ROC, Chiang staged a walkout thus leaving the space for the PRC to gain. What followed was a period of diplomatic isolation as by 1980s, the ROC was ousted from most major international organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as space was created for the PRC to be accomodated.
The only positive development for the Republic of China was the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 by the US Congress as a response to the government’s decision to establish official ties with Beijing. Thanks to an active Taiwan lobby, many Senators opposed the government’s decision and claimed that Washington must retain unofficial ties with Taiwan. Under the TRA, Washington not only maintains robust socioeconomic and cultural relations with Taiwan which function through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the US which function in more or less the same way as the embassy but also maintains that any resolution to the Taiwan issue in a way other than a peaceful measure would be considered by Washington as a threat on the Western Pacific, implying its security perceptions of an expanse covering the concerns of the United States of America.
Democracy hues: Reunification to Independence
While the TRA brought some respite, Chiang Kai shek’s son Chiang Ching kuo, who took over the reins of governance after his father, realised the importance of democratisation in order to not just enhance Taiwan’s soft power among the liberal West but to also make it appeal to the Mainland Chinese who had presented the demand for civil freedom and democratic rights in the Tiananmen Square Movement of 1984. Hence, in 1987, the martial law was removed. Chiang’s successor, Lee Teng hui declared a unilateral end to the Chinese Civil war in 1991 thus, establishing socioeconomic and cultural ties with the Mainland and breaking away from the old KMT tradition of No Contact, No Negotiation and No Compromise with Communist China.
While the rhetoric of abiding by the “One China Policy” was maintained, Taiwan inched closer to an independent status, thanks to the democratisation process which made it important for the regime to reflect on the popular opinion which turned heavily anti-unification. With a proliferation of governmental and indigenous non-governmental organisations such as civil societies and political parties; deregulation of media and educational reforms among other changes led to the emergence of a new islander Taiwanese identity as distinct from Chinese ethnicity. For instance, in the 1994 White Paper Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan dissociated Republic of China from One China for the first time while maintaining the rhetoric of abiding by the policy. Such sentiments further developed as the leader of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) (which calls for Taiwan’s independence from the Mainland), Chen Shui bian, became the first non-KMT President in Taiwanese history. The growing strength of such sentiments is reflected in the eruption of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan against President Ma Ying-jeou’s “viable diplomacy” with Mainland China which the protestors saw as making Taiwan increasingly economically dependent on Beijing which hampered the prospects for its independence as well as in the election victory of DPP’s Presidential candidate Tsai Ing wen who remains a major pro-Independence figure.
Thus, during the Cold War itself, Taiwan’s Foreign policy has changed from pressing the United States to recognise it as the One China to the one of being recognised as an independent sovereign nation which historically developed distinctly from that of China. Ever since the fall of the USSR in 1991 and the end of the Cold War which made Washington the undisputed hegemon in the international order, the United States has shifted its focus away from Taiwan to other regions such as Afghanistan where it finds its national interests served best. Taiwanese foreign policy in such a scenario has been to hold onto the United States as much as it can so as to ensure regime survival.
Is Taiwan still important to the United States?
While the dilution of ideological politics and increased communication with China since its Reform and Opening up (改革开放) in 1978 and the fall of the USSR has decreased Taiwan’s relevance for the United States, it still remains important.
First and foremost is the strategic reason as access to Taiwan presents a wide maritime defense depth for launching both offensive and counteroffensive measures.
Second, Taiwan is a region rich in natural resources particularly coal, oil and gas.
Third, as a democracy which has remained favourable to it since the very beginning, the United States does not just feel obligated to protect Taiwan for ideological reasons but also Taiwan’s presence as a flourishing democracy poses a major domestic political challenge to the CCP led PRC where the regime has taught its people that Western style democracy is unfit to Chinese culture and civilisational history.
