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China And Taiwan: A Policy Triangle Essay, Research Paper

In the 1990 s Taiwan began to pose a very complex challenge to the international community. The issue is Taiwan s attempt to reverse the one China policy. From Taiwan position on the one China issue is simple, it does not want to become part of Chinas Communist regime. It is not above reunification as long as the terms are formed on a mutual agreement. On the other hand, Chinas perspective on Taiwan is one of nationalism. China wants to bring Taiwan into its control trough diplomatic mean. So to look at this problem as a singular issue would be pointless. To fully understand the problem you have to look at the history of the situation and make an informed choice.

To address some of the issues those faces this situation and seem to come up over and over. The First is one the UNITED STATES promise to promote and help maintain all new democracies and secondly is the threat to china, which is rarely examined. If China gives into Taiwan on the issue of independence could it stat a movement in other providences that would destroy The Peoples Republic of China and leave it in the same situation as the former soviet bloc countries.

This issue not only has ramifications in Far East, but also in the international community. The one China issue and how Taiwan fits in to it is simple. Can Taiwan remain a democracy under Chinas rule or can China allow Taiwan to continue to operate independently of the mainland. This issue unfortunately is not restricted to Taiwan and China. IT has deep influences here in the UNITED STATES. With China and the UNITED STATES trying to maintain an active dialogue, the issue of Taiwan has and will continue to stress Sino-American relations for years to come. To better understand this issue and to find out what is at stake for the region and the world, you first have to examine the background closely.

To fully understand the issue, I will give a background history of both China and Taiwan. I have also entered a time line beginning in 1911 to show the confusion of the UNITED STATES policies and shifting of recognition from one regime to the other. I will also examine what China really wants and what Taiwan wants and would find expectable. In examing the scope of the issue, you have to take the different histories of two different peoples into account.

Taiwan has a four hundred year history. Although one could argue that Chinas history predates Taiwan s by centuries, you have to concentrate on Taiwan and China relevance to on another. In the 17th century the Dutch landed on Taiwan. They occupied the island without resistance from Mainland China from 1634-1662. When the Dutch East Indies Company arrived on Taiwan all they found were the aborigine population inhabiting the island. There were no signs of any governmental structure that would indicate Taiwan was part of china. The Dutch concluded it was not.

The Dutch brought in Chinese migrant workers to farm and work on the island. The workers Usually came to the island for a few years, bringing no family, and then return to the mainland. Eventually so workers from the mainland began to settle and take wives from the aborigine population. The Taiwanese and Chinese connection was established.

In 1662 the Dutch were beginning to have problems with piracy. Cheng Chang-Kung, a loyalist of the recently fallen Ming dynasty, was harassing Dutch shipping of the island of Taiwan. He was on the run from the recently established Ching dynasty on the mainland. He managed to defeat the Dutch and drive them from the Taiwan. Soon after his victory he died and was succeeded by his son, but in 1683 his son was defeated by the Ching dynasty troops. Shortly after the defeat the troops returned to the mainland of china. The new dynasty decided no to extend their rule over the island. It remained a loose-lying area for the next two hundred years.

It was not until the late 1870 s did Taiwan s status begin to change. It began when pirates from the island began to begin piracy raid on commercial shipping that came to close to the island. The French, American and Japanese governments released diplomatic messages to China telling them to control their people. The Man Chu emperor simply said, Taiwan is beyond our territory. With this decision made, the French decided to occupy the island to halt the piracy. The French sent a fleet to Taiwan and for a nine month stint in 1884-1885 Taiwan was under French control. Once the problem was under control the French left the island and for the next two years Taiwan remained under its own control.

Throughout the 1880 s the Japanese had begun to expand their control and sphere of influence throughout the Asia-pacific area. The Chinese saw the threat that the Japanese posed to China itself. So in a move to outmaneuver the Japanese the Man Chu Imperial authorities decided to declared Taiwan to be part of their empire. The ploy didn t work.

In 1895 the Japanese defeated the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese war. The Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed to end the war, and in the treaty the Chinese ceded Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity. This meant forever not ninety-nine years like the treaty china had signed with England over the Hong Kong territories. The Taiwanese did not like the idea of being part of the Japanese island system. They declared themselves a free nation. The idea of being under Japanese control forever was unacceptable to a people that had known self-government for the past two hundred years. The Taiwanese people formed the first independent republic in Asia. This movement was short lived and the Japanese imperial troops crushed the movement within a few months. An important side note to the above is that when imperial china occupied Taiwan it did so for only eight years during the war with Japan. Not always as the Kuomintang (KMT) as China Communist have claimed.

The Japanese occupation from the onset was harsh for the Taiwanese people. However the Japanese were not corrupt like their Chinese counterparts. The Japanese instituted major reforms on the island. They installed their own strict education systems and brought it up to the same level as japans. The Japanese also brought their infrastructure, roads, industry and government. Under Japanese rule Taiwan was developed extensively and in an odd way owes the Japanese for its current education level that is well above the mainland of Chinas.

This part in Taiwan s history was not filled with many major events, but across the strait major changes was taking place on the mainland. In 1912 Yuan Shikai rose to become president of China. Assassinations and the help of a new political party, the Kuomintang (KMT), aided him. The KMT, which is also referred to as the national peoples party or the nationalist party, used corruption and intimidation tactics to instituted their agendas. After much turmoil and political unrest Shikai was finally recognized as president by the parliament and became the first president of the Republic of China (ROC).

After Shikai death China became a nation controlled by warlords. With no real central government to speak of the county became threaten from without by the Japanese. As world war one began, china made an infamous deal with Japan to retain its claims to certain territories in exchange for ceding Manchuria to the Japanese. In 1917 China decided to declare war on the Japanese in hopes that at a treaty signing they would get the territory back they ceded to the Japanese. It did not work and Chinas secret dealing with Japan came to light and it was disastrous for the country. After this major demonstrations erupted in China and for the next twenty-year china swung between westernization and socialism. The latter being the system they eventually picked.

This brings United States to the real beginning of Taiwan s and Chinas policy problem. As Mao Tse-tungs communist regime was vying for control of the mainland against Chiang Kai-sheiks nationalists, Mao gave an interview with an American reporter he stated we will extend the then (the Koreans) our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Taiwan. This brings China and Taiwan to world war two and the next major event to affect the Taw anises. In 1943 the allied forces held a conference in Egypt, the Cairo Conference. It was there a decision was made to accommodate a request by Caing Kai-sheks that Taiwan is returned to Nationalist China at the conclusion of the war. This text was put into the Cairo Declaration, but it was done so without any presence or agreement of the Taiwanese people. When the war came to an end in 1945 the allied powers agreed that Chaings troops would occupy Taiwan on behalf of the allied forces.

The temporary agreement turned out to become rather permanent. At first the Taiwanese were glad to be rid of the Japanese, but their feelings were soon turned to anger and hatred as the Chinese took control of the island. The Chinese were corrupt, repressive and barbaric in their methods. This was something the Taiwanese were not accustomed to living under the very efficient Japanese rule.

As China began to impose its society and political structure over Taiwan, the Taiwanese population lashed out at their Chinese rulers. The event that followed was the February 28th incident of 1947. This began a small situation in Taipei and led to a large-scale demonstration. The KMT was initially taken back by this event, but quickly rebounded and began to sneak troops in from the mainland to put down the unrest. When the troops arrived they started to round and execute a whole generation of leading Taiwanese figures. In all between 18,000 and 28,000 people were killed, and during the KMTs reign over the island thousands of more people were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the KMT s police squad, the Taiwan garrison Command.

In 1949 Mao had defeated Chaings in the war on the mainland. This led to the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China. The capital of China was moved to Beijing and Mao was appointed Chairman and Zleu Enlai headed the government up. After Chaings defeat he fled to Taiwan with the remainder of his regime. He took control of the government and instituted martial law on the island. Which lasted for the next four decades. While operating on Taiwan the KMTs maintained that they would regain control of the mainland and regain control of all of China.

The population that fled to Taiwan with Chaings constituted only 15% of the population, but they were able to maintain control of the remainder of the population through tight control of the political system, police, military and education system. The next major event to affect Taiwan was the San Francisco Peace Conference.

In 1951-52 the Allied coalition and Japan met to conclude World war two with the San Francisco peace treaty signing. This treaty is extremely important in the argument of One China , because Japan gave up sovereignty over Taiwan. Although it was not discussed at the conference that would obtain Control over Taiwan, it was concluded, the future stats of Taiwan will be developed in accord with the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations. In this quote as it applies to the Un charter is clear, it states that it is the United Nations position is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. Taking this in to account, the result of the San Francisco peace conference was simple, the people of Taiwan should determine the future the future status of the island. This treaty is the first and last international treaty of the 20th century that deals with the status of Taiwan.

Although the San Francisco Peace treaty left the future of the island up to the Taiwanese it did little to end the martial law that Taiwan was under. During the next twenty years between 1952 until 1972 the KMT was able to build Taiwan up economically thanks to the hard work of the Taiwanese people and the sound infrastructure built by the Japanese. Through out this time The ROC on the island of Taiwan also managed to maintain Chinas Un seat. This however was about to change.

In 1971 Twains power of representing china in the United Nations fell apart when Nixon and Kissenger opened diplomatic relations with the mainland and Mao s regime of the PRC. The Un gave Taiwan s seat in the Un to Peking on the mainland and the KMT authorities were pushed out of power. Then in 1972 the Shanghai Communiqu between the United States and China was issued. This communiqu has had lasting importance, it is what the Clinton administration of current bases it foreign policy with Taiwan and china on.

The Communiqu acknowledged that the Chinese position of One China and that Taiwan is part of china. This does not imply that the United States agreed with Chinas positions; simply the word acknowledged is diplomatic talk for smiling and nodding to a countries request. The United States never agreed with China on this statement just acknowledged it for the shake of diplomatic relations. The three communiqu s issued over the next few years had little relevance to Taiwan. They were simple statements made at the end of meetings. Congress or the international community never ratified them. They do not carry the same weight that the San Francisco peace treaty carried and most importantly they were made with no representation of the ROC or people of Taiwan present. The lacks of representation at important international event that affect Taiwan seem to be a reoccurring nightmare for the Taiwanese. It is apparent that representation is still one of the biggest problems facing the island.

The events of 1971-72 are important in shaping UNITED STATES policy toward Taiwan, bit what happen in December 0f 19787 would cause another shift in policy toward Taiwan. In 1978 the Carter Administration shifted its recognition from the KMT regime on the island to the Beijing regime on the mainland. When this happen it gave the impetus to the creation and evolution of a democratic movement in the late 1970 s into the 1980 s. As the movement grew the Kaohsung incident of 1979 galvanized the Taiwanese s on the island into political action. The tangwai (outside-the-party) democratic opposition began to question the KMTs claim to represent China. They also began to work to end the forty years of martial law.

In September of 1986 the Democratic Progressive party was formed and began to grow into a full-fledged opposition party. The martial law was drooped in 1987 and replaced with the national security law. It was not until 1991 that the KMTs dropped its claim to rule all of china and the aging nationalist legislators were sent into retirement. Since then the island has taken major steps to secure it democratic identity in the shadow of communist China. However the KMT still cling to the outdated claim that Taiwan IS part of China.

In taking both countries histories in to account it is hard to recognize the One China policy that the UNITED STATES has developed. Throughout the last fifty years The UNITED STATES has sent mixed signals in its foreign policy towards Taiwan and China. With the current policy agenda being the as the one implemented thirty years ago it is doubtful that things are going to get any simpler any time soon.

With all of the historical and political background developed it brings us to the recent events between China, Taiwan and The United States. As Taiwan attempts to reverse the One China policy and china attempts to bring Taiwan back into its control through diplomatic and intimidation tactics, the US has continues to cling to its outdated policy reflecting the issue. The US claims to recognize Chinas claim, but it contradicts that agreement when China makes threats or begins to discuss invasion of Taiwan. With all the activity between these two counties over the last fifteen years the US outdated stance on the issue, one thing is apparent if this is solved through diplomatic relations great bounds have to be made first.

To fully understand the scope of the current situation you have to look at what the three major players want. China want Taiwan under its control, but it dose not want to bring it back under its control through war. What China is really after is Taiwan s infrastructure. If you look past all the policy briefs and diplomatic statements one thing is clear and that is China needs Taiwan to fully develop its economy. If the Chinese were to attack Taiwan they would get an island of little value except for the fact of its military value. That is not what is at stake here.

Taiwan on the other hand is not totally against reunification with China, but it wants it on its own terms. Taiwan has positioned the UN in the past for a seat, it has been denied each time. Another problem is Taiwan s current president, Lee Teng-hui, he has strained relations between the Us and china over the past few years. However he has managed to maintain a strong economic relation with both china and The US. Another problem with our policy towards this situation is the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and the current proposal of the Taiwan Securities Act. These to acts have contradicted the United States policies when it comes to this situation. The US has pledged itself to protect Taiwan in the face of an attack from the mainland. If you consider this for a second if we recognize “one china” why would we risk war with China to protect Taiwan, a part of china? In looking at the current situation to explain the question, you have to look at the two-year period between 1995 and 1996.

In January of 1995 The Chinese President presented Taiwan with an eight-point plan for a peaceful resolution to reunification, it was rebutted by the new Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui with a six-point response. This upset the Chinese president a great deal and he started a military strategy to bring Taiwan back under Chinese control. In early may Lee petition the US for a diplomatic visit it was approved by congress, but not under the diplomatic intent. He was allowed to visit his alma mater in the states. As Lee set out on a secret diplomatic visit around the world the Chinese postponed cross-strait talks. The ambassadors from the three countries returned home with no progress to report. When Lee s intentions come to light the Chinese announce military exercises in the strait. China conducts missile exercises and fire missiles into waters north of Taipei. The Chinese claim that they are running missiles exercises in retaliation for lee s promoting independence in Taiwan and abandoning a commitment to unification.

The Chinese begin military exercises in the strait and announce an area that covers all of Taiwan. This caused financial unrest in Taiwan. The Taiwanese attempt to obtain a seat in the UN with a bid using the name of the Republic of China on Taiwan. It fails to be voted on and Taiwan is denied membership again. As the Chinese begin to increase their missile and military exercises, Washington decided to send American carries to the region as a jester of friendship to china and a show of American naval power.

On November 17, 1995 three days of talk begin in Beijing between the US and China. The two countries agree to resume a program of high military contacts and to exchange top military officers the following year. After the meeting the defense department issued a statement. It stated that the US stands for a peaceful resolution of disputes across the Taiwan Strait, and any use of force by China against Taiwan would be a serious mistake. Over the next year China and Taiwan go through a series of military standoffs and at times the US sends carrier groups into the area as a warning to the Chinese. China continues its intimidation policy towards Taiwan, but it fails to produce the desired result.

This brings me to the policy triangle between the three nations. For the past fifty years the US has changed its policy position on Taiwan more than once. The problem of never agreeing to Chinas claim to Taiwan has done little to help the situation. The new twist in this problem is the Clinton administrations foreign policy, or should we say a lack of an effective one. Clinton has held to the Nixon communiqu s as his shell for his policy, but he has taken it a step forward, by adding he recognizes “one china” with two standards. Clinton s policy on Taiwan lacks consistency. He has stated that his administration has a one china policy and that he does not support Taiwan s independence Although this is his stance he has come to it not by clear decision making, but by threat of the truth of his illegal campaign contributions from Beijing coming to light. He has compromised his policies in an attempt to pacify the Chinese and keep this issue on the back burner. Clinton has done a poor job when it comes to Taiwan.

This policy triangle at first was hard to decipher, but after researching it, it is apparent it is of great importance on many levels. Taiwan posses a great economic structure, while china is beginning to build one with the recent reacquisition of Hong Kong. In looking at the whole picture, maybe Taiwan is the final piece in Chinas puzzle in becoming an economic superpower. In this it is possible for a peaceful resolution to the situation, China has implemented “one china”, two standard systems in Hong Kong and it is currently working well. So one could ask what keeps Taiwan from returning to china?

I think the answer to that question is a lot harder than the question. First of all you have to look at Taiwan s peculiar history that I alluded to in the beginning of the paper. It has never been a colony or a true part of china, what complicates this further is Taiwan is now a democracy. Its democratic status has clearly required a new understanding between china and Taiwan and the expectations placed on the US role in this tripartite relationship. The question is what to do from here?

If the US try s to maintain the structure of the of the three Sino-American communiqu s and Taiwan Relations act to would be impossible for The US to come to a conclusion on this issue. I am not implying that we should choose a side; it s not that simple. It is possible for China and Taiwan to reach a peaceful resolution to this problem. A resolution that will redefine what the two sides should expect from the US is not the best policy either. This would allow the Chinese and Taiwanese to figure out what is best for them, not what is best for the US in all of this. If a cross strait agreement happens it is likely to come in a two-phase process. First as interim period has to be allotted and Taiwan s quest for acknowledgement has to be granted and a longer commitment to a cross-strait dialogue has to be maintained for the purpose of the goal, reunification.

