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How Long Will the Dragon Wait? China and the Retrocession of Taiwan

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Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC)[1] is a robust independent country of approximately 23 million people, who comprise a mix of Taiwanese, Chinese, and Indigenous peoples—estimated at 2018 to comprise 23.69 million people.[2] The voting schematic comprises a (now) liberal-democratic, one-person, one-vote method of political representation. Like many island nations, Taiwan has historically experienced visitations from sea-faring peoples, and therefore varying degrees of colonisation and influences from cultures has taken place—Dutch, Japanese, Portuguese and (mainland) Chinese is to name only several peoples that have impacted on Taiwan. It would however, be the defeat of the Chinese Nationalists—the Kuomintang (KMT)—by the Maoist ‘rebels’ in circa-1948 and the ructions created by the rapid exit to Taiwan by the KMT that would cause the greatest impact. Approximately 1.5 million people exited the mainland and occupied the country circa-1949. This would lead to the KMT establishing an independent government and governance separate and different to mainland China. This state-of-affairs continues to this day with the caveat of liberal-democratic government being introduced in 1986.

Taiwan: Occupation and the Elusiveness of Sovereignty

The Taiwanese people had however, already experienced colonisation by Japan circa-1895 as a result of China being defeated in the first Sino–Japanese War (1894 – 1895). Japan would have Taiwan—then known as Formosa—ceded to it through the auspices of the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895).[3] Whilst there is considerable debate regarding the ‘benefits’ Japan would bring via colonisation, there remains a dominant understanding that Japan despite its profound influence on the Taiwanese people, did offer some benefits which are summed up

Japan ruled Taiwan strictly, using harsh punishment to enforce the law … [and it did force the population to learn Japanese and absorb Japanese culture. That strategy had advantages for the people of Taiwan, as it gained for them access to science and technology, but such advantages came at the cost of suppressing local culture and the Chinese language.

The Japanese occupation of Taiwan would increase its Asia-Pacific (A-P) strategic ‘footprint’ and Japan would come to view the country as its ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier,’[4] and as a place from which invasions of Southeast Asia could be launched.[5] Japan’s rule of Taiwan (1895 – 1948) would be relinquished after its unconditional surrender in World War Two (WWII), (1939 – 1945); and the subsequent United Nations (UN) decolonisation demands. As stipulated, the KMT would take control of the country and Taiwan would continue to have a vibrant economic- and skills-base which was in part, due in part to the aforementioned Japanese intervention. In the twentieth century Taiwan would come to the fore as an ‘Asian tiger.’[6] The West would also contribute to Taiwan’s independence-driven mindset by utilizing it as a bulwark against China during the Cold War (1948 – 1989); and for the US and its allies in the Vietnam War (1963 – 1975). Taiwan would continue to exercise its rights as an independent politico-entity, and would robustly pursue ‘sovereign nation-state’ status. Since 1949 respective Taiwanese governments would attempt to gain sovereign-statehood—as per the auspices of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648)[7] —and it is pertinent to observe what the Treaty stipulates as sovereignty. The two components

External sovereignty relates to a state’s place in the international order and its capacity to act as an autonomous entity … [and] internal sovereignty is the notion of a supreme power/authority within the state. Located in the body that makes decisions that are binding on all citizens, groups, and institutions within the state’s territorial boundaries.[8]

Whilst Chang Kai-shek—ruler-in-exile, and ruler of Taiwan (1949 – 1975) — would continue to seek sovereignty through an independence stance. The outcome would remain elusive and finally be extinguished through the UN adopting a ‘one China’ policy (1971). The current status quo is and remains; Taiwan is a ‘part of’ China.’ From Taiwan’s perspective however, it is an independent country separate from China: this position has been maintained regardless of what the China’s ruling body—the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—considers to be correct. The UN however, has not forced Taiwan to cede.

Additional to the quest for statehood, what is of interest here is, although sovereign statehood has not been granted successive (post-1986) Taiwan ROC governments have succeeded in keeping Taiwan’s ‘independent’ status, and integrity. This has been accomplished through an astute use of politico-suasion; diplomacy; ‘soft power;’[9] and an astute and systemic application of persuasiveness that has effectively allowed Taiwan to side-step UN legitimizing norms and protocols[10] without severe repercussions. Whilst this state-of-affairs is a complex politico-environment per se, it is nevertheless pertinent to mention Taiwan has many of the ‘benefits’ of sovereignty whilst not being a sovereign nation-state and this comprises but is not limited to a national currency, armed forces and quasi-diplomatic interactions by other nation-states. To be sure, it is of relevance to note China has never agreed to Taiwan’s independence and this remains the status quo, and whilst China has been steadfast in its stance it has never had the........

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