You are currently viewing Taiwan and China: between confrontation and cooperation

Taiwan and China: between confrontation and cooperation

  On 9 January 2021, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted the self-imposed restrictions to American diplomats in relation with Taiwan[1]. These measures had been taken in 1979 after the US recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Acknowledged by Taiwanese officials, such as the ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, or the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, the statement may be received very negatively by China. Indeed, Beijing considers Taiwan as one of its provinces, since there is but one China for Chinese leaders. The litigation between China and Taiwan dates back 1949, when Chinese nationalists lost the civil war against the communists. Fleeing on the island of Taiwan, they managed to build a de facto State that has never been recognised by China nor by many other States though. However, Taiwan has succeeded in becoming a great economic power. Nowadays, the region is under Chinese hegemony and has become one of the main areas of geopolitical rivalries around the world. Therefore, due to its economic power, its strategical position, and its historical symbol, this territory of 36 000 km2 and 23 million inhabitants represents a major issue for both China and the US.

  This article will thus explain how the Taiwan-China relationship developed following the civil war, the economic reality of the island, and the diplomatic and political aspects of a conflict that involved the world’s two main powers.

The civil war and the birth of the Taiwanese “State”

  Taiwan has always been disputed. Originally populated by peoples of the Pacific, the island saw the first Chinese inhabitants settle down in the 12th century. Then came the Dutch in the 16th century, but what was called Formosa by the West didn’t interest much the European powers, and the island was reconquered by the Chinese in 1683. Following the 1894-1895 war with Japan, China had to cede the island to the enemy until 1945 and the defeat of Japan in the Second World War. This period marked the beginning of the industrialisation and modernisation of the Taiwan[2].

  While the island was under Japanese rule, China faced the 1911 revolution that overthrew the two thousand years-old Chinese Empire. The nationalist party, the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Sun Yat-sen, took power and turned the old Empire into a Republic in 1912. When the Second World War broke out, China was defeated by Japan and lost a great part of its territory. In 1945, as a result of the reconquest engaged against Japan, the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), founded in 1921, began to fight each other. These parties have always had an ambiguous relationship. They were allied in the 1920’s in order to consolidate the Republic, but the coalition split in 1927 after the new nationalist leader, Chang Kai-shek, led several assaults against the communists[3]. The same situation happened in 1937 during the Japanese attack of China: united to push back the invader, the nationalists and the communists ended up in a civil war from 1945 that led to the CCP victory in 1949. Defeated, Chang Kai-shek and the nationalists fled in Taiwan and chose Taipei as capital. The 1 October 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was proclaimed by Mao Zedong, the CCP leader, while Chang Kai-shek became president of the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan) in 1950.

  While the USSR recognised the PRC from 2 October 1949, the US brought their support to Taiwan the following day. Nevertheless, several countries decided to recognise the PRC: India in late 1949, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka (ex-Ceylon), the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in early 1950. Despite these recognitions, the ROC received a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council as it was perceived as being China by most of UN Member States. Moreover, the commitment of US President Harry Truman to defend Taiwan led to the signature of the Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty on 2 December 1954. This defensive treaty was aimed at protecting the island in the event of an aggression, but only concerned Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, not the other surrounding islands[4].

The ambivalent American backing

  Supported by the US, Taiwan managed to build a strong economy. It first produced consumer goods before developing its exports during the 1960’s, essentially made of electronic products. The American and Japanese investments were consequent, as well as the workforce that strongly increased throughout the Vietnam War[5]. However, in the same period, the diplomatic status of Taiwan was weakened. In 1964, France recognised the PRC and in 1971, the Chinese Security Council seat was assigned to the PRC. The year after, the visit in China of US President Richard Nixon launched a new phase of Sino-American relations. In a joint communiqué, Washington acknowledged “that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China”[6]. This reversal of situation aimed at counter the USSR in the Cold War context. The visit was prepared in 1971 when the US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger met Mao Zedong. Kissinger reassured the Chinese leader by agreeing the “three no’s”: no to “two China”, no to “one China, one Taiwan”, no to “the independence of Taiwan”[7].

  But it is only in 1979 that formal diplomatic relations were established with the official US recognition of the PRC. A second joint communiqué was then published: “The United States of America recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. Within this context, the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan […]. The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”[8] This decision was mainly the result of the arrival in power of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. More liberal than Mao Zedong, he was willing to resolve the Taiwan matter peacefully. However, the US didn’t mean to let down the ROC and adopted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) in April 1979 that reaffirmed the American commitment to the protection of the island, notably by selling defensive weapons, and established unofficial relations with Taiwan.

