Rising Tensions Between China and Taiwan

Tia Tennariello ‘22

On January 29, the tension between China and Taiwan escalated after the Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian warned, “Taiwan independence means war.” The message arrived after China flew fighter jets near the island. According to analysts, China is increasingly concerned that Taiwan is moving towards an official declaration of independence. [1]

China views Taiwan as a province that will rejoin the country, while Taiwanese beliefs are shifting towards independence. Despite Taiwan being mostly politically independent, the countries have a long history together and China shows no signs of relenting its pressure on Taiwan any time soon. After the Chinese Civil War, the communist forces under Mao Zedong ousted the leader, Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang and his nationalist government, the Kuomingtang (KMT), retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Although these migrants were a minority amongst Taiwanese citizens, who had mostly traveled from southern China in the 1600s, the Kuomingtang dominated Taiwanese politics for decades.  In the 1980s, China proposed a “one country, two systems” plan in which Taiwan would be largely self-governing if they agreed to rejoin China. Taiwan rejected the plan but relaxed regulations on travel and investments in China. As the Chinese government refused to recognize Taiwan’s Republic of China (ROC) government, limited contact between the legislatures took place until 2000, when Taiwan elected Chen Shui-bian, its first non-KMT president. In 2004, China passed the “Anti-Secession Law” which implies that “non-peaceful means” may be used against Taiwan should it try to secede. Since the election of Chen, more non-KMT presidents have taken office with the recently re-elected president, Tai Ing-wen leaning towards eventual independence. [1] [3]

Taiwan is currently divided by the Beijing-supporting KMT and Tai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which calls for independence and Taiwanese identity. With the KMT’s continued business influence, the strong economic bonds between the countries threaten to become too costly for the island. China continues to pressure Taiwan with various restrictions in tourism and communications as a result of Ing-wen’s leaning toward independence. [3]

With one million Taiwanese citizens living in China and Taiwanese companies investing approximately 60 billion dollars in China, the majority of citizens find themselves preferring the middle ground between wanting formal independence or reunification. [1]

While no official relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan exists, U.S. arms sales to the island add up to more than $25 billion. Under the Trump Administration, the U.S.-Taiwan ties strengthened with a “needs-based review system” where the U.S. responded frequently to Taiwan’s military needs instead of combining requests in single shipments every few years. While no new definitive policy has been set, President Biden’s foreign policy speech promised a more effective pushback against China’s infringement on autonomous territories. He also described employing sanctions and increasing the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific. [3]

Regarding the warplanes sighted near the island and spokesman Wu Quian’s threats of war, the U.S. government stated that it was “unfortunate” and do not need to engender “anything like confrontation.” Nonetheless, BBC Shanghai correspondent Robin Brandt suggests that the threats be taken seriously, “the language deployed by the government spokespeople may not always be this provocative but when it comes to Taiwan it’s fair to assume this is what China is, ultimately, willing to resort to.” [2]


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55851052 

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55788359  

[3] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations