Taiwan-China Relations, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Samuel Rhydderch

The Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Wednesday that China wants Taiwan to be under Beijing’s control by 2050 under a ‘one country, two systems’ basis, citing force as a possible means for reunification.

In a speech marking 40 years since the beginnings of improved relations between China and Taiwan, the President took a hard-line stance- reiterating that unification was ‘inevitable’. He added that China’s patience with the self-governing province was not to be tested. The speech largely focused on China’s revival as a world power by 2050; President Xi Jinping regards the reunification between Taiwan and China as crucial to his legacy and signals a growing frustration with Taipei – the capital of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, has responded to Mr Xi’s remarks, stating that: “Taiwan will never accept ‘one country, two systems”. Under Beijing’s proposed system, Taiwan would retain the right to run its own affairs, similar to the way Hong Kong is governed. It would however be legally considered a Chinese province and thus part of China. Hong Kong currently has its own legal system where free speech is protected, though there are concerns regarding Chinese state interference in Hong Kong’s sovereign affairs.

Mr Xi’s remarks coincide with the warming relations between Taiwan and the United States: on Monday, US President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, a new law which will promote US arms sales and high-level diplomatic visits to Taiwan. China sees this as foreign ‘interference’ owing to the fact it regards Taiwan as ‘part of China’s domestic politics’.

China currently considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province, and whilst Taiwan is self-governed and de facto independent, it has never formally declared independence from the mainland. This arrangement has been tolerated by China, as it is still able to claim Taiwan as legally part of the Chinese mainland. However, in recent years Beijing has become increasingly assertive over Taipei, insisting that foreign nations may only hold diplomatic ties with either China or Taiwan –it has also forced airlines and hotels to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites.

Moreover, China has also stepped up its military threats. Ever since President Tsai Ing-wen’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive party (DPP) won the Taiwan presidency in 2016, China decided to reinstate its live-fire naval military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. Similarly, in a seeming act of defiance in the hours preceding President Xi Jinping’s speech, Taiwan’s navy shared a video of a Hsiung Feng-3 anti-ship missile being tested in open waters. These supersonic missiles are capable of warding off Chinese destroyers and other warships, acting as a future deterrent to Chinese military activity in the region.

Bonnie Glaser, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank group, told The Times: “There is a stalemate in cross-strait relations, I don’t expect any improvement in 2019. But I also don’t expect a crisis, Tsai Ing-wen is a cautious […] she is not pursuing independence.”

Part of Taiwan’s sovereignty is held together by the security pact it holds with the US; for the moment, China will continue to tolerate Taiwan until it has secured the disputed islands in the South China Sea, where it has been installing naval and military bases. China’s hope is that upon securing the South China Sea it will be able to deter any military intervention from the US and could thus potentially make a move for Taiwan. 

Sources and Further Reading 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office @flickr

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