Fourth and most importantly, the United States’ hegemony rests on its control of the Asia-Pacific region and though it might seem to be reducing its expanse, leaving China to take over Taiwan and the vast strategic importance it holds would be the last nail in the coffin of the era of US hegemony. The US hence, would fight till the last to maintain its relevance in the region by keeping Taiwan independent.
Is it important enough to go to war?
Though Taiwan is important to Washington, it puzzles many analysts if it would go to war with China in case Beijing tries to take over the island.
While the nuclear nature of both the nations is a huge deterrent which would, if at all, lead to a pyrrhic victory; the vastly enmeshed Sino-American economic relations is also a major reason where any hard blow on the Chinese economy would also hit Washington’s. If the United States loses the war, it would not just be immensely destroyed but would exit the world stage with a bang rather than a whimper making it harder to stand back as a world leader. Moreover, even if the United States wins, there would be no guarantee that China would not recuperate its forces and try another time to occupy the territory leading to more hostility and instability.
At the turn of the century, the United States realised China’s rise as an indisputable fact which meant that whether Washington liked it or not, it would constantly find Beijing on its way at every juncture. While such a development does not always mean confrontation or ensure cooperation, it shows the importance of dialogue and compromise in order to maintain stability which is mutually beneficial. Hence, while the United States would not sit back and watch Beijing take over Taiwan, it is also true that it would not rush to wage a war. Even though Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric of absorbing Taiwan with force if necessary, it realises that such a move would not be a cakewalk and hence is likely to consider other options before using force. The hard part of such developments is that it has reduced the central focus of Taiwan’s Foreign policy to holding onto the United States and by putting all its eggs in the American basket, Taiwan can hardly do anything substantial rather than wait for the two superpowers to decide on its future.
China-Taiwan Peace Trade Relations Amid Political Tension
The conflict between China and Taiwan that has been going on for a long time began when the civil war between the communist parties and nationalist parties divided China’s territory and separated Taiwan from The Chinese mainland in 1945. Taiwan’s decision to establish its own government has complicated its relations with China, which still considers Taiwan as part of the territory that must be reunified. Even though Taiwan has been recognized as a sovereign nation by the United Nations and some countries in the world since 1971, China has expressed its desire for reunification with Taiwan to this day. (Qingli, 2022) Taiwan, which rejects China’s wishes, is trying to maintain its autonomy and independence by strengthening military cooperation with The United States. Taiwan’s close relationship with the United States has invited China’s anger and stated ready for war with Taiwan in any time. China is even increasing its military agenda in the Taiwan Strait and flying its warplanes over Taiwan territory. This has fueled the possibility of war between the two countries which until now have continued to increase their military budget and military training.
However, the threat of war between the two countries did not stop their trade activities between China and Taiwan. On the contrary, China is still the most important export partner which control 38.8% of Taiwan’s total exports in 2022, far above the United States which only reaches 15.7% of Taiwan’s total exports (Ma, 2023). Not only that, China and Taiwan depend on each other in semiconductor products where China depends on semiconductor products from Taiwan and Taiwan depends on the broad reach of China’s electronic market which uses semiconductors from Taiwan that has good quality and affordable prices. The trade relations between the two countries seem peaceful even though political and military tensions continue to escalate. This condition has been created since trade relations between Taiwan and China were regulated under the ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) which guarantees the security of trade relations between the two countries in all conditions.
What is an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement?
ECFA or known as the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement is a form of China-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement, which was signed on June 29, 2010, in Chongqing. This agreement is the most important bilateral trade pact between China and Taiwan because it is the first agreement made after nearly two decades of sovereignty disputes between the two countries hindering their trade relations. In this agreement, the two countries agreed to create fair economic relations by gradually reducing and eliminating trade and investment barriers to each other. This agreement has agreed to reduce tariff barriers on 539 Taiwanese products to China and 267 Chinese products to Taiwan with total benefits that both countries promise.
