Tensions between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC/ Taiwan) have been tense ever since the defeat of the Nationalists to Mao Zedong's Communist Party in 1949. However, within the last two decades, China has been emboldened though its economic rise. This has resulted in a newfound power that its government has every intention of testing.
This economic growth has allowed the behemoth of a nation to expand the size of its military and claim territory in the East and Southeast Asia region that is vital to international trade and commerce. In doing so, it also continues to harass Taiwan, which it considers to be a renegade province. Since 1971, the United States has accepted the PRC's “One China Policy” which demands that the international community acknowledge only one Chinese nation.
Other nations have followed suit and, to this day, only 20 nations and the Vatican officially recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Since the inception of the People's Republic of China, the communist nation has pressured the international community to switch recognition from the ROC to the PRC due to the fact that the latter nation has become a major economic and regional power, while Taiwan has not. As recently as last month, the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe severed official ties with Taiwan, due to pressure from the Chinese government. However, with the recent rise to power of Xi Jinping as President of the PRC, his government has taken Chinese claims to territory to a whole new level. Under the leadership of Hu Jintao, the PRC's territorial expansionism was fairly subdued.
However, upon Xi's rise to power in November 2012, China adopted a rapid expansionist policy. Xi's government has asserted its military presence in ages old disputes with its neighbors to a point that hasn't been reached in decades. This also includes its claim to the nation of Taiwan of which in the last few years has intimidated the island nation to its south with aerial and naval exercises close to its territory.
With the election of Donald Trump we have seen a potential shift in the way the US deals with China. In an unprecedented set of events, following Donald Trump's election victory, he received a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen. No US President or President-Elect has directly spoken to the leader of Taiwan since before the Carter era. The Chinese Government has insinuated that Trump is undermining security in the East Asia region by making contact with the government of what they consider to be a renegade province.
Ironically, the Chinese have since conducted war games tests and naval patrols close to Taiwanese territorial waters in an attempt to intimidate the island nation. This is a clever move by the Chinese to test the new President in his leadership abilities and to ascertain what type of policy he will take in the Asia Pacific region.
The issue at hand are Trump's comments on whether he will accept the decades old One China Policy. He has questioned the need to continue this policy and many, including the Chinese, are saying he is creating a dangerous precedent by making these statements. The reality of the situation is that whether the US accepts or rejects the One China Policy or not, the situation in the region will remain more or less the same. China's leadership is pragmatic, logical, and rational.
They realize that as long as the US remains a powerful force in the region that ensures the protection of Taiwan, China can't touch its “renegade province.” Taiwan isn't worth starting World War 3 over, especially something as petty as the US normalizing relations with the island nation. In addition to this, because China is so economically intertwined with the US, its leadership knows it can't risk sparking a conflict. Other than starting a devastating conflict between the two largest militaries in the world, the conflict would destroy the global economy. Even the Obama Administration pushed the boundaries of the One China Policy. Despite Chinese threats, President Obama went forward in 2015 with a $1.83 billion sale of military armaments to Taiwan. Due to these factors, there is no chance that China will respond with military force.
In addition to the US bettering relations with Taiwan, many other nations in the region have shunned China's threats and improving their relationship with the island nation. Since Tsai Ing Wen's ascendancy to the Presidency, Taiwan and Japan have improved diplomatic and economic ties.
In addition to that, they have put their territorial disputes aside to better relations. Singapore is another nation that has developed warm relations with Taiwan. It has even gone as far as conducting joint military exercises with the nation. This has greatly angered China, who impounded military vehicles that were in transit in Hong Kong (an autonomous but still integral part of the People's Republic of China) and being sent to Taiwan. There are numerous other examples of nations in the region disregarding China's empty threats and recognizing Taiwan for what it really is: a fully functioning independent nation state.
Why is it that the United States can reopen our embassy and lift travel restrictions on Cuba, but we refuse to restore relations with Taiwan? The former is an oppressive nepotistic Communist regime that jails dissenters and silences free speech, while the latter is a flourishing democracy with a free market system and high living standards. The international community even recognizes North Korea as a nation state, yet in large refuses to develop ties with Taiwan out of fear that China will harm them in some manner.
Taiwan continues to defy the odds against them, being one of the few countries in the world without a seat at the UN, without representation at the World Health Organization, as well as many other international organizations. This is due to Chinese pressure on these organizations to not accept Taiwan as a member. So, for the most part, it must go on its own without representation on an international scale.
Taiwan is the true inheritor of the ideals of Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China in 1912. His political vision was outlined in his Three Principles of the People. The first being Mínzú: nationalism or national pride, one that unites all Chinese, regardless of their ethnic heritage. The PRC has disregarded this and is an advocate of Han Chinese dominance, as has been seen through their treatment of ethnic minorities within the the borders of China. The second principle is Mínquán: the establishment of a democratic form of government. To Sun, this was a Western Constitutional Government. China clearly does not adhere to this in the slightest, where Taiwan has a vibrant democratic system. The third principle, Mínshēng, which advocated for a social welfare system, but more of a safety net than a complete socialist economic system. Mao Zedong clearly blew this out of proportion with his regime.
The Communist Party of China has systematically destroyed Sun Yat Sen's vision for a prosperous China. It has eroded Chinese culture and replaced it with a statist ideology that has become the new norm. Taiwan, however has maintained the spirit of Sun's dream for China. It’s time that the US stands with a nation that it has been neglecting for the last 40 years. President Trump's change in attitude towards Taiwan is promising for the vibrant nation. Hopefully the incoming administration will continue to keep China at bay and finally see Taiwan as a nation state.