Kuora: Explaining mainland China’s case against Taiwan independence

Credit: Supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wave to candidates during a campaign rally for the local elections, in Taipei, Taiwan November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Elections in Taiwan on Saturday saw the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (民進黨 mínjìndǎng), which is broadly pro-independence, lose its majority to the Kuomindang (國民黨 guómíndǎng), which is more China-friendly. This week’s column, about Taiwan, comes from one of Kaiser’s answers originally posted to Quora on October 26, 2013.

What is the mainland Chinese argument for Taiwan being a part of China as opposed to an independent country? What would an honest, objective, Chinese academic say about Taiwan’s status as a part of China as an independent country?

The PRC’s perspective is that Taiwan is a part of China whose de facto existence as a separate political entity is the result of foreign (American) intervention, which interrupted and left incomplete the unification of China under communist rule.

The PRC holds that Taiwan was part of China since at least as far back as the 17th century, when it was extensively settled by people from Fujian province across the strait during the Ming Dynasty. It was conquered by and annexed by the Qing Dynasty in 1683, and was administered by the Qing until, under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, it was ceded to Japan. It was given back to China at the end of World War II, but was not conquered by the Chinese communists when they won the civil war that followed (or, more precisely, continued after) the Japanese surrender.

The Nationalist (Kuomintang or Guómíndǎng) government retreated before Mao Zedong’s advancing armies to Taiwan in 1949. China believes that it was only the intervention of the U.S. military, which interposed itself in the Strait in 1955 and signed treaties committing itself to defending Taiwan in the event of a communist invasion and has continued to provide and sell arms to the government on Taiwan, that prevented an inevitable takeover of the island.

Today, while China officially remains committed to reunification, it wants it on terms similar to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 — the “One Country, Two Systems” approach that Deng Xiaoping took, which one might say is more suzerainty than sovereignty. Taiwan would be able to preserve its political system as long as it did not challenge the nominal sovereignty of the Beijing government. This, of course, is something to which many in Taiwan, who have lived effectively in de facto independence since 1949 and have evolved a very different political culture with a functioning pluralistic democracy, are quite resistant.

Kuora is a weekly column.