Taiwan is a relatively ‘young’ territory, located on an island southeast of mainland China, and which comes to the international spotlight on a recurring basis due to the continuous pressure it has received in recent years from the ‘Chinese giant’.
Since the self-proclamation of Taiwan as an independent territory in 1949, China has considered the island as a rebellious region and its objective is for it to be reintegrated with the rest of the provinces that make up the country.
- The Chinese Government exercises a “gray zone” strategy on Taiwanese territory as a form of pressure on its population. This is based on the development of military maneuvers over a prolonged period of time without actually invading it, as various analysts explain to the BBC.
However, tensions with China have not prevented Taiwan’s advance as a ““prosperous democracy” which, according to experts, has managed to become one of the main producers in the technological field on a global scale, standing out for the manufacturing of cutting-edge semiconductors.
We explain how Taiwan emerged and how its development has been until it became a self-sufficient region in a scenario of continuous Chinese pressure for territorial unification.
What is the origin of Taiwan as an independent territory of Mainland China?
The origin of Taiwan as a self-proclaimed independent territory dates back to the Chinese Civil War that began in 1927 and culminated in 1949 with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, as Chiara Olivieri, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Granada. This caused the leader of the previous Chinese Government, the nationalist dictator Chiang Kai-shek, to flee to the island of Formosa, current Taiwan, promoting migratory movements towards this territory.
Chiang Kai-shek continued his dictatorship in Taiwan, resulting in the division of China into two territories and governments. On the one hand, that of Mao Zedong in mainland China and, on the other, that of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. “From that moment on, Taiwan became the last base of operations for the Nationalist Government, which maintained its claim to be the legitimate government of all of China,” notes Olivieri.
Thus, Taiwan was recognized by the UN as the “Republic of China” until 1971, the year in which, according to Olivieri, the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Mainland China instead of Taiwan as the China’s only legitimate representative in the organization. Since then, Taiwan has not been a member of the United Nations and has faced ambiguous diplomatic status in the international arena, according to experts.
At the same time, at the end of the 1970s the territory began a democratization process that saw its greatest advance in 1991 when the first elections were held for a reformed National Assembly and in 1996 with the first presidential elections.
Today, Taiwan is a federal republic with a multi-party government system democratically elected every four years. Tsai Ing-wen is the current President of the Government. With a nationalist ideology, she was elected for the first time in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, becoming the first woman from the Republic of China, the name by which Taiwan calls itself, to hold this position.
The population of Taiwan: between Chinese culture and nationalist identity
In terms of demographics, Taiwan’s population will reach 23.5 million inhabitants in 2023. Despite the country’s great economic and social development, Taiwanese citizens continue to be very similar to traditional Chinese society in many aspects, according to the ICEX country report.
- Of the entire Taiwanese population, only 2.5% belong to the indigenous Malaysian-Polynesian origins of the island, compared to more than 95% who are part of the Han ethnic group, originally from mainland China, according to the CIA World FactBook .
Olivieri points out that “it is important to recognize that, historically, a dynamic of migration and cultural influence has occurred [hacia Taiwán] from mainland China, but Taiwanese identity has evolved and consolidated.”
Shiany Pérez-Cheng, China analyst at the think tank British ‘The Institute for Statecraft’, explains to Newtral.es that as of June 2023, 62.8% of the population considers themselves Taiwanese, compared to 30.5% who consider themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese, and a 2.5% that is considered only Chinese.
An economy based on technology and the digital future
Despite its relative youth as a self-proclaimed independent territory from China, Taiwan has managed to position itself among the main technological and digital powers worldwide.
Taiwan produces 60% of the world’s computer chips and around 90% of the latest generation semiconductors, a sector in which the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) stands out. Most of them are later transferred as components of technological products of companies in other countries such as the United States. However, Taiwan also has its own internationally recognized brands, such as Acer or Asus.
Likewise, López de Miguel points out that “Taiwan also has a very powerful pharmaceutical industry.”
Taiwan diplomatic relations
Despite maintaining official diplomatic relations with only 13 countries and being recognized by the UN as part of mainland China, Taiwan maintains international and commercial alliances with numerous states around the world.
- Mariano López de Miguel, doctor in Contemporary History from the University of Murcia, tells Newtral.es that some of these countries that maintain relations with Taiwan but without officially recognizing it are the United States, Israel “or many other liberal democracies” in the world. .
Among all its ‘unofficial’ allies, the most notable is the United States. The American power, although it recognizes Beijing as the legitimate Government of the People’s Republic of China, is Taiwan’s main ally for geopolitical, strategic and value reasons. Olivieri explains that it is relevant to keep in mind that this support from the US “is often framed in the fight for influence in the Asian region and is presented, in the eyes of the international community, as an expression of the defense of the democracy and human rights”. However, he points out, this “is still a legitimation” for his intervention, “as has happened in other conflicts and geographical areas.”
López de Miguel indicates that the US “sees Taiwan as a containment against Chinese expansionism.” Thus, experts point out that the US usually responds to Chinese threats to Taiwan by supplying weapons and increasing its military presence in the region.
Taiwan Ministry of International Relations
Mariano López de Miguel, doctor in Contemporary History from the University of Murcia
Chiara Olivieri, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Granada
Shiany Pérez-Cheng, China analyst at the British think-tank ‘The Institute for Statecraft’
United States International Trade Administration
CIA World FactBook