China’s angry response to the Taiwan official’s stoppage in the US shows that relations between Beijing and Taipei are at an all-time low, but how did we get here?
China has launched military drills around Taiwan in what it described as a “strict warning” to so-called separatist forces on the self-governed island.
This tension between China and Taiwan on Saturday comes a day after Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai returned to Taipei after two stops in the United States as part of a trip to Paraguay.
Lai’s transits to the US have angered Beijing which considers Taiwan a breakaway territory and Lai a “troublemaker” who colludes with Washington to push for separatism on the democratically-run island.
Here’s some background on why China is upset about Lai’s visit to the US:
Why is China angry?
- Taiwan is a deeply emotive issue for China’s ruling Communist Party and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- The People’s Republic of China has claimed Taiwan as its territory since the defeated government of the Republic of China fled the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.
- China has repeatedly called on US officials not to associate with Taiwan’s leaders or allow them to enter the country under any guise, viewing it as “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
- Beijing has not ruled out using force to control the democratic, self-governed island, and has increased military activity near the island in recent years.
- In 2005 China passed a law giving Beijing the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or appears imminent.
Why does China not like William Lai?
- China believes that Lai is a separatist, a view revