New Delhi: Tensions arose between China and the Indian media last week after advertisements were placed in leading Indian newspapers by the Taiwanese government marking the China-claimed island’s national day.
The Chinese Embassy in India retorted through an email to journalists in which it said, “Regarding the so-called forthcoming ‘National Day of Taiwan’, the Chinese Embassy in India would like to remind our media friends that there is only one China in the world, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China.”
In episode 590 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta talked about Taiwan’s curious and complex geopolitical situation.
The late 19th century
The island of Taiwan is among the richest countries in the world with a per capita income of $55,000, much more than India and China.
However, Taiwan, Gupta pointed out, has a unique history.
It all started in the late 19th century, which marked the decline of the Qing dynasty and the births of the “titans” Sun Yat-Sen, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong.
According to Gupta, “The Qing dynasty had lost many wars to the American, the British and the French in what was called the Opium Wars. They had also lost the [Sino-Japanese] war to the Japanese, so they were going away.”
Following this, various kinds of “political forces and impulses were arising”, which were captured by Sun Yat-Sen. Born in 1866, Sun Yat-sen is known as ‘Father of the Nation’ and was the first President of the Republic of China, which was established after overthrowing the Qing dynasty.
He also found the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), also known as Kuomintang, which like the Congress party in India, became an umbrella party for people of various ideologies.
“This Nationalist Party had three principles. One was democracy, one was economy and one was nationalism,” Gupta said.
Birth of Taiwan
Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 after being diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. Following his death, Chiang Kai-shek was appointed as the successor to the country. Gupta said that Chiang Kai-shek, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong had been favourites of Sun Yat-sen.
However, the communist forces in the CNP led by Mao Zedong were steadily becoming stronger.
“In the Second World War Chiang Kai-shek was in charge. He did fight, but he preserved a lot of his forces because he knew that once the war ended, there was going to be a civil war between him and the communists,” Gupta noted.
As Chiang Kai-shek had feared, the Chinese Civil War began in 1927.
“Initially he pushed the communists away. That’s when the Long March took place. Mao and Zhou Enlai were able to rally their forces and had more people on their side,” he said.
The civil war ended in 1949 with the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, who then fled to Taiwan. In this island, which was 100 miles off the Chinese coast, the CNP called themselves the inheritors of the Republic of China that Sun Yat-sen had formed.
Whereas mainland China, which the Chiang Kai-shek-led government had previously held, was now being occupied by the Communist Party.
Although Chiang’s plans to win mainland China was never realised, Taiwan received backing from the Western World as the ‘real China’ for some years.
“The Western world recognised it as the real China. The permanent seat accorded to China in the UN Security Council had at first been given to the Republic of China i.e. Taiwan,” said Gupta.
“It’s only in 1971 after secret talks between Mao, Zhou Enlai, (former US Secretary of State Henry) Kissinger and (former US President Richard) Nixon — brokered by the Pakistanis — that Americans agreed to give that seat to the Chinese Communist Party,” he added.
Gupta also noted an interesting detail: “Today, you have a situation where people of Taiwan can travel the world on Taiwanese passports. It has the ‘Republic of China’ written on it in small Chinese characters. But they cannot enter the UN building carrying this passport.”
Taiwan remained under martial law till 1987. It was only after the death of Chiang Kai-shek in 1975, that his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, brought reforms in the political system.
“His son decided that his country needed to have a western style democracy and have elections. And he held elections in his country and abdicated in favour of the elected government,” Gupta said.
The first three open elections — the congressional elections, election for provincial governors and municipality mayors and a direct election for the President and Vice President — were held between 1991 and 1996.
Initially the Kuomintang party came to power but the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), formed in 1986, was growing in influence.
“In the course of time, DPP defeated Kuomintang and came into power,” said Gupta.
However, he noted, that this gave rise to renewed complications. While Kuomintang still believes in Chiang Kai-shek’s dream that both Taiwan and China are in fact one country, the sentiment is not shared by the DPP. They believe in two separate nations.
The Chinese, however, believe in the ‘One China’ policy, which was further reinforced in an accord signed between the Kuomintang party and the Communist Party in 1992.
‘A geopolitical absurdity’
Most of the countries, including the US, stand by the ‘One China’ policy.
But the situation is characterised by “strategic ambiguity”. Gupta pointed out that the US had, in 1979, passed the Taiwan Relations Act, “which basically commits America to the security of Taiwan without saying so”.
And now, unlike what had followed former US President Jimmy Carter’s time in the White House, the US government has become “much more committed and much more open about its support to Taiwan”.
“In fact, it’s now negotiating with its Congress for the export of seven packages of cutting-edge defence technologies to Taiwan, including long range missiles, which can hit targets inside mainland China,” Gupta said.
“So it’s in this set of curious complications that this entity (Taiwan) exists, and amazingly thrives. It’s one of the richest countries in Asia and in the world,” he added.
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