The one major drawback and source of controversy here that may never be resolved is that any cross strait understanding would have to be based on the principle of one China. This would defer the experiment until the Hong Kong experiment results are clear. It would also give Taiwan what they have wanted official recognition as a political actor in the UN system.

With all of this established, I want to now address the US role in all of this. The US and other countries in the region that would like to see a peaceful resolution to this problem will have the role do mediators in a cross-strait dialogue. The US could prove to be helpful in the process if it is not complicated by its frozen view of Taiwan status for the past century. In keeping with the legal framework of the three communiqu s and the TRA, which governs the US policy between china and Taiwan, it could present itself to be helpful in helping both sides to an acceptable agreement.

However the Taiwanese democracy requires the US to rethink it interpretation of its policy towards China and Taiwan. The main principle here is that the US supports reunification by mutual consent. The US has an obligation to Taiwan in the fact that it is a democracy. It cannot and should not turn its back on a fellow democracy; the affects could be very destructive to our foreign policy.

With all parties in agreement that a peaceful resolution is desired over a military exercise in what could lead to a major war it seems more important cease with our current policy format in this area and institute a new one using a different angle. We should push both parties through all diplomatic channels to work out a resolution now, before some happens that will not be easy to remedy. I look at the situation very simply; if the Chinese wanted Taiwan it could take it. It could have control over the island before we could throw a serious response at them. This however is not the case. China wants Taiwan that is established, but it knows it can wait as long as it has to for the island. In a military comparison Taiwan realizes it has little chance of fending off an invasion, and has come to accept the US pledge to help them only as secure as what is at stake.

In looking at all the negative aspect this issue has brought to light, there is one very positive. Taiwanese Democracy. This development has had a large impact on the situation. It is also one of the reasons China has not invaded. It is difficult to guess where this situation is going to go in the next few years. It seems to me that the two main players here have been fighting over this issue for the last seventy years, and it is unlikely to end anytime soon. In looking at possible out comes I would surmise that reunification is possible, although unlikely at this point. Another possibility is that little will be accomplished in the next few years; this is the most probable conclusion. Then there is always the worst-case scenario; War would break out between China and the US. That would be a terrible conclusion to this policy Triangle, but it cannot be ruled out.

The best conclusion in my opinion is that Taiwan is allowed to become a sovereign state and the Chinese recognize the country of Taiwan. This would allow the Un to grant Taiwan a seat and end this problem and allow a democracy to continue to thrive.


1. http://www.china.org.cn/WhitePapers/ReunificationOfChinaE.html : The Taiwan Question and Reunification of China

2. Taiwan Affairs Office & Information Office State Council the People’s Republic of China August 1993, Beijing: http://www.actionworks.org/guides/frlinks/china.htm

3. 96032: Taiwan: U.S. Policy Choices: http://www.fas.org/man/crs/96-032.htm

4. http://www.leksu.com/frames1a.html

5. http://www.nixoncenter.org/

6. Leng, Tse-Kang. (1996). The Taiwan-China connection: democracy and development across the Taiwan Straits. Boulder, Colo. Westview Press

7. Zhiling Lin and Robinson, Thomas W. (1994) Beijing, Taipei, and Hong Kong

Washington, D.C: AEI Press

8. Chiu, Hungdah. (1973). China and the question of Taiwan: documents and analysis.

New York: Praeger

9. China and the Taiwan issue / edited by Hungdah Chiu. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1979.

9. Ka, Chih-ming. (1995). Japanese colonialism in Taiwan: land tenure, development, and dependency, 1895-1945. Boulder, CO : Westview Press

10. James C. Hsiung (1981). Contemporary Republic of China: the Taiwan experience, 1950-1980. New York: Praeger,

11. Chun-chieh Huang. (1998). Postwar Taiwan in historical perspective. Potomac: University Press of Maryland

12. Munro, Ross H. (1999) Taiwan: What does China Really wants. National Review; New York. Oct 11,1999

13. Yahuda, Michael (1996)The international standing of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The China Quarterly; London; Dec 1996

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