Taiwan - Political History
Indigenous Taiwanese Experiences
Seen today as indigenous people, they came to Taiwan no later than 1,000 C.E. Visiting in 1590, Portuguese sailors called Taiwan Ilha Formosa. It means "Beautiful Island." For over 300 years, foreigners used that name to refer to Taiwan. However, Portugal did not attempt to colonize Taiwan.
Since the early seventeenth century, a succession of rulers have interruptedly and overlappingly governed parts of Taiwan or all of it. These are The Netherlands (1624-1662), Spain (1626-1642), Ming Dynasty loyalists (1662-1683), the Qing Dynasty (intermittently after 1644), France (1884-1885), Japan (1895-1945) and the Republic of China (since 1945). Large-scale Han Chinese immigration began in the mid-seventeenth century; the mainly male immigrants often married indigenous Taiwanese women. The defeat of Koxinga in 1693 was a turning point.
The German Research Unit on Taiwanese Culture and Literature provides information on papers dealing with "aboriginal" and other social movements.
Qing Dynasty (China)
But by that late date, the Qing Dynasty was already unable to defend China against foreign missionary, mercantile and military incursions. Following the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 17 April 1895, China ceded Taiwan to Japan. Under terms of that Treaty, China also recognized the independence of Korea over which it had traditionally held suzerainty.
Buckling under increasing criticism and pressure from humiliated Chinese nationalists, the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1912.
At the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945), Japan was defeated by the U.S. and Allies in what Americans call "World War II" (1941-1945). However, a half-century of Japanese colonialism unexpectedly contributed to the beginnings of a sense of Taiwanese identity among the Taiwan's majority who had family and cultural roots in China.
Like other former colonial powers, Japan retains political, economic and cultural connections with its former colony. Upstaged and embarrassed by the US Nixon Administration's secret diplomacy with China, Japan transferred diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1972 -- seven years earlier than the US would do so.
Meanwhile, under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the US Third Marine Expeditionary Forces are stationed close to China -- on Japanese bases in Okinawa Prefecture. Underscoring Japan's possible entanglement in U.S.-China conflict, the furthest reach of the Okinawan archipelago extends southeast of Taipei.
With roots in a decision taken during China's Qing Dynasty, Japan's occupation of the Sengkaku (or Diaoyu Tai/Tiao Yu Tai) Islands is part of an unresolved territorial dispute with the PRC and ROC. And in contrast to the US President's July 1998 statement in China, Japan's Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo refrained from reciting Clinton's "Three No's." (former link=http://www.taiwansecurity.org/AFP/AFP-980819.htm)
Republic of China (ROC)
A shaky united front with the smaller Communist Party collapsed with disastrous results for the Communist Party 1927, leading to twenty-two years of Civil War. With Japan's defeat in 1945, the ROC gained control over Taiwan and a few islands offshore Fujian Province for the first time ever.
But that occurred too late to keep the Nationalists from losing the twenty-two-year civil war in 1949. Although local elections were allowed in Taiwan as early as the 1950s, the Kuomintang ruled Taiwan severely, repressing political dissidents for more than three decades.
Responding to the dissident movement in the late 1970s and later, Kuomintang leaders Chiang Ching-kuo (Jiang Jingguo) and Lee Teng-hui demonstrated willingness to reform. Temporarily, they coopted elements in the Taiwanese pro-democracy movements. That gesture shored up Kuomintang legitimacy and helped the Party to maintain its grasp on power until May 2000.
The National Unification Council, set up in 1990 under the Office of the President, functions as an advisory board to the president on national reunification. In 1991, the Legislative Yuan voted for a Mainland Affairs Council to coordinate policy concerning the PRC.
In direct elections, Taiwanese voted for president in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
In a tight two-way 20 March 2004 Presidential Election campaign, President Chen and Vice President Annette Lu received minor gunshot wounds while campaigning in Tainan on the day before voting took place. Taiwanese voters also had an opportunity to express an opinion on Chen's endorsed referendum calling on China to remove missiles aimed at Taiwan. Those who did so overwhelmingly voted "Yes." However their total numbers fell short of the minimum 50% of registered voters required to validate referendum results. Incumbent Chen received 50.1% of the presidential vote, although a recount was requested.
"Although the two contending political camps each received about 50 percent of the vote," Derek Mitchell points out, "President Chen Shui-bian increased his share of the electorate by about 10 percent over the 2000 election, continuing a steady trend for his independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in every national election since becoming Taiwan's first legal opposition party in 1986.
"More critically," Mitchell continues, "the 2004 election was conducted on its terms; defending and promoting Taiwan nationalism and separateness. The debate was joined only on the degree of separation from China, the pace of economic engagement with the mainland, and how best to promote Taiwan's national dignity both on the island and internationally" (SOURCE: "Taiwan's Election: A Wake-Up Call to China," PacNet Newsletter [Pacific Forum -- Center for Strategic and International Studies], no. 12 [24 March 2004]).
Taiwan's fourth presidential election is scheduled for March 2008. That is also the year of the Beijing Olympics and a U.S. Presidential Election
People's Republic of China (PRC)
Despite the China-U.S. rapprochement during the Nixon Administration, has the PRC's view of the 1972 framework for peaceful unification unraveled (former link=http://www.future-china.org.tw/csipf/activity/19991106/mt9911_10e.htm)? China has designated any discussion of Taiwan a "Hot Topic." (Former link=http://un.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/c2810.html.) Other useful resources -- mostly governmental -- are listed below.
United States of America
However, enactment of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (Public Law 96-8, former link=http://www.usconsulate.org.hk/ustw/geninfo/tra1979.htm) reflects American ambivalence, Congressional irritation at President Carter's secret initiatives in granting diplomatic recognition, and power sharing within the US Government. Accordingly, the US Department of State contracted with the American Institute to serve as the public US contact with Taiwan. The Institute's Washington office "translat[es] US Taiwan-related policies and programs into the nongovernmental context."
Bill Clinton's Shanghai Library remarks on "Shaping China for the 21st Century" (30 June 1998, former link=http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/press/hot/index.html) gave reassurances offered publicly for the first time to the PRC by a US president. He stated, "[W]e don't support independence for Taiwan, or two Chinas or one Taiwan, one China. And we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement."
However, Clinton's triple negative was less sweeping than it seemed. Surely, it must be understood in the context of the US President's use of naval power in the Taiwan Strait twenty-seven months earlier. And with a unanimous 92-0 vote on 10 July 1998, the US Senate rebuffed Clinton, affirming a bipartisan pro-Taiwan Concurrent Resolution 107.
"US policy toward Taiwan and China is," according to retired Ambassador Harvey J. Feldman, "built upon carefully chosen nuances and discreet silences. Given that this set of statements -- and omissions -- so obviously departs from what is seen in the real world, it is not surprising that even White House spokesmen and senior officials over the past two decades have.....added to the confusion." For example, the Director of the American Institute reacted cautiously to the election of Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party in 2000.
The Department of State East Asia & the Pacific comments on the Taiwan Question and related issues.
With the election of Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou as president in 2008, power has changed hands twice in eight years. This double changeover has not yet been achieved by all democratizing countries.