  Concerned about this ambiguous TRA (notably regarding US sale of arms), the PRC asked the US to clarify their position. In 1982, Washington released a third statement: “« [The American Government declares that] it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative  terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution.”[9] However, in order to reassure the Taiwanese government, US President Ronald Reagan had formulated “Six Assurances” one month before : no deadline for sale of arms, no consultation with Beijing regarding these sales, don’t be an intermediate between the two shores, don’t update the TRA, don’t change position about Taiwan’s sovereignty, don’t oblige Taiwan to negotiate with Beijing[10].

  All these elements (TRA, the three communiqués, and the Six Assurances) were to become the basis of US policy towards Taiwan until today.

Between rapprochement and tension: the China-Taiwan relationship since the 1980’s

  On the other side, if the Chinese officials accepted to start dialogue with Taiwan, to open communication channels, and to accept most of the Taiwanese prerogatives, they specified that China, the one and only, was the PRC. To make it clear, the PRC constitution was modified in 1982: Taiwan was defined as part of the sacred territory of the PRC, and the unification described as a sacred task for the Chinese and Taiwanese peoples[11]. From this date, the unification aim began to get more and more importance in Chinese leaders’ speeches. 

  In the meantime, Taiwan set up a democratic and liberal transition. The dictature imposed by Tchang Kai-shek since 1949 (who died in 1975) slowly began to fade away as his son became President in 1978. The first opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was created in 1986 and the first indirect cross-strait travels and exchanges occurred in 1987[12]. At the economic level, its mandate was marked by the continuation of industrialisation, notably in the automotive industry, computing, and military equipment. The economic development strategy led since 1949 had bear fruit: in 1988, Taiwan’s GDP per capita worth ten times than that of China[13].

  The nomination of Lee Teng-hui as President of the ROC in 1988 accelerated the rapprochement with China. In 1991, the Taiwanese government accepted the principle of unification provided that China respects democracy and liberty[14]. The same year, China, Hong-Kong, and Taiwan entered the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a regional multilateral organisation composed of the main Pacific countries. The same year, two entities were created to lead the discussions about the unification: The Strait Exchange Foundation, and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. The relations between China and Taiwan had never been so friendly. In 1993, both sides met in Singapore to begin a cycle of negotiations that lasted until 1995.

  However, a series of incidents from 1993 deteriorated the relationship. The 1993 White Paper edited by China reaffirmed the “one China” principle and proposed the “one country, two systems” formula. According to this doctrine, Taiwan could manage its own affairs but could not be regarded as a State, which meant that membership of international organisations or establishment of official diplomatic relations were excluded. The 1994 Taiwanese White Paper responded by saying that the “one China” principle was acceptable but that China and Taiwan should “coexist as two distinct legal entities on the international scene”. Therefore, Taiwan preferred the “one nation, two States” solution (as Germany during the Cold War or Korea)[15].

  The mistrust climate reached its peak during the 1995-1996 crisis. On May 1995, the Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was allowed to travel in the US where he pronounced a speech at Cornell University. The grant of an American visa followed by a speech perceived as separatist angered Beijing. In reaction, the PRC led several military exercises in the summer of 1995, which included missile launches, as well as in the spring of 1996, just before the Taiwanese presidential election[16] (these latter provocations were mainly aimed at intimidating the Taiwanese so they would not vote for Lee Teng-hui[17]). The US responded by sending their fleet in the surrounding waters to show their support to Taiwan. However, the US didn’t want to caution any independent will from Taiwanese officials and send several signals to maintain the status quo. Thus, in 1998, US President Bill Clinton travelled to Shanghai where he reaffirmed Kissinger’s “three no’s”[18].

  Despite the American intervention, Taiwan and China faced a new diplomatic crisis in 1999 after President Lee Teng-hui stated that the ROC was a sovereign State and that its relations with the PRC were “inter-State” relations[19]. The Chinese government reacted strongly: military manoeuvres were organised and violated the Taiwanese space, compelling the US to send two aircraft carriers. Furthermore, in early 2000, Beijing published its second White Paper in which the use of force was envisaged under certain circumstances: the declaration of independence, the launch of a nuclear weapon program, the occupation of the island by foreign military forces, or the postponement sine die of negotiations, which means without fixing a new date[20]. As in 1996, the 2000 White Book sought to incite the Taiwanese to choose the most favourable candidate to Beijing. The same causes producing the same effects, the Taiwanese elected Chen Shui-bian, member of the DPP, born in 1986 and perceived as an “independentist” party.

