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Analyzing the China-Taiwan conflict

Basic Facts

Historic facts suggest that Taiwan first appears in Chinese records in AD239. However, it was administered by China’s Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1895, when Japan won the first Sino-Japanese War. Due to its defeat, China had to give up Taiwan. After WWII Japan surrendered the control of territory it had taken from China. Later, a civil war broke out in China and Chiang and the remnants of his Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan in 1949. Following many years of political domination of Taiwan by KMT, a process of democratization started to emerge in the 1980s. Finally, the first non-KMT president, Chen Shui-Bian, was elected in 2000.

KEY information: In 1971 Henry Kissinger, the U.S. Secretary of State, travelled to Beijing to re-establish the relationship between the U.S. and China. Zhou Enlai, Kissinger’s Chinese counterpart, focused on Taiwan. He actually demanded that the U.S. recognized Beijing as the only legitimate China. America accepted the request and didn’t recognize Taiwan. However, using the policy known as “strategic ambiguity” the U.S. proceeded to sell arms and protect Taiwan from China.

A brief timeline of the current situation

  • In 2016 Tsai Ingwen, who leads the DDP (Democratic Progressive Party) and favors independence from China, was elected President of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

  • In 2018 China demanded from international companies to list Taiwan as part of China.

  • In 2020 Tsai Ingwen was re-elected. It is important to note that during that time protests took place in Hong Kong against the mainland's increasing influence.

  • The U.S. maintained its support to Taiwan and its officials visited the island frequently, causing Beijing to warn the U.S. "not to send any wrong signals to 'Taiwan independence' elements to avoid severe damage to China-U.S. relations".

  • While that was happening, China conducted a live-fire military exercise in the waterway that separates the island from the mainland.

  • President Joe Biden has stated that America’s commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid”.

  • During the first few days of Mr. Biden’s presidency, Taiwan reported a “large incursion” by Chinese warplanes.

  • On April 12th, 2021, China flew the largest number of military jets in its air defense zone for a year.

  • The U.S. Admiral John Aquilino warned that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan "is much closer to us than most think".

“Strategic Ambiguity” explained

The policy that carries the name “strategic ambiguity” basically kept both China and Taiwan satisfied until now. Beijing is recognized as the only legitimate China and Taiwan is protected from China’s threats.

However, it seems that this policy has become “outdated” and Biden will have to choose whether to make a formal commitment to Taiwan or tempt China to invade. Adm. Philip S. Davidson, the U.S. military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, stated in Congress that there is a possibility China might try to reclaim the island by force within the next six years. The policy of strategic ambiguity, he added, “should be reconsidered”.

As China has become America’s sole rival, it has adopted an aggressive behavior. Following the dispatch of an aircraft carrier near Taiwan’s coast, the Chinese Navy released a statement saying; “Similar exercises will be conducted on a regular basis in the future”. It is vital for China’s leaders to reunite Taiwan with what is recognized today as China. They believe it is their rightful territory and the only part of greater China that is outside Beijing’s grip.

Where do we stand now?

Strategic ambiguity worked when China was weak and now the only solution seems to be a formal change in the U.S. policy. That would, however, according to the NYT “force Beijing to choose between humiliation and war“. At the same time it looks like the current U.S. strategy remains successful for Taiwan.

It is clear that the invasion of Taiwan would ultimately boost China’s rise, but bring global condemnation and possibly the third World War.



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