With US-Taiwanese trade talks resuming imminently, so too will talk of the potential for Taiwanese sovereignty. Ian Ng takes a look at the background to the Taiwan issue, and what the current situation looks like for Taiwan in its pursuit of freedom from Chinese claims.

The road to acceptance as a country for Taiwan has never been easy, and the Taiwanese people have faced multiple obstacles since democratisation in the 1990s. Taiwan has not been recognised as an independent country internationally due to pressure from Beijing, and as such is excluded from almost all international organisations, or can participate only under names that infer Chinese ownership, such as Chinese Taipei or Taiwan, China.

The background to the Taiwan issue is complex. After losing the Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the Kuomintang (KMT) government, also known as the Republic of China (ROC) fled from mainland China to Taiwan, establishing its new capital in Taipei. The KMT government was not held in high regard in Taiwan, especially after the 1947 'February 28' massacre, in which over 20,000 protestors against the KMT government were killed. 38 years of martial law followed, and in this time the ROC lost its right to be seen as the sole representative of China at the UN, replaced by the Communist People's Republic of China, under UN resolution 2758 in 1971.

This resolution excluded the government in Taipei from the United Nations (despite Taiwan no longer technically being under Chinese control) and China has always used the resolution to legitimize its claim of 'Taiwan as part of China'. Furthermore, even though the US has never recognized Taiwan as part of China (after establishing diplomatic relations with China, then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated in a congressional hearing that the US "acknowledged" but did not "recognise" China's claim of Taiwan) further support for Taiwanese sovereignty has been lacking, thanks to previous KMT governments severing diplomatic ties with countries who established relationships with Beijing.

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Amidst a resurgence of COVID in Taiwan last month, the United States has started discussing trade and investment issues with Taiwan. They have provisionally agreed to a resumption of the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks, which had stalled after the Obama administration left the White House. If the negotiations turn out to be successful, this can be a huge breakthrough for Taiwan to negotiate trade deals with other Western countries as well. However, there is one obstacle to overcome, the referendum on the issue of import of pork from the United States, being held later this year.

While the US has repeatedly stressed that the lifting of restrictions on US pork imports is the prerequisite for TIFA negotiations, many Taiwanese have been afraid of the Ractopamine used on US pork. KMT seized the opportunity to provoke and exaggerate the use of Ractopamine as they have always opposed Taiwan from further leaning towards the Western world. Taiwanese concerns over food safety have been manipulated by KMT and the referendum to ban US pork imports is likely to pass. The referendum remains the biggest threat to the TIFA negotiations and thus the relationship between the US and Taiwan.

Nevertheless, I am still optimistic about Taiwan's prospects. With more politicians understanding the threat that comes with the rise of China, Taiwan is gaining bipartisan support from all over the world. The Taiwan Solidarity Act introduced in the US by Congressmen John Curtis (R-UT) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) is only one of the acts introduced to show the US' support to Taiwan. By introducing the bill, the US would be reaffirming that they will not stand by Beijing's false claim that it has the right to represent the people of Taiwan in international institutions. If the bill is passed, the United States will be defying Resolution 2758, and effectively stating that Taiwan is not a part of China. Such support would go a long way to challenging the current status quo that Taiwan is Chinese territory.

Though the road towards democratisation was never easy for Taiwan, it eventually succeeded in reaching it. The road to being recognised globally as an independent country is even more difficult. However, with the support of people all around the world, Taiwan may succeed one day. In fact, the Taiwan issue not only affects the fate of the Taiwanese people, but also indicates the free world's attitude towards China. Does the free world abandon democracy and freedom for the economic interest brought by China? Or does the free world embrace these values, even if it means economic uncertainty and incurring the wrath of the Chinese?

1 vote

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