For those who watched the 2020 Olympics last summer, many may have been confused as to why Taiwan was competing under the name “Chinese Taipei.” Despite being a sovereign nation, the country is not officially recognized by the international community. Breaking away from China over 70 years ago, Taiwan has been independent for decades. However due to China’s global influence and aim for reunification, Taiwan is recognized by few. Unsurprisingly, the relationship between the two over the years has been tense. In the last few years, China has successfully subjugated Hong Kong, and is now looking towards Taiwan as its next target; to that end, in the last few days it further escalated tension by flying military jets over Taiwan’s air defense zone. The defense minister for Taiwan has called the relationship between both nations the worst in 40 years.
With tensions this high, many see it as a matter of time before China invades Taiwan. In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated that “reunification through a peaceful manner is the most in-line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation.” Whilst this seems like a pledge for peaceful co-operation, he also stated that “the historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.” Comparing this to a statement made by Tsai Ing-Wen, the leader of Taiwan, that the country will “do whatever it takes to defend itself,” then conflict seems inevitable.
Many Taiwanese citizens want to avoid war as much as possible, but also want to keep their democratic freedoms. This has led to panic in the population, as many think that without outside help, it’s likely they will have to give up one or the other. As one of the largest promoters for democracy around the globe, the United States doesn’t have a good relationship with China. This would make Taiwan an obvious ally. Currently, the U.S. has Special Forces in Taiwan, training soldiers. It has also sold about $1.8 billion in weapons to the nation. Despite this, the U.S. still respects the “One China” policy, with President Joe Biden committing to abide by the “Taiwan agreement.” This is the idea that there is only one China, Communist China. It puts Taiwan in a tricky position, as even the country who would be their best ally is having trouble navigating its support for them, while also appeasing China.
Few states can outwardly criticize China without repercussion. Despite this, it is obvious that China is acting as an imperialist state. One by one, it has disregarded the sovereignty of other states to which it believes it has claim, such as Hong Kong and Tibet; taking them over, and restricting the freedoms of its peoples. As such, it should be held as accountable for its actions as any other nation doing the same. It is clear that the international community has not done enough to oppose China and is not yet willing to do so. This is possibly because that course of action would likely result in either large-scale conflict, or economic fallout.
As stated previously, these two nations have had tension for over 70 years. The Chinese civil war between both parties began in 1927, resulting in the defeated party retreating to Taiwan in 1949, setting up an independent China. Following this, both actors claimed to be the legitimate China. As such, they were at war until 1979 when a ceasefire was agreed. Since then, no peace attempts have been made and mainland China has made clear that it wants to re-unify.
The future of Taiwan is extremely precarious. We are getting mixed signals from China, which promotes a peaceful solution yet has heightened military pressure against the country. We will soon reach a point where the status quo can no-longer be maintained. If the international community stands by, then Taiwan is lost. If the international community steps in militarily, then there will be no easy peace. The escalation could lead to wider conflict and, more casualties. Is this price worth the sovereignty of one nation? That is a question that many states will have to ask themselves soon.