According to itypeusa, the Republic of China (DRC), known by the name of its largest island, Taiwan (Formosa), is located in the East China Sea, off the mainland coast. It also includes the island groups of Pescadores, Quemoy and Matsu. The DRC was formed in 1912 from the ashes of the millennial Chinese empire, under the leadership of Sun Yatsen, founder of the Guomindang (Gmd) party. The new state initially experienced a phase of high political instability, known as the period of the ‘Warlords’, managing to achieve a certain stability only with the advent of Chiang Kaishek to leadership of the Gmd. However, the DRC assumed its current state-territorial form in 1949. With the defeat of Chiang by Mao’s Chinese Communist Party, the Gmd withdrew to the island of Taiwan, located about 150 kilometers from the mainland. He was able to settle there permanently thanks to the economic and military support of the United States, which in the context of the Cold War opposed the advance of the communist regimes in Southeast Asia. For this reason, the Constitution of the DRC claims sovereignty over the entire People’s Republic of China (PRC) and also over Mongolia, recognized independent by Chiang Kai-shek in 1945. Since the period of sharp opposition, relations between Taiwan and the PRC have improved. Today’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the GMD elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, professes to be willing to reunify, albeit not unconditionally. An important step in the pacification process took place with the so-called ‘1992 Consensus’. It is the fruit of a series of meetings that culminated in the informal agreement on the ‘One China Policy’, according to which there is only one China in cultural and historical terms. The judgment on legitimate sovereignty was however suspended to allow bilateral contacts between the two countries. Given the nature of the agreement, according to some sources only verbal, it is often suspected that the agreement was never reached. President Ma has often relied on the ‘1992 Consensus’ to reaffirm the legitimacy of a diplomatic recovery between the two Chinas. framework of economic cooperation ‘, with which the two countries undertook to lower or completely eliminate customs duties on hundreds of products and liberalize some sectors of their respective economies. The agreement, strongly supported by former Chinese president Hu Jintao, was nevertheless contested in Taiwan and received with skepticism by a significant part of public opinion, which sees the intensification of economic relations between the two countries as a prelude to a political unification. The actual signing of the agreement, in June 2013, sparked the protest of hundreds of activists who, in the same month, occupied the parliament in order to block the ratification process. The protest of the activists was welded with that of the deputies of the Progressive Democratic Party (Dpp), main opposition party supporting the line of unilateral independence from Beijing. Three MPs from the DPP went on a hunger strike, arguing that the deal will end up damaging Taiwan’s economy. This episode demonstrates how Taiwan’s relations with the PRC still represent the absolute priority and catalyze almost the entire national political agenda. The game has been played over the years mainly from a political and military point of view, with Beijing which has continued to consider Taiwan as its rebel province, has always opposed its independence de jure (as ratified in the 2005 anti-secession law) and declared itself ready for an invasion of the island should Taipei choose to change the status quo.
The only actor capable of decisively influencing relations between Beijing and Taipei over the years has been the United States. The rapprochement between the PRC and the USA, through liaison offices wanted by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger starting from 1972, and the recognition of the Communist government as the only legitimate one, which took place in 1979, was countered by a parallel softening of the authoritarian regime of the Gmd, at the time led by Chiang Ching-kuo, son and political heir of Chiang Kai-shek. In this situation characterized by less rigidity than in the past, the PRC proposed to the DRC a resumption of relations and a diplomacy based on ‘three ties’. Chiang, however, strongly resisted and reiterated his ‘three no’s’ (‘no reconciliation, no independence, no use of force’). In this stalemate, the relationship with the USA was regulated by the Taiwan Relations Act: with its approval in 1979, at the same time as the official resumption of relations between the Americans and the PRC, Congress sanctioned the US will to maintain cultural and commercial ties with Taiwan (formally: with the people of Taiwan, and not with the state of the Republic of China). The document conferred special powers, effectively equivalent to those of an embassy, on the American Institute of Taiwan and also made it clear that the US would consider any non-peaceful attempt to change the Taiwan’s status as a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area. The sale and supply of weapons in Taipei was thus authorized. The terms of Washington’s commitment to the defense of Taiwan remained less clear: on this point, the United States preferred the adoption of a policy of so-called strategic ambiguity, which was never confirmed. At the same time, the possibility of military intervention in the event of a Chinese attack has never been denied.
Currently, there are 22 countries that officially recognize the state of Taiwan: Belize, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, São Tomé and Príncipe, Swaziland, Tuvalu, Vatican City (Holy See). Other states that maintain informal relationships do so through liaison offices or institutes. The American Institute of Taiwan deals with functions such as issuing visas and the basic functions of diplomatic legations.
Due to Beijing’s opposition, Taiwan is a member of very few international organizations, such as APEC and the World Trade Organization (WTO), where however it is officially recognized as ‘China Taipei’ or ‘Chinese Taipei’.
After the first twenty years of authoritarian rule, established by Guomindang following its landing on the island, the Taiwanese political system has progressively been liberalized. Martial law remained in force on the island from 1949 to 1987, and during this forty years the political elections were free and competitive only at the local level. In 1989, two years after the withdrawal of martial law, the country took further steps towards a more complete democratization with the election, planned since 1949 but never happened, of the national legislative assembly, the Yuan. In 1996, instead, the direct election of the president of the republic was introduced. The internal political scene has always been dominated by the Gmd. Only in the period from 2000 to 2008 did the party switch to the opposition, electoral rounds of 2008 and again of 2012.
Institutional powers and prerogatives have undergone a process of evolution over the years, and the Constitution has been amended and reformed several times from 1949 to today: the heart of political power remains in the hands of the president, while the parliament, which has seen a reduction in the number of almost half of its members since a 2004 reform, its main prerogative is to approve bills by presidential initiative.
Since late 2013, however, President Ma Ying-jeou’s power has gradually weakened. The rapprochement – for now only commercial – to the PRC, combined with acts of violation of civil rights by the government, has produced a vast protest movement, which combines the ‘official’ one of the opposition DPP party with the more informal and spontaneous one of the ‘Movement of the white shirts’. The latter movement was born in the summer of 2013, in reaction to the killing of a 24-year-old boy, which occurred due to the excessive physical exertion he was subjected to as punishment for bringing a mobile phone to his military base. The ‘White Shirt Movement’, so called because of the color of the shirts worn by the demonstrators, it has been assimilated to the vast transnational protest movement inspired by the American ‘Occupy Wall Street’. The movement asks that the government not allow its political agenda to be monopolized solely by the relationship with the PRC, but that serious efforts be made to reform in a democratic sense and to promote civil rights.