  Nevertheless, Chen Shui-bian showed his will to appease the relations with China. He stated that he had no intention of proclaiming the independence, nor modifying the Constitution to give Taiwan the status of “State”[21]. Reassured, the US concluded an important sale of arms in 2001 and adopted several measures in 2002 and 2003 to reaffirm their support and tighten the relationship. However, since the decision of Chen Shui-ban to organise a referendum about the Chinese policy of Taiwan in 2004, the US showed their disapproval by reaffirming that they didn’t recognise the independence of Taiwan. In reaction, Chen Shui-bian closed the National Unification Council in early 2006[22]. On the other side, China decided a softer strategy from 2000 by marginalising the government and promoting contacts with opposition parties and Taiwanese businessmen to weaken the “independentists”. Nonetheless, after Chen Shui-ban announced his will to reform the Constitution, China adopted an anti-secessionist act in 2005. This bill mainly recalled the principles of the 2000 White Paper.

  In 2008, the KMT came back to power with the election of Ma Ying-jeou. Ironically, the KMT had become in the 2000’s one the Taiwanese parties that has been seen as more reasonable, compared to the DPP.  The new President was committed to improve the relations with Beijing and the peace talks resumed informally. However, the 2014 sunflower movement led by Taiwanese students stopped the rapprochement policy of Ma Ying-jeou. This one-month protest broke out when the Parliament tried to force through a free trade agreement with China[23]. The election of Tsai Ing-wen, member of the DPP, in 2016 and 2020 then incited Beijing to cut off official communications and slow down the rhythm of negotiations. Therefore, the situation remains deadlocked today. However, despite political confrontation, Taiwan and China managed to set up a close economic collaboration.

Taiwan’s economic strengths and weaknesses

  With $610.69 billion GDP in 2019[24], Taiwan is about the 21st or 22nd economy in the world. Moreover, its 2019 GPD expressed in purchasing power parity reached $55 078, which ranked Taiwan 17th in the world, ahead of Germany (20th, $53 558), France (29th, $47 223), the UK (30th, $46 828) or Japan (31st, $45 546)[25]. Its 2019 unemployment rate was also very low, 3,73 %, as well as its exterior debt, which only represented 32 % of the GDP.[26]

  Regarding trade level, Taiwan was the 18th world exporter and the 17th importer in 2019. Its trade balance was in surplus, with $1 342 billion in 2019, which represented 10,42 % of its GDP[27]. Its exports are mainly directed towards Asia (70,5 % in 2019). Its principal clients are China (40.1%), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, 16.4 %), the EU (8.4 %) and Japan (7.1 %). Its imports come mostly from Asia as well (59,9 %), with China in first place (20.4 %), then Japan (15.4 %), the ASEAN (12,3 %), and the EU (10.9 %)[28].

  Within the EU, some disparities are visible. In 2019, two EU countries represented the two-third of EU’s exports towards Taiwan: the Netherlands (34,3 %) and Germany (33%). Then came France (7,6%), Italy (6,1 %), Belgium (3,8%) and Austria (2,9%)[29]. Moreover, the EU’s trade balance with Taiwan has been in deficit for many years even though it has been reducing. In 2019, this figure has reduced by 44% to reach 3,4 billion euros thanks to an increase of EU’s exports by 17,3%[30]. If the EU sells more to Taiwan than it buys to it, the amounts are in favour of Taiwan (23.6 billion euros against 26 billion euros)[31].

  Taiwan is also known for being specialised in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and semiconductors. Taiwan is the first world market for semiconductors equipment production and owns four multinational companies among the more advanced in this area around the world:

  • TSMC: the world leader for semiconductor foundry, that represents 52 % of the world production
  • ASE:  the world leader for semiconductor back-end activities
  • MediaTek: in the world Top 5 companies for semiconductor design, especially in 5G network
  • Foxconn: the first Apple subcontractor. Its 2019 turnover reached about $200 billion[32]

  Hence, Taiwan is a country of industry and technology. The industry counts for 35% of the GDP and 98% of Taiwanese companies are small and medium-sized enterprises. During its mandate, President Ma Ying-jeou rightly stated: “Trade and technology are the two wings of Taiwanese development.”[33] Therefore, Taiwan spends a lot in research and development: 3,36 % of its GDP in 2019, making Taiwan the third world “country” in this area after Israel and South Korea.[34]

  These figures are the result of the development policy led since the 1950’s. In the 1960’s, Taiwan was already one of the Four Asian Dragons, with South Korea, Hong-Kong and Singapore. This group benefited from a strong development during the 1960’s and 1970’s before knowing a real “industrial take-off” in the 1980’s.[35]

  However, Taiwan has also some weaknesses. The first of all concerns its dependence vis-à-vis China. As noted above, China represents by far its first trading partner. Throughout the 2000’s, a large part of Taiwanese companies (excepted semiconductor companies) has transferred its production chains in China, encouraged by the desire of appeasement of Presidents Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou, as well as by the seduction strategy led by Beijing. This policy enabled Taiwan to increase its exports and run surpluses, even with China ($41,7 billion in 2010)[36]. However, most of these companies are subcontractors, making them dependent on the world economy’s fluctuations. Furthermore, in early 2010’s, China began to exclude these Taiwanese firms from the production chains which strongly decreased Taiwanese surplus with China ($28,1 billion in 2015)[37]. Nonetheless, in only five years, between 2010 and 2015, the Taiwanese foreign direct investments amounted to $90 billion, far more than the total of $64,9 billion between 1991 and 2015. This massive influx was due to the 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement that aimed at developing cross-strait trade[38]. Taiwan is thus also reliant on the openness of Chinese market to invest.  

  Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was aware of the dependence problem and proposed to reduce it. Since 2016, Taipei has been promoting the New Southbound Policy, which is aimed at luring companies in Taiwan and diversifying Taiwan’s clients by getting closer to South and Southeast Asia[39]. Therefore, in June 2019, Foxconn’s CEO Terry Gou announced its will to relocate some of his manufactories in Taiwan[40]. Then, in December 2019, three hundred Taiwanese enterprises promised to invest 25 billion euros in the island[41]. Moreover, the investments towards China have fallen by 54 % in 2019[42]. This figure seems quite important but Taiwan remains the first foreign investor in China with a foreign direct investment stock estimated at $200 billion in 2019[43].

  Nevertheless, these facts seem to be more the result of the Sino-American trade war rather than the effectiveness of Taiwanese policy. Indeed, if Taiwan became the 5th foreign investor in Vietnam in January 2020, China’s potential and attractivity remain stronger[44]. In fact, Taiwanese investors only repatriated a part of their activities in order to have “made in Taiwan” marked on their products, which permits them to sell them in the US without paying custom duties imposed to Chinese goods[45]. Therefore, in the first semester of 2019, Chinese sales towards the US decreased by $35 billion while Taiwanese exports to the US increased by $4,2 billion[46].

  Moreover, Taiwan holds an important lever in this dispute: the semiconductors, essential to make electronic products, notably smartphones. In 2019, US President Donald Trump had decided to cease the supply of semiconductors to Chinese company Huawei, accused of threatening US national security. In this way, Huawei turned to Taiwan and became the first TSMC’s customer in the world at the end of 2019. If the US sanction only lasted until June 2019, the incident confirmed Beijing’s will to develop its own technologies. Indeed, China represents 71% of the world demand and 80% of Chinese semi-conductors are imported, mainly from the US[47].

  In order to rectify this situation, the Chinese government had already published its “Made in China 2025” plan back in 2015. This strategy aims at turning China into a “manufacturing superpower” thanks to innovative manufacturing technologies, or “smart manufacturing”, and becoming self-sufficient regarding high-tech products[48]. “China seeks to gradually replace foreign with Chinese technology at home – and to prepare the ground for Chinese technology companies entering international markets”[49]. Thus, Beijing targeted ten key technologies to improve or develop on its soil: new generation information technology, high-end computerised machines and robots, space and aviation, maritime equipment and high-tech ships, advanced railway transportation equipment, new energy and energy-saving vehicles, energy equipment, agricultural machines, new materials, biopharma and high-tech medical devices. By 2025, China “intends to increase the domestic market share of Chinese suppliers for “basic core components and important basic materials” to 70 per cent”[50]. Regarding semiconductors, “Made in China 2025” wants to produce 70% of its needs by 2025 but it seems that China won’t be able to exceed 20% by 2025, due to the growing difficulty to obtain components from the US.[51]

