The unravelling of China-Taiwan Conflict

  31-Oct-2020 15:00:48

India China Taiwan One china policy

A history mired in complications and an ambiguous political identity has put Taiwan , officially known as Republic of China, on an uncertain footing. This island nation, in south-east Asia, unfortunately finds itself on the list of territorial claims made by Mainland China ( or People's Republic of China) .These claims, however, are vehemently denied by Taiwan . Instead it has declared itself to be sovereign , which of course doesn't go down very well with the dragon nation.

This was the short story . But what is the longer one?

History of the Conflict

It all began with something as simple as the migration of Han Chinese merchants into Taiwan from Mainland China in the early 1600s . By the late 1600s, the ruling Qing Dynasty in Mainland China managed to annex Taiwan. This however was not to last. In 1895, the Sino-Japanese war saw the defeat of imperial China and the subsequent conversion of the island into a Japanese colony. In the meanwhile, 1911 brought it with the downfall of the Qing dynasty, thus marking the end of Imperial China and the establishment of the Republic of China (RoC) in its stead.

RoC, under the leadership of the Kuomintang Party (KMT), brought Taiwan back into their fold in 1945. But in an unfortunate turn of events, a civil war between RoC and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concluded with the defeat of the former, which in the end was exiled to Taiwan in 1945.

Despite the exile, RoC maintained that it rightly represented Mainland China in the united nations. The same was fully supported by the western powers ,including the United States .The primary reason was that they did not want another communist party ( besides the Soviet Union) to secure a seat in the Security Council. However, this stance took a U-turn, when in 1971, the General Assembly voted out Roc from the United Nations security council. RoC was replaced with the People's Republic of China ,which since then has been a permanent member of the Security Council.

A very controversial point in this timeline is the year 1992. In Hong Kong (then under British control) both the countries held a meeting in which they attempted to arrive at an agreement about the status of Taiwan. It was concluded that both RoC and PRC belonged to ' One China'. That sounds easy and makes you wonder why should there be any dispute at all. But the catchy part is that the definition of ' One China' is subjective, i.e., open to interpretation. And it should come as no surprise that these interpretations are not in tune with each other . On the one hand PRC claims to represent China and the same goes for RoC. Therefore, this ' Consensus’ can hardly be called so. China is firm on adopting the One country, two systems' policy as it has with Hong kong. But Taiwan is far from succumbing to such pressure. Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan, publicly rejected the "consensus' in 2019, much to the dismay of China.

Taiwan has never officially given up its claim on Mainland China. But after its democratic reformation, it has not been actively claiming the same. In fact in 2007, ' Normal country ' resolution was passed by the Democratic Progressive Party. It highlighted the independence of Taiwan as a country and asserted that both China and Taiwan are separate nations and neither of them have any authority over the other.

Thus the interwoven fabric of the history of these two nations has birthed the deep rift as we see today. And a resolution doesn't seem to be in sight, at least not in the near future.

Current Scenario

What we see today in Taiwan is a vibrant and progressive democracy . Although this was not always the case.For 38 long and consecutive years, Taiwan has seen the imposition of Martial law . And it was only in 1987 that the military dictatorship was done away with , paving the way for democracy. The country, which follows a presidential form of government, has its own flag and constitution along with a widely accepted passport.

However,despite that it faces a lot of resistance as far as the establishment of official diplomatic relations is concerned. All thanks to China which never misses an opportunity to threaten any country with the severance of ties should it dare to enter into a diplomatic relation with Taiwan. Because apparently, that would be akin to recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation. As of now , there are merely 15 countries which officially recognize Taiwan. But it must be mentioned that most of these nations , with the exception of a few such as Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Vatican City, face their own set of political and economic challenges. Hence, they don't wield much power and amount to insignificant support. Other than that, there are 57 countries that have opted for the path of non-official relations so as to not poke at the dragon.

Also, China has gone as far as to block Taiwan's entry into important organizations like the United Nations. However, Taiwan does find a place in some entities like Asian Development Bank, International Olympic Committee, World Trade Organization et cetera.

China has off late resorted to an open display of military prowess by conducting military exercises near the island, going as far as crossing the median line. This was in response to a diplomatic visit by a US cabinet minister. This warming up of US-Taiwan relations is quite a sore affair for China, which wasted no time in warning the USA to not meddle in its 'internal affairs' and go against the spirit of 'One China Policy’.

This display of brute force might prove disastrous for Taiwan, which does not hold much chance against the advanced military forces of China. And if once captured, won't be able to claw out of China's grip, perhaps meeting the same fate as Tibet. Even if the USA intervenes, it might turn out to be one of those long-drawn-out wars which seem to have no end. And as the world already battles with the aftermath of Covid-19, a war involving two major nuclear powers is the last thing we need.

Where does India stand?

The Indian media received an unusual request from the Chinese embassy on the 7th of October asking it to refrain from reporting in any way which would go against the ' One China' policy. This was in lieu of the approaching 109th national day of Taiwan. But our Ministry of External Affairs made it amply clear that the Indian media is free to report whatever it wants. Needless to say, it irked China.

But that's not the end of it. Not only did the Indians enthusiastically wish their Taiwanese counterparts but also posters wishing Taiwan made an appearance outside the Chinese Embassy.Quite an ironic turn of events, one might say. Thus China's attempt to downplay the national day event clearly fell flat on its face and if anything had an altogether opposite effect.

From this incident, one can pretty much gather that the overall Indian attitude towards Taiwan is marked by warmth and friendship. And the recent display of brutish effort by the Chinese army to invade Indian territory, which has resulted in a prolonged standoff along LAC, has spread waves of resentment across the country. This has given all the more momentum to Indo - Taiwanese relations, driven by the common desire to stand strong against the invasive military policies of China.

Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-Wen, also did not fail to take notice of the over pouring of love from India and ' thanked her Indian friends'. This might be the beginning of a new era in Indo- Taiwanese relationship.

The economic relations are also in place, with the trade volume reaching $7.5 billion in 2019. It is not at all a bad figure , considering the fact that in 2000 it was merely $1 billion. But still , it pales in comparison with other prominent trade partners of Taiwan. Also, there are around 106 Taiwnese companies which currently have a presence in India and have so far made an investment of $1.4 billion. However, more can be done to strengthen trade relations by overcoming cultural barriers , simplification of tax structure, increased mobility of labour etc.

But India has so far adhered to China's version of 'One China' policy. There is a stark absence of official diplomatic relations, although both the countries do have their respective trade and culture centers which act as de facto embassies.

Whether this bold and open defiance of China is a one-time thing or not, it is indisputable that it is the need of the hour. China is, more than ever, threatening the delicate balance of peace and stability in the region. Amid accusations of mismanagement of the Covid crisis, Xi Jinping might resort to even more aggressive tactics in order to prove his mettle. This calls for strong measures to assert and protect our sovereignty.

Expressing solidarity with the countries harassed by China will send out a strong message that there are certain boundaries that can't be crossed without severe repercussions. The hope that it might force it to go for introspection and recheck its position as a bully is somewhat feeble. But nevertheless, it is something to cling on to.

By: Riya Gupta