OPED: China and Taiwan’s Third Wheel
By Carolina Wu
Relations between China and Taiwan are tense by nature. Taiwan seeks independence while China still maintains that the island nation is and will always be part of mainland China. Today, Taiwan is independent in the most crucial aspects, including governance, a notion that China will never concede.
Taiwan was initially conquered in the late 1600s by China’s ruling Qing dynasty. Taiwan was later controlled by Japan after the Sino-Japanese War and ultimately returned to Chinese rule at the end of WWII. Today, Han Chinese, or Hanzu, are the majority ethnic group in Taiwan.
Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island southeast from Mainland China.
Taiwan's independence from China came in 1949 when the ROC administration fled the mainland after ruling there for decades. The communist party rose and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC), forcing the ROC government to flee.
To this day, the ROC maintains that it is the true government of the Chinese people wherever they reside. However, this belief isn’t shared by the mainland. The PRC’s One China Policy states that all Chinese territories belong to the mainland, this includes Taiwan and Tibet.
The current peaceful status quo between the countries was established in 1992 when Mainland China and Taiwan reached a compromise known as the 1992 Consensus. In it, Taiwan understands that there is only “one China” and China understands that Taiwan is separate from the mainland. With that said, they both still differ on where Taiwan’s legitimate government sits.
In the past, China has blacklisted countries for acknowledging Taiwanese independence, making international relations tricky to maintain. In July 2018, China demanded US airline companies, Delta, United and American Airlines, to amend their websites so that Taipei is not listed as the capital of Taiwan. Eventually, after significant political pressure and threats, the airlines complied. In fact, all 44 airlines serving the city’s airport have conformed to this directive.
The latest international diplomat to cross the Chinese on Taiwan was a Czech official, Milos Vystrcil. Vystrcil, an opposition member of the Czech senate, was visiting Taiwan to promote business exchange and diplomatic relations between the two countries in a move that circumvented Chinese influence and control.
During his speech to Parliament, he seemed to borrow a line from JFK’s famous Berlin speech when he announced, “I am Taiwanese”. The act was a loud and clear offer of support for Taiwan’s official independence from the mainland, and it was perceived as all such declarations are – like a shot across China’s bow.
A Czech delegation to Taiwan was upsetting enough to the Chinese administration, however, Vystrcil’s speech could not be accepted without repercussion. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said to the press that Vystrcil would “pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behavior and political speculation.”
The pressing question remains: why would the Czech Republic want to create political tensions and ignite international disputes? The country has little to gain from this exchange with Taiwan.
The move was likely a countermeasure to the Czech leadership’s tight relations with Communist Mainland China at the height of the Belt and Road Initiative and intended by the opposition to steer towards improving relations with honest democracies.