  Therefore, if Taiwan remains one of the top leaders in semiconductors, alongside with the US and South Korea, China has now entered the global high-tech competition. And China intends to pursue its seduction policy to lure Taiwanese brains. In several years, China has already attracted 3 000 Taiwanese engineers specialised in semiconductors, 10% of those working in this field in Taiwan[52]. Moreover, in November 2019, in response to Taiwan’s relocation strategy, Beijing announced 26 incentives to keep Taiwanese investors and citizens in China: “these include equal participation in investment and in construction of China’s major technical equipment, 5G, circular economy, civil aviation, theme parks and new types of financial institutions for Taiwan-funded companies and support for cross-strait youth employment and ‘entrepreneurship’ hubs.”[53]

  Finally, Taiwan is dependent on energy resources. Taiwan imports 98% of its energy, 93% of which are fossil fuels. In 2018, 76% of its oil came from the Middle East, a significant figure that makes Taiwan dependent on an unstable region, whether it is prices or supplies[54]. Taiwan is also reliant on coal and natural gas. In 2016, 45% of its coal came from Australia and 40% from Indonesia[55]. In 2019, 98% of Taiwanese imported gas was liquefied natural gas (LNG): 28% came from Qatar, 27,5 % from Australia, 15% from Malaysia, 9% from Papua New-Guinea, 9% from Russia, and about 3% from the US[56].

  Therefore, Taiwan plans to rebalance its power mix by 2025: the coal rate should decrease from 46% to 30%, the LNG rate should increase from 33% to 50%, and the renewables rate should also increase from 6% to 20%. Nuclear (6% of Taiwan’s power mix in 2019), oil (2%) and pumped storage (1%) should thus disappear from Taiwan’s energy mix[57]. This programme could permit Taiwan to leverage technology, improve the environment, attract investments, and diversifying suppliers (notably US LNG). However, this would not resolve the dependence matter. For instance, the one and only Taiwan’s LNG importer is China Petroleum Corporation, a stated-owned company “which also has a monopoly on all gas terminals, infrastructure transmission and storage facilities in Taiwan”[58].

  If Taiwan, as many countries in the world, has economic strengths and weaknesses, its diplomatic and geopolitics situation is very singular.

Taiwan: an unrecognised de facto State 

  Taiwan’s particularity lies in his international status. Indeed, Taiwan is not an official “State” properly speaking. Since the proclamation of the PRC in 1949, Taiwan has been losing international recognitions: while a majority of States recognised Taiwan in 1949, they were only 68 in 1971, and 15 in 2020[59]. These latter are mainly small States located in the Pacific, Africa or Central America with neither power nor influence. This lack of diplomatic support can be explained by China’s will to isolate Taiwan on the international scene. China still considers Taiwan as a “rebel province” and refuses to see other States maintaining relationship with Taiwan as it was one of them.

  Hence, Beijing uses both incentives and pressure to weaken Taiwan’s alliances. With the States still recognising the island, China promises financial advantages in return for the adherence to the “one China” principle, as for Salomon and Kiribati Islands in 2019[60]. With the States that don’t recognise Taiwan but have unofficial relations with it, China puts pressure on them, especially when it comes to arms sale. In 2009, Beijing threatened to impose sanctions on US companies, such as Boeing, that supply military equipment to Taiwan[61]. In 2020, it was France that was targeted by the Chinese government. In an official release, the Chinese minister of Foreign Affairs stated: “We urge France to cancel its arms sale project with Taiwan, to avoid harming Sino-French relations.”[62]

  Regarding international governmental organisations (IGO’s), Taiwan has been excluded from most of them. As noted above, the PRC replaced the ROC in the UN in 1971. Therefore, Taiwan doesn’t participate in any UN-affiliated organisations anymore, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). Taiwan is also banned from the International Atomic Energy Agency or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In fact, Taiwan is not accepted with full membership but allowed under other status: observer, associate member, corresponding member, or non-cooperating member. For instance, Taiwan became observer at the World Health Assembly in 2009, WHO’s decision-making body, and at the OECD[63]. Moreover, Taiwan is allowed to be full member of international organisations when they are not states-only-member organisations. This is why Taiwan entered the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1991 and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, alongside China. Similarly, Taiwan is member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)[64]. All in all, in 2013, Taiwan participated in about 40 IGO’s, although its role is more symbolic than practical when it doesn’t have member status[65].

