Tag Archives: Taiwan Strait

Complicated relationship may get really testy


The world is full of complicated bilateral relationships: Greece and Turkey, India and Pakistan, Israel and Egypt.

A pair of nations, though, may have witnessed an event that makes their stunningly complex relationship even more so.

Taiwan has just elected its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s not her gender that complicates matters. It’s her longstanding support for something that sends government officials in the People’s Republic of China into orbit: Taiwanese independence.

Tsai leads the Democratic Peoples Party, which long has advocated that Taiwan declare its independence from the PRC.

However, there’s this tiny problem (actually, it’s huge). China considers Taiwan to be a “renegade province” that belongs to the mainland government, the communists who took over the country in a bloody civil war right after World War II.

The Kuomintang, which governed China, fled to Taiwan in 1949 and set up a new government.

For more than six decades, China has declared it wanted Taiwan back. Meanwhile, Taiwan grew into a powerhouse nation all on its own, independent of China.

Tsai’s victory isn’t likely to produce a declaration of independence in the next week, month or perhaps even a year from now.

However, it strains to the max a relationship that had been showing signs of thawing in recent years.

Allow me a bit of personal privilege here.

I’ve visited Taiwan five times as a journalist, dating back to 1989. I returned in 1994, 1999, 2007 and 2010. I have seen a country that has grown tremendously just since my first visit.

Taiwan had functioned under martial law until 1989. The ruling party felt it necessary to impose strict curfews and restrictions on its citizens, given the tremendous threat of violence posed by the giant neighbor on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

The island has functioned famously since martial law was lifted.

But the threat of military action persists. The Taiwanese officials I have visited over many years have told me they take those threats seriously and have built a muscular military apparatus quite capable of inflicting damage on any nation in the world. The Taiwanese also have a defense pact with another significant nation: the United States of America, which has pledged to come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of war with, um, the PRC.

President-elect Tsai isn’t likely to do anything rash. At least that’s my hope.

Taiwan already is shut out of virtually all international associations: the United Nations evicted Taiwan in 1971 when it admitted the PRC; the United States severed official diplomatic relations with Taiwan when it recognized the PRC; the World Health Organization bans Taiwan’s participation.

The international community follows what’s called a “one-China policy,” meaning that the only “China” it recognizes is the big one, the PRC.

That’s all fine, except that Taiwan is, well, Taiwan. Most of its 24 million residents were born on the island and they have diminishing links with the mainland.

Yes, Taiwanese still speak Chinese. Their names look and sound Chinese. However, the country has developed into an entity that — for all intents — is independent already from China.

The problem remains, though, that it cannot declare officially its independence as long as those big, bad commies on the mainland keep threatening military action.

As China has shown over many years, it doesn’t like being lectured by other nations about how to conduct its affairs.

You want complicated? This Taiwan-China thing goes beyond my understanding of the word.

While we looked the other way, two enemies meet


The world has been fixated on hot spots such as the Middle East, Africa and, to a lesser degree, Europe.

But while most of us were looking the other way, the leaders of two countries met, shook hands and talked to each other like neighbors rather than bitter political enemies.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, met with Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou. Why is this a big deal? It’s the first meeting between the nation’s heads of state since 1949, when Taiwan broke away from “Red China” and formed a new nation on an island just a few miles off the Chinese coast.

China doesn’t recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. It still considers the thriving island nation as a renegade province and has, over the decades, vowed to retake Taiwan.

Good luck with that.

Leaders meet for first time

I’ll stipulate here that I’ve visited Taiwan five times dating back to 1989. I’ve heard the Taiwanese side of the 65-year-old dispute. I haven’t heard the People’s Republic of China’s side of it.

The PRC launched a civil war after World War II. It sought to overthrow the government of Chiang kai-Shek. It succeeded in 1949. Chiang set up shop in Taiwan and proceeded to build a thriving nation that for decades operated under martial law; Taiwan lifted martial law in 1989 and it has become a bastion of freedom and democratic rule.

A lot has happened in Taiwan, as much has taken place in China.

At this moment, the vast majority of Taiwanese are natives of the island, with little direct tie to the mainland. The nation has operated as a de facto independent state, but without the perks that accompany sovereignty, such as membership in world organizations such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization.

“Today marks a new chapter in the cross-strait relationship,” Xi told journalists. “The separation of families on both sides of the Taiwan strait has caused deep pain and regrets to countless families.”

Ma, though, faces opposition in Taiwan to the meeting. He has sought to build closer ties with China. Opposition parties, such as the Democratic Progressive Party, want to declare formal independence.

The PRC is unlikely, so many years later, to reacquire Taiwan. For its part, Taiwan is likely to continue to thrive independently of the PRC. It’s a curious and deeply complicated relationship that the two nations are beginning to form.

My hope is that they keep talking. It is better to talk to your adversaries than to fight with them. Given the stakes involved in the event of all-out war — and the fact that the United States of America maintains a defense pact with Taiwan — the nations’ leaders need to keep the lines of communication wide open.

The meeting the other day is a start.