A Brief History
On December 15, 1978, US President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would no longer recognize the government of the Republic of China (based on the island of Taiwan) as the legitimate government of China, and instead would recognize the Red Chinese government, The Peoples Republic of China. This agreement went into effect January 1, 1979, and from this time the US has referred to “Taiwan” instead of the “Republic of China.”
During the 1930’s and 1940’s the people of China had fought a long civil war between the forces of Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek and the communist Chinese leader, Mao Tse Tung (aka Mao Ze Dong), even during World War II while the Japanese occupied the country. After World War II, despite tepid support from the US, the Nationalists were defeated and evacuated the mainland for the island of Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile in 1949, claiming legitimate right to rule all of China. This left Mao and the communists in charge of mainland China, an ominous early development of the Cold War.
One thing that deserves mention here, is that the original people of Taiwan, also known as aboriginal Taiwanese, are not ethnic Chinese and do not have any national affinity for the country of China. In fact, until Chiang and his Nationalists took the place over, Taiwan was not recognized as part of China.
During the Nixon administration (1968-1974) the US and China started to normalize relations between the 2 Cold War adversaries (who had engaged in serious combat during the Korean War and somewhat during the Vietnam War), and President Carter continued the transition to normal relations. China, being the most populous country in the world and the US being the largest economy in the world were both needlessly hurting themselves by not having normal trade relations. This normalization of relations became even more imperative when China became a nuclear power in the early 1960’s.
Since 1979 the US has maintained a friendly but informal relationship with Taiwan, continuing to engage in trade and providing weapons for the defense of the island. Plus, the reason Taiwan has not been invaded by China is the US promise of defense of the country. Still, the subject of Taiwan has been a sore point in US-China relations over the years and remains so. When President Elect Donald Trump of the US spoke on the telephone with the President of Taiwan in December of 2016, a long tradition of avoiding such tacit recognition had been broken and the government of China was heartily upset, the world media shocked by the breach of protocol.
It seems inevitable that someday China will claim physical sovereignty over Taiwan, but when and how that will happen remains to be seen. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you think this conquest will happen via the process of war? If so, when do you think this reunification would occur? Will the US really fight to keep Taiwan independent? Give us your predictions in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Lin, Hsiao-ting. Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan. Harvard University Press, 2016.
Tucker, Nancy Bernkopf. Strait Talk: United States-Taiwan Relations and the Crisis with China. Harvard University Press, 2011.