  Furthermore, if these entities welcome Taiwan, they remain aligned with the “one China” principle: WHA, OECD, APEC, IOC, and WTO use “Chinese Taipei” appellation. For its part, the International Monetary Fund’s website displays “Taiwan Province of China”[66]. However, Taiwan has been seeking for greater participation in IGO’s, or better status, as for the International Civil Aviation Organisation or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the non-recognition from the “international community” added to China’s pressure to reduce Taiwan’s participation in IGO’s should block Taiwan’s aspirations for a while.

  With this in mind, how may Taiwan’s situation evolve in the coming years? Many observers think that the status quo will remain. Indeed, the three main actors seem to take advantage of it.

   Firstly, Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen is favourable to the status quo, as she told it during her first campaign. This means that she will follow the line of her party since 1999: accepting de facto independence and refusing to proclaim it officially. According to this policy, it is unnecessary to declare de jure independence as Taiwan is already a sovereign State[67]. In fact, proclaiming the independence would be considered as casus belli by Beijing, as the 2005 White Paper provides for. Moreover, the population has never been for real independence, nor the unification. In a 2013 survey led by Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), 3% of the Taiwanese asked for an immediate unification, 5% for an immediate independence, 6% had no opinion, 9% wanted the status quo today and unification later, 16% the status quo today and independence later, 28% a forever status quo, and 33% the status quo today and later decide whether independence or unification[68].

  Moreover, the suspicious perception towards China and the national sentiment rise should strengthen the status quo. Another MAC survey led in 2011 showed that 53,6% of the Taiwanese thought that China was hostile towards Taiwanese government, and 44,7% believed that China was hostile towards Taiwanese people. Furthermore, between 70% and 80% rejected the “one country, two systems” principle[69]. As for the national sentiment, a 2012 survey organised by the National Study Center revealed that only 3,6% of the Taiwanese describe themselves as “Chinese”, while 53,7% identified themselves as “Taiwanese”. However, 39,6% of those polled responded being both “Chinese and Taiwanese”[70]. The election of Tsai Ing-wen and the recent Hong-Kong events should maintain the trend, and even increase it.

  Then, China. China’s strategy towards Taiwan is double. First, Beijing seeks to maintain the deadlock by increasing the economic, tourist and human relations in order to slowly modify the Taiwanese feeling regarding mainland China[71]. Secondly, Beijing has been improving its military capacities to gain a strategic superiority and negotiate from a position of strength. However, since the military occupation of the island would be too risky, difficult, and expensive, this strategy is more psychological than operational. By showing its military power, China seeks to dissuade other States from supporting Taiwan, as well as discourage Taiwanese government from taking measures that would be consider as unacceptable[72].

  However, by doing so, the Chinese government leads a paradoxical policy. Rather than putting pressure on Taiwan or accelerate the rapprochement, the rise of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generates fear and resentment. In fact, by developing its army, China also intends to harm US military capacities and extend its geopolitical influence. Then, if the PLA supplanted the US army in this area, what would be Taiwan’s fate? And what if the US gave up Taiwan for the benefit of China?  The US alliances in this strategic region could be threatened and we could assist to the emergence of a “Great China with real hemispheric proportions”[73]. Therefore, the future of Asia-Pacific depends on US determination to respond to China’s military rise.

  Lastly, the US. Since 1979, the Mutual Defence Treaty no longer exists. As noted above, TRA, the three communiqués and the Six Assurances are the basis of US policy in Taiwan Strait since then. The American will to maintain the status quo can be explained by the fact that Washington wants to avoid any military conflict with China. Therefore, the US have no choice but ambiguity. They have to show their tenacity to dissuade China from invading the island, but they also have to prevent any independence declaration from Taiwan, which could cause Chinese military intervention[74]. The status quo thus should last as long as it is seen as a way to maintain peace. However, other voices call for changing US policy in the strait:

  • The “compromise” school: some US officials think that Washington should abandon the status quo and align with Beijing. They argue that China will soon no longer tolerate US presence in the area because of its economic and military power rise. Furthermore, the US would do better to keep good relations with China given the large interests that are at stake compared to the ones with Taiwan[75]
  • The “normalisation” school: the opposite theory would consist of recognising Taiwan as an independent State. Within this group, some think that is it the best solution for both the US and China. Their aim is to make Beijing update its vision on Taiwan so it would accept a new dynamic and peaceful partner. Some others, more realists, argue that Taiwan is a tool to contain Chinese military rise[76]. By recognising it, the US would strengthen the “first island chain” (Japan, the Ryukyus, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia) and constrain China’s access to the “second island chain” and the ocean (Guam, the Marianas, the Palau island group and other small islands in the central Pacific)[77].
  • The “one China, two governments” school: this doctrine don’t refuse the “one China” principle but call for recognition of Taiwan’s government and sovereignty. As for the independence, the question will have to be determined by both China and Taiwan, as was the case for East and West Germany. This theory mixes the status quo, by not recognising the formal independence, and the normalisation, by giving Taiwan a better diplomatic status with a greater place on the international scene[78].

