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  • Writer's pictureShiana Irlbeck

Tensions Increase Between China & Taiwan

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

The Chinese government has taken increasingly aggressive measures to shift Taiwan towards unification. However, the idea of becoming unified does not sit well with Taiwan.

A scenic skyscape of Taiwan

Officially known as the Republic of China, Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China since 1949. They have their own government-elected leaders and have grown content with their independent standing.

Taiwanese officials have reprimanded Beijing’s advances to take over democracy. This has created a heightened tension between them and China, which views the island as a renegade province and is determined to unify the island nation.

Alongside the Taiwanese government is the United States, which has offered assistance to the island nation. After a visit from US speaker Nancy Pelosi, more disruption is taking place between China and Taiwan, increasing tensions. China has made it clear that they were displeased with this visit and that the military is not opposed to using force to gain unification.

The History Between China and Taiwan

To back up their territorial claim, Beijing clings to the historical fact that Taiwan first appeared in Chinese records back in AD239, when an emperor sent a group out to explore the area.

With Hoklo and Hakka Chinese migrants popping up in the land from the 17th century, China’s Qing dynasty administered the island nation from 1683-1895. The migrants that traveled to Taiwan during the 17th century are the largest demographic descendants on the island.

Eventually, in 1895, a war broke out causing the Qing government to pass Taiwan on to Japan, which Japan later surrendered to China. This is when the Republic of China (ROC), known as Taiwan, began its rule over the island nation.

Not long after did civil war erupt in China and the Mao Zedong Communist army defeated the Chiang troops, leading the rest of Chiang and his people to flee to Taiwan in 1949. The island nation became separate from China in 1949, with its own ruled government and systems to follow.

Since then, the relationship between China and Taiwan has had its ups and downs. It is unclear what Taiwan’s legal status is, despite having all the characteristics of being independent apart from China.

What has China Done to Intimidate Taiwan?

Whether or not a war will erupt over Taiwan has been a concern for months. The recent visit from United States speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn more agitation between China and Taiwan. Upon her visit, China demonstrated military exercises involving live-fire drills to possibly show dominance and intimidation.

These drills included warships sailing along the Taiwan Strait median line, drones flying over offshore islands, and missiles being fired over the capital.

Even as the world is still dealing with the global impact of the Russia-Ukraine situation, China has recently decided to extend these threatening military actions, significantly disrupting the island nation's shipping and air traffic. These live-fire military drills that China has performed could also be a way to demonstrate a potential combat scenario.

Despite China’s vast military capabilities, Taiwan has been living under the threat of a Chinese invasion for decades. In 1949, chairman Mao defeated the nationalist Kuomintang government in a civil war, which led to its retreat in Taiwan. The island nation has been a self-ruled government since Mao Zedong's era. However, Beijing is determined to unify the island nation with the mainland, since China still views Taiwan as part of its territory.

United States’ Relationship with Taiwan

Not late after the era of Mao did the United States get involved with the situation between Taiwan and China. Formal diplomatic relations were formed between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1979. Simultaneously, the US terminated diplomatic relations and revoked its mutual defense treaty with the Republic of China (ROC), which is Taiwan.

Although the United States has cut official ties with Taiwan, they have continued a relationship with them by selling military equipment. President Joe Biden recently stated that the US military would help Taiwan if needed.

The US committing to selling defense equipment and also being able to help out in the case that defensive backup is needed, are both parts of the United States' part in the One-China policy regarding Taiwan.

The One-China policy is the blueprint that the United States adheres to. This policy is based on several documents that explain the dynamic of relationships among these countries and that there is only one China.

Acknowledging that Taiwan is not independent of China and that the PRC is the only legal government of China are key components of the policy. However, some might add that acknowledgment does not always mean acceptance.

Preserving stability and peace in the Taiwan Strait has been the main goal of the United States. Creating a stable balance between Taiwan and China’s relationships is crucial for the US. Preventing war with China and being an aid for Taiwan might be difficult with the current pressure China is putting on the United States.

With President Joe Biden being so willing to come to Taiwan’s aid and China throwing more military jets into Taiwan’s air since Biden’s election, the Chinese threats for reunification are causing a great disruption between these governments.

Is Taiwan Capable of Defending Itself?

Reunification could be a possibility without any military involvement by simply growing economic ties between Taiwan and China. However, Beijing has made it clear that they are not opposed to applying the use of force tactic to gain back Taiwan’s submission and enforce unity.

China has an ever-growing military assertiveness, spending more on military defense than any country except the United States. Compared to Taiwan which only has 169,000 active forces, China has a total of 2,035,000 forces. This drastic difference would lead to a brutal war for Taiwan. Taiwan would need to seek help from other militaries, which could be the United States.

The United States is to follow the “One-China” policy, stating that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it. Even though the US has formal ties with China, President Joe Biden stated that the US would help defend Taiwan. Until outside help arrives, Taiwan could attempt to slow down any attacks, mount guerilla strikes, and try to prevent Chinese amphibious forces from landing on their shores.

Could this Conflict Escalate into a Full-Blown Military Crisis?

Because China is so open to using force to execute reunification and the United States is willing to defend Taiwan, there is a slight potential risk for a military crisis. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island nation created a spawn of outrage through the Chinese government since they could not prevent it.

Experts agree that the military drills China demonstrated during her arrival were a part of the disapproval they had towards her visit. Although tensions are high after Ms. Pelosi’s visit, China and Taiwan know that war is not in their best interest.

“China also knows that full-fledged war with Taiwan at this stage is something that could be more catastrophic for its own interests.”

- Independent UK

Taiwan might be more concerned about the economic aspect of the situation. They were left scrambling for alternative shipment and aviation routes shortly after Nancy Pelosi left. However, even with the fire drills that China was conducting upon Ms. Pelosi’s arrival, trade has been properly functioning.

“The economic factors most likely to happen from this are either from the sanctions imposed by China on Taiwan, or the broader risk perceptions of investing in Taiwan in the short term.”

- Independent UK

Overall, it is hard to tell if the conflict might escalate into a bigger situation. In regard to the Chinese drills, these appear to be intimidation tactics aimed at Nancy Pelosi’s visit. Because they could not prevent her arrival, they performed these domestic face-saving exercises to balance the fury towards the visit. Experts claim that Taiwan is reacting calmly to the circumstances, even though they are aware of the price they would have to pay.


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Shiana Irlbeck is a content writer for the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability. She also holds a BS in Psychology from Iowa State University.

Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.


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