During the signing process, a preliminary discussion on ECFA began in 2008 that continued with four rounds of preliminary talks in 2009. After both countries agreed to establish the ECFA, discussions on the substance and framework of the agreement were held for the first time on January 26, 2010, in Beijing between the Taiwanese government represented by Kao Koong-lian, general secretary and vice chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Chinese government represented by Zheng Lizhong, Vice President of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS). Discussions regarding the substance and framework of the ECFA agreement were carried out by SEF-ARATS representing Taiwan and China for 5 rounds of discussions. The final agreement of the 5 rounds was then approved on July 2, 2010, and came into effect on September 12, 2010. (Jianmin, 2011)
ECFA consists of 16 articles, 5 chapters, and 5 annexes. The first chapter is about general principles which consists of two articles, the first article is about objective and the second article is about cooperation measure which discusses the principles that must be obeyed by the two countries. The second chapter is about Trade and Investment which consists of 3 articles that discuss the rules of trade in goods, services, and investment. The third chapter is about economic cooperation which consists of 1 article that discusses the expansion of the area of economic cooperation that will expand the benefits of this agreement. The fourth chapter is about Early Harvest which consists of 2 articles that discuss the early harvest program of trade in goods and trade in services as a form of implementation of this agreement. The fifth chapter concerns other provisions consisting of eight articles concerning exceptions, dispute settlement, Institutional arrangements, documentation formats, annexes and subsequent agreements, entry into force, and termination. (Elleman, 2022)
How ECFA Guarantees China and Taiwan Mutual Benefit on Trade?
ECFA as an agreement amidst the sovereignty dispute between China and Taiwan is included in hard legislation. This can be seen from the substance and framework of the ECFA that meets the three dimensions of hard legislation.(Abbott et al., 2000) The first dimension is an obligation, the clarity of the provisions regarding the types of goods, services, and investments that receive reduced tariff barriers has been attached in Annex 1. Not only that, the provisions regarding the principles that must be obeyed by the two countries are also clearly stated in Article 2 and the exceptions are in Article 9.
The second dimension is Precision, a clear diction regarding the agreement between the two countries in the ECFA as seen from the use of the words “have agreed (article 2-8), shall engage (article 10), shall establish (article 11), shall cease to apply (article 7)) and others. The use of the sentence shall in law implies an obligation for an action without permissiveness so as to minimize the possibility of violation (Legal Information Institute, 2021).
The third dimension is delegation, China and Taiwan establish the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Committee which is a representation of the two countries to resolve disputes that may occur regarding trade and investment relations under the ECFA. Of the 22 agreements formed by China and Taiwan from 1990-2010, ECFA was the initial agreement that placed their economic relations under a legal framework (Hsieh, 2011). The clarity of provisions, diction, and dispute settlement that apply in the ECFA has reduced the possibility of violations or deviations from the agreement that has been formed. So that economic cooperation carried out under ECFA does not experience obstacles or disturbances due to the heating up of China-Taiwan political relations.
Not only that, establishing cooperation under ECFA has become a consideration that provides cost reduction in economic and political terms for the two countries if it is compared to the choice not to cooperate. By cooperating under ECFA, Taiwan and China come through economic growth from the export-import of goods, services, and technology investments made by the two countries. Through the Early Harvest Program (EHP) in ECFA, Taiwan experienced a surplus from sales of its machine tools that reached 61.9%, while China benefited from better and cheaper technology transfer from Taiwan (Heo & Cho, 2012). In addition, increased trade and investment activities between the two countries have created interdependence which also has an impact on increasing stability and peace between the two countries where Taiwan can reduce tensions that can trigger Chinese military attacks and China itself gains space for controlling Taiwan without having to incur military costs and bear the consequences of conflict due to the lack of communication space that must build mutual trust.
These two things then underlie economic cooperation between China and Taiwan under the ECFA agreement which can guarantee the creation of fair trade even though there has been a prolonged conflict of sovereignty since 1945 to this day.
Mongolia To Strengthen Transparency Through Constitutional Reforms
The Government of Mongolia has this week made efforts to strengthen the governance of its legislature and increase transparency by passing into law a number of changes to the country’s constitution. The country hopes to create more opportunities for civil society representation by moving to a mixed electoral system.
Representatives in the country’s parliament, the State Great Khural, debated and approved reforms that will increase the number of members in the parliament from 76 to 126, with nearly 40% of the MPs now being elected through proportional representation. The Government is also shortly due to introduce separate proposals that will increase the representation of women in the parliament. All these changes are set to be in place in time for the next set of general elections in 2024.
Mongolia’s political system is centred on the sharing of executive power between the Prime Minister as the head of government, and an elected President. The country’s Constitution was adopted in 1992, with amendments made in 1999, 2000, 2019, and 2022. Recent changes have focused on securing political stability in the country, through for example limiting the maximum term of the presidency from two four-year terms to one six-year term, and amending the number of parliamentarians who can hold ministerial positions.
The increase in the size of the State Great Khural will address the rise in the number of voters represented by each parliamentarian, which has increased from 27,000 in 1992 to 44,000 today. Alongside the move towards a more proportional electoral system, the reforms are designed to bring parliamentarians closer to the people they are elected to serve by enhancing the scrutiny given to new laws.
A separate amendment to the country’s constitution creates a role for Mongolia’s Constitutional Court in reaching a final decision on citizen petitions alleging breaches of civil rights and freedoms, including equal rights between men and women, freedom of thought, speech, and peaceful assembly.
Commenting on the proposed changes to the constitution, Mongolia’s Prime Minister, L. Oyun-Erdene, said:
“I strongly support these proposed changes to Mongolia’s Constitution. They represent a further step for our country in the direction of a more inclusive and democratic future. Through increasing the representation in our parliament and broadening input into the law-making process, we will be better placed to meet current challenges and ensure that we continue to make progress towards our Vision 2050 goals, improving the livelihoods of people across Mongolia.”
Taiwan’s International Status: “A Country Within a Country”
In California, a recent meeting was held between the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, and the U.S. House Speaker, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, which holds political significance. This aforementioned meeting facilitated a negative shift in the bilateral relations between China and Taiwan. The latent hostilities between China and Taiwan possess the potential to escalate into full-scale armed conflict at any given juncture.
The incongruent dynamic existing between China and Taiwan has persisted since 1949, when Taiwan made the conscious decision to separate from mainland China.
From 1949 onwards, China and Taiwan have been embroiled in a geopolitical imbroglio pertaining to their respective territorial integrity and claims of sovereignty. The Chinese government asserts that Taiwan is an integral component of its sovereign geography. On the contrary, Taiwan is assertive of its autonomy as a distinct, self-governing entity that operates independently and is no longer subject to Chinese jurisdiction.
The discordant relationship between the two sides which has escalated over the preceding biennium, potentially heightening the likelihood of military confrontation.
Over the course of the past two years, there have been several instances in which China has deployed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct military maneuvers in close proximity to Taiwan. The aforementioned initiative was aimed at preventing any activities fueled by Taiwan that could have been construed as provocative and potentially encroach on China’s claims of rightful control over Taiwan’s sovereignty and territorial boundaries
The persistent geopolitical tensions between China and Taiwan since 1949 can be attributed to diverging opinions regarding the formal recognition of Taiwan, in particular, the contentious matter of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Tensions will continue Between China and Taiwan until Taiwan becomes independent or recognizes its self-identification as a constituent part of China.
Since 1949, the China has exerted persistent pressure upon Taiwan to acquiesce to the notion of reunification or the incorporation of Taiwan into the mainland territory of China. Nevertheless, it appears that Taiwan’s internal political circumstance and dynamics persist in maintaining its political choices and ideology as a democratic and self-governing entity.
The prolonged inability of both parties to develop a more extensive and adaptable resolution or methodology to address the matter implies that the aspiration to “normalize” relations between China and Taiwan continues to exist solely within the realm of rhetoric.