  Therefore, Taiwan will continue to represent a challenge in the Asia-Pacific. For China, Taiwan represents the last symbol of the “century of humiliation”, (1839-1949) where its territory was conquered by foreign powers. Moreover, the geographical position of Taiwan is highly strategic if Beijing wants to assert itself as a global power. In contrast, for the US, Taiwan is one of the keys to prevent China from becoming a true world leader. As for the USSR during the Cold War, the US have been applying the same “containment” theory to circle the Middle Kingdom with alliances. Therefore, Taiwan has become one of the barometers of China-US battle for world hegemony. 

[1] « Le chef de la diplomatie américaine annule les restrictions dans les contacts avec Taïwan », Le, 10 janvier 2021

[2] Bruno Cabrillac, Economie de la Chine, Presses Universitaires de France, Que sais-je ?, 2009, p. 13

[3] John King Fairbank et Merle Goldman, Histoire de la Chine, Tallandier, 2013, pp. 410-411

[4] Jean-Pierre Cabestan et Benoît Vermander, La Chine en quête de ses frontières. La confrontation Chine-Taiwan, Presses de Sciences Po, 2005, p. 26

[5] John King Fairbank et Merle Goldman, op.cit., p. 487

[6] Jean-Pierre Cabestan et Benoît Vermander, op.cit., p. 27

[7] Ibid., p. 28

[8] Ibid., p. 29

[9] Ibid., p. 30

[10] Ibid., pp. 30-31

[11] Ibid., p. 31

[12] Ibid., p. 32

[13] John King Fairbank et Merle Goldman, op.cit., p. 487

[14] Jean-Pierre Cabestan et Benoît Vermander, op.cit., pp. 32-33

[15] Ibid., pp. 37-38

[16] Stéphanie Balme et Daniel Sabbagh, « La question de Taïwan », in Stéphanie Balme et Daniel Sabbagh, « Chine/Etats-Unis. Fascinations et rivalités », Mondes et Nations, 2008, pp. 65-67

[17] The 1996 Taiwanese presidential election was the first held by direct universal suffrage

[18] Jean-Pierre Cabestan et Benoît Vermander, op.cit., p. 41

[19] Ibid., p. 43

[20] Stéphanie Balme et Daniel Sabbagh, op.cit., p. 73

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., pp. 74-75

[23] Jean-Pierre Cabestan, « La Chine et les États-Unis entre confrontation et accommodements », in Jean-Pierre Cabestan, La politique internationale de la Chine. Entre intégration et volonté de puissance, Presses de Sciences Po, 2015, pp. 272-273

[24] « World Economic Outlook (October 2020) – GDP, current prices »,

[25] « The World’s Richest and Poorest Countries 2020 », Global Finance Magazine,

[26] Taïwan : un partenaire économique essentiel, Service économique de Taipei, Direction Générale du Trésor, 23 juin 2020, pp. 2-3

[27] Ibid., p. 3

[28] Ibid., p. 6

[29] Alain Berder, Point sur la relation économique ente l’UE et Taïwan en 2019, Bureau français de Taipei, Service économique, Direction Générale du Trésor, 9 septembre 2020, p. 3

[30] Ibid., p. 1

[31] Ibid.

[32] Taïwan : un partenaire économique essentiel, op.cit., p. 4

[33] Thierry Garcin, « Taïwan, cas d’espèce géopolitique », Revue Défense Nationale N° 790, no 5, 2016, p. 94

[34] Taïwan : un partenaire économique essentiel, op.cit., p. 4

[35] Philippe Régnier, « Histoire de l’industrialisation et succès asiatiques de développement : une rétrospective de la littérature scientifique francophone », Mondes en développement n° 139, no 3, Septembre 2007, p. 76

[36] Tanguy Lepesant, « Taïwan en quête de souveraineté économique », Le Monde diplomatique, Mai 2016

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Brigitte Dekker, « Why the EU Should Pay More Attention to Taiwan », Clingandael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, January 2020, p. 4

[40] Alice Hérait, « La guerre commerciale sino-américaine, une chance pour Taïwan ? », Le Monde diplomatique, Février 2020

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Taïwan : un partenaire économique essentiel, op.cit., p. 3

[44] Alice Hérait, op.cit.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Amélie Aidi, Amélie Gallee, Morgane Kerric, Kaitlyn Bove, Cédric Coulon, Robinson Modol, Mickael Waseli, La guerre des semi-conducteurs, Ecole de guerre économique, juillet 2019, pp. 12-13

[48] Jost Wübbeke, Mirjam Meissner, Max J. Zenglein, Jaqueline Ives, Björn Conrad, Made in China 2025. The making of a high-tech superpower and consequences for industrial countries, Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies, December 2016, p. 6

[49] Ibid., p. 7

[50] Ibid.

[51] « Les semi-conducteurs, talon d’Achille de la puissance de la Chine », Le, 14 septembre 2020,

[52] Alice Hérait, op.cit.

[53] Brigitte Dekker, op.cit., p. 4

[54] Evan A. Feigenbaum, Jen-yi Hou, Overcoming Taiwan’s Energy Trilemma, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2020, pp. 4-5

[55] Thierry Garcin, op.cit., p. 94

[56] Evan A. Feigenbaum, Jen-yi Hou, op.cit., pp. 14-15

[57] Ibid., p. 7

[58] Ibid., p. 14

[59] Le Dessous des cartes – COVID-19, une leçon de géopolitique #3 La Chine et Taïwan face au virus, Arte, 3 avril 2020,

[60] « Taïwan de plus en plus isolé sur la scène internationale », Le Figaro, 23 septembre 2019, 

[61] Jean-Pierre Cabestan, op.cit., p. 273

[62] Le Point magazine, « Armement : la Chine demande à la France d’annuler un contrat avec Taïwan », Le Point, 12 mai 2020,

[63] Bonnie S. Glaser, Taiwan’s Quest for Greater Participation in the International Community, CSIS Reports, Center for Strategic & International Studies, November 2013, p. 16

[64] Jacques deLisle, « Taiwan: Sovereignty and Participation in International Organizations », Foreign Policy Research Institute, juillet 2011,

[65] Bonnie S. Glaser, op.cit., p. 16

[66] IGO’s’ respective websites

[67] Tanguy Lepesant, op.cit.

[68] Min-Hua Chiang et Bernard Gerbier,« Taïwan face à son intégration croissante à l’économie chinoise », in Pierre Alary et Elsa Lafaye de Micheaux (dir.), Capitalismes asiatiques et puissance chinoise, Presses de Sciences Po, 2014, p. 179

[69] Barthélemy Courmont, « Chine-Taïwan : ennemis un peu, partenaires beaucoup », Géoéconomie n° 68, no 1, 24 février 2014, p. 95

[70] Ibid., p. 96

[71] Jean-Pierre Cabestan, op.cit., p. 274

[72] Mark Stokes et Sabrina Tsai, « Deuxième partie. Les États-Unis et ses futures options stratégiques dans le détroit de Taiwan », Monde chinois N° 46, no 2, 2016, p. 28

[73] Mark Stokes et Sabrina Tsai, « Troisième partie. Les États-Unis et ses futures options stratégiques dans le détroit de Taiwan », Monde chinois N° 47, no 3, 2016, p. 14

[74] Stéphanie Balme, Daniel Sabbagh, op.cit., p. 63

[75] Mark Stokes et Sabrina Tsai, « Troisième partie. Les États-Unis et ses futures options stratégiques dans le détroit de Taiwan », op.cit., pp. 20-21

[76] Ibid., pp. 22-23

[77] Joseph A. Bosco, « Taiwan and Strategic Security », The Diplomat, May 15, 2015,

[78] Mark Stokes et Sabrina Tsai, « Troisième partie. Les États-Unis et ses futures options stratégiques dans le détroit de Taiwan », op.cit., pp. 23-24

Rayane Ait Haddou

I received a licence in history in Paris Sorbonne Université. Those three years were a great experience where I could improve my knowledge. Then I decided to integrate the international relations master's degree in Lyon 3 university. During my internship in EU-Logos Athena, I am working on European Union's foreign relations, espacially concerning geopolitical issues in the Middle East and eastern Europe.

Laisser un commentaire