Just 100 miles separate mainland China and Taiwan – a distance shorter than the gap between Florida and Cuba – but for decades they have been locked in a diplomatic and political battle over control.
China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that is part of mainland – but the island insists it is a separate nation with its own democratically elected officials and a standing Army.
It sits in the ‘first island chain’ and is surrounded by nations – including Japan and South Korea – who are friendly to the U.S.
Nancy Pelosi and the controversy surrounding her planned trip to Taipei have put the spotlight on the tensions that have been slowly reaching boiling point.
The Biden administration has consistently said they do not back Taiwanese independence and the One-China policy in place since Jimmy Carter has not changed.
Only 13 countries, including the Vatican, recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
But actions by previous Presidents including Donald Trump suggest that the diplomatic situation is open to interpretation in the West, angering Beijing.
Taiwan also produces more than 60 percent of the world’s semiconductors – that are critical for operating smartphones, computers and the brake sensors in cars.
A conflict between China and Taiwan could plunge the pair into an economic crisis that could spark a global supply chain meltdown.
When and where did the tensions begin? Centuries of displacement and friction
Taiwan has changed hands since AD 239, when Beijing sent an expedition to explore the area and ended up claiming it as its own.
Between the 13th and early 17th century, the Hoklo and Hakka Chinese people started to settle there fleeing hardship and still make up the largest demographics on the island.
It came to be known as Formosa by European nations when the Dutch set up a colony between 1624 and 1661 and the Spanish built a small enclave in the north of the island in 1626.
In 1662, the island changed hands to and became integrated into the Qing dynasty until 1895 when the Japanese won the First Sino-Japanese War and had to cede the territory to Tokyo – which was then known as Edo.
Modern China was then formed in 1911, after the revolution – and Taiwan insists they were never a formal part.
Just 100 miles separate mainland China and Taiwan – a distance shorter than the gap between Florida and Cuba – but for decades they have been locked in a diplomatic battle
Japan then surrendered the island after their defeat in the Second World War and handed the control of Taiwan back to China – with the backing of western allies including the US and the UK.
But then the Civil War broke out between Republic of China, led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (KMT), and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong.
Overrun by Mao’s forces, Kai-shek and the remainder of his government fled to Taiwan in 1949 and dominated politics on the island while the communists took over in Beijing.
Taiwan becomes an ally of the United States, which was at war with China in Korea. The United States deployed a fleet in the Taiwan Strait to protect its ally from possible attack from the mainland.
Kai-shek’s son began a process of democratization when there was an uprising by the rest of the people living on the island started to protest.
Since then the island has moved to put more democratic institutions.
After the Second World War, Civil War broke out between Republic of China, led by Chiang Kai-shek (left) and the Kuomintang, and the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong (right)
The ‘One China’ policy: The U.S. and its longstanding position on Taiwan
The policy acknowledges that there is only one Chinese government, and Taiwan is not an independent or sovereign state.
In 1979, after years of improving relations between the U.S. and China, Jimmy Carter travelled to Beijing to meet leader Deng Xiaoping and severed formal ties with Taipei.
He closed the U.S. embassy and established formal relations with China.
However, Congress also passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The legislation guaranteed that the U.S. would protect the island and help it defend itself – which is why the U.S. sells them arms.
Administrations since Carter’s have recognized the policy and stood by it.
President Biden has insisted Taiwan should be independent, but the there was been remove to remove.
In December 2016, Donald Trump spoke to President Tsai Ing-wen to congratulate her on the election win – breaking three decades of policy precedent and angering China.
Trump noted in the call that the U.S. and Taiwan have ‘close economic, political and security ties’.
The encroachment of the U.S. and their willingness to protect Taiwan has made the Beijing-Washington relationship increasingly tenuous in recent years and ramped up friction in the build-up to Pelosi’s visit.
At the end of July, Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a two-hour call, where Biden underscored that ‘the United States policy has not changed – but strongly opposed unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Xi Jinping fired back at Biden and said ‘those who play with fire will perish by it’ over Taiwan.
In 1979, after years of improving relations between the U.S. and China, Jimmy Carter travelled to Beijing to meet leader Deng Xiaoping and severed formal ties with Taipei
Recent tensions between China and Taiwan – and the back and forth over relations
Chen Shui-bian wa elected Taiwan’s president in 2000, marking the first time in power for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwanese sovereignty and formal independence.
It was a move that marked the start of the island’s slow move towards trying to split from Beijing.
In March 2005, Beijing adopted an anti-secession bill in March that made secession by Taiwan illegal.
That April, leaders of Taiwan’s major opposition KMT and the Communist Party of China meet for the first time since 1949 to try and ease the souring relationship.
In 2008, the KMT-backed President Ma Ying-jeou, who favored closer ties with China, came into power and set aside political disputes to discuss deals ranging from tourism to commercial flights.
But in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won the presidential race on a platform of standing up to China. Months later, Beijing suspended all official communications with Taiwan.
In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won the presidential race on a platform of standing up to China. Months later, Beijing suspended all official communications with Taiwan
Taiwan’s dominance in the semiconductor market – and how a conflict could cause a global crisis
Taiwan manufactured more than 60 percent of the globe’s semiconductors last year, and the industry is now in the spotlight.
The chips allow smartphones, computers and the brake sensors in cars to function.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, counts Apple, Qualcomm and Nvidia as its clients and took in 54 percent of global revenue in 2021.
TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said on Monday August 1 that there would be an economic crisis on both sides of the strait if China and Taiwan entered a conflict.
He told CNN TSMC factories will be rendered ‘non-operable’ in the event of a Chinese attack because the sophisticated manufacturing facilities depend on connections with the rest of the world.
He stressed it would cause a supply chain crisis which would extend as far away as the U.S., which last month passed a bill trying to fix the shortage.
Protesters gather in Taiwan to mark the anniversary of the Chinese crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989