World Facts

Is Taiwan a Country?

A few countries recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, while many others do not.

Where Is Taiwan?

Taiwan is an island located off the coast of the mainland of East Asia, approximately 112 miles from China. It has coastlines along a number of major bodies of water, including the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, and the Luzon Strait. This island covers a total area of 13,976 square miles and has a population size of approximately 23.55 million. Taiwan has a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.177 trillion and per capita GDP of $24,027. The size of its population and economy make Taiwan the largest non-United Nations member in the world.

History of Taiwan

Taiwan has a long history, beginning around 6,000 years ago, when it was first inhabited by people believed to come from present-day mainland China. As the population grew, its inhabitants eventually formed into separate cultures and tribes. Records indicate that individuals from other places began arriving sometime during the 1500s.

For the majority of the 17th century, Taiwan was under Dutch and Spanish colonial rule. These colonial powers were overthrown by the Kingdom of Tungning until 1682, when the Qing Dynasty of China took control of Taiwan. After the First Sino-Japanese War at the end of the 19th century, Taiwan was under the control of the Japanese Empire until the end of World War II. At this time, United States forces sent the Chinese military to Taiwan to accept its surrender in October of 1945. After receiving the formal surrender, the Chinese military general referred to that day as Taiwan Retrocession Day, an unofficial holiday in China that still exists today. This day supposedly marked the moment that Taiwan was integrated into the Republic of China (ROC).

The Allies of World War II, however, did not recognize this integration, and instead considered Taiwan to be a military occupied zone until 1952, when Japan surrendered all control over the island. However, this treaty however, did not specify to which country the control was surrendered. This ambiguity has resulted in confusion regarding over whether or not Taiwan is an independent country.

Political Situation in Taiwan

Currently, the sovereignty of Taiwan is in question. The majority of countries around the world choose not to be involved in this debate, and instead deal with Taiwan as its own state while making no statements in favor of its formal declaration of independence. In this way, no other country interferes with the current status of Taiwan and allows various political groups to carry on with their own interpretation of the situation.

The Chinese Civil War

The Republic of China's military considered Taiwan to be newly integrated as of October 1945, just after the Republic of China fought Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. This also marked the beginning of the second Chinese Civil War, which lasted from 1946 until 1950, and was fought between the Kuomintang government (KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC). During the war, the Republic of China came to be known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), when the Communist Party of China gained control of the nation's mainland area.

When it was clear that the Communist Party had captured control of the majority of the country, Chiang Kai-shek and 2 million other KMT supporters (also known as nationalists) fled to Taiwan in October of 1949. Only a few nationalists remained on the mainland. The KMT party prevented the CPC from taking control of the island and in December of 1949, Chiang Kai-shek declared the city of Taipei to be the capital of the Republic of China, effectively claiming that Taiwan would remain under the previous, non-communist led government. In 1950, Communist forces managed to take control of nearby islands, but Taiwan remained under KMT control.

After the Chinese Civil War

When the Korean War began in June of 1950, the US changed its stance on Taiwan’s claims to independence by sending military forces to prevent Communist forces from invading. Both PRC and ROC forces engaged in violent conflict throughout the 1950s. The US continued to support the ROC, although later refused to assist in bombing mainland China.

In 1971, the UN removed the ROC from its membership list and enrolled the PRC in its place. KMT members were no longer considered representatives of the government of China. After this move, most major countries around the world recognized the PRC as the rightful government of China. Relations between Taiwan and mainland China became more civil during the 1980s as both countries began to develop trade agreements and make contact with one another. Although violence slowly ended, neither country has signed an agreement to officially end the civil war.

Is Taiwan an Independent Country?

The question of Taiwan's independence remains. The government of the People’s Republic of China maintains that the Republic of China was eliminated in October of 1949, and that the right to control Taiwan was transferred to the new government by way of the succession of states theory. According to this theory, a territory that is under the rule of a sovereign state comes under the rule of a successor state when the original ruling government renounces its claim to the area. This succession is documented by several agreements, including the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the Cairo Declaration, and the Potsdam Proclamation.

Additionally, the PRC claims that the PRC and the ROC represent two sides of the Chinese Civil War, which has not yet officially ended. Therefore, since the conflict has not ended, Taiwan cannot claim its independence. In the PRC's opinion, the majority of the population of China (both Taiwan and the mainland) should agree with the secession move in order for Taiwan to become an independent country. The PRC government further argues that Taiwan has been refused entrance as a member of the UN and that only 19 UN government representative recognize its sovereignty.

In contrast, the ROC (Taiwan) argues that it acts as an independent nation. Additionally, the ROC government points out that it has not been replaced by the PRC government because it has never stopped functioning and carrying out its governmental responsibilities. The government of Taiwan goes on to cite the 1933 Montevideo Convention, which defines statehood as an area with defined borders, relations and agreements with other governments, a permanent population, and a working government. Taiwan believes that it meets these widely accepted criteria.

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