In order to achieve the objective of unification under the the idea of the “One China Principle” or One China Policy and to surmount the political divergence concerning Taiwan’s official position, has engendered several propositions by China aimed at resolving this issue. A proposed approach adopt the implementation of a “one country, two systems” protocol akin to that employed in Hong Kong and Macau.
The Chinese government has expressed that the policy is exceedingly permissive and capable of surmounting the distinct system variances that exist between the mainland region of China and Taiwan.
The proposal of “special administrative region” attributed to Taiwan enables the continued preservation of its economic, social, and security system that they have built so far, while attenuating or obviating any undue influence or interference by China. Nonetheless, the aforementioned proposal appears to be insufficient in instigating political transformation in Taiwan, given the persistent refusal of Taiwanese individuals and governmental officials to endorse unification and uphold their desire for independence.
In view of China, safeguarding Taiwan and accomplishing the complete unification of the country is not solely a matter of fulfilling its constitutional obligations, but also serves the purpose of preserving its stature as a dominant and revered nation on the global stage.
In contrast, Taiwan persistently endeavors to establish diplomatic and cross-strait relations through a range of diverse strategies and approaches with multiple nations across the globe. The clear objective is to secure the hearts and compassion of the global populace. Taiwan undertook this action with the aim of restoring its position in the global arena and paving the way for its eventual recognition as a self-governing entity with full political autonomy.
“Country within a country”
Again, the China-Taiwan issue is rooted in a territorial and sovereignty perspectives. In the global arena, China maintains a comparatively advantageous position. China, is a prominent participant in the United Nations, the most extensive intergovernmental organization encompassing numerous states worldwide, Positioning itself as a powerful participant in the direction and reflection of global politics. Furthermore, China belongs to “the distinguished” member of UN Security Council’s five permanent members, which has so far strong and great influence on world politics.
On the other hand, the international position held by Taiwan is considerably intricate. The question regarding the statehood of Taiwan remains a matter of unsettled dispute, given the absence of any universally recognized body empowered to render definitive judgments regarding the status of a nation-state.
Since the adoption of Resolution A/RES/2758 by the UN General Assembly on October 25, 1971, Taiwan has lost its international “stage”. This is because the resolution affirms China as the sole legitimate representative of China to the United Nations and consequentially nullifies Taiwan’s membership from the organization.
It is a well-documented reality that numerous nations have forged informal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, particularly in the realm of trade and investment. The United States, for instance, has solidified such relations through the Taiwan Relations Act. To the present day, a limited number of 22 nations have formally acknowledged and established official diplomatic intercourse with Taiwan. A notable aspect is that the majority of these nations lack any substantial sway or significant leverage on the international political sphere. Specifically, countries of comparatively small size in the African and Latin American regions, namely Haiti, Belize, and Tuvalu.
Taiwan has indeed met the three constitutive elements or absolute requisites deemed necessary for a country as exemplified by the 1933 Montevideo Convention. These components include the presence of a defined territorial boundary, a functioning populace, and a duly constituted government. However, Taiwan lacks a crucial element in its diplomatic status, namely the recognition from the international community through a declarative act.
The restricted global acknowledgement of Taiwan undoubtedly carries considerable political and legal ramifications. Recognition is widely regarded as the key component in modern international politics that has the potential to enhance the legitimacy and sovereignty of a given state.
Taiwan faces formidable challenges in achieving recognition. In order to attain successful governance, Taiwan must display adeptness in efficiently managing both internal and external political dynamics. Otherwise, the current state of affairs will persist, leading to Taiwan’s classification as a “subnational entity” Or “A country within a country”.
Ultimately, the resolution of the China and Taiwan conflict proves to be a formidable challenge. In order to mitigate potential future crises and uphold regional and international stability, it is necessary for China and Taiwan to refrain from engaging in provocative actions. It is imperative to adopt a cooperative approach through negotiations and concessions that are all-encompassing and pertinent, in order to attain a sustainable resolution that caters to the interests of both China and Taiwan’s populace of 23 million, while acknowledging and adapting to their respective challenges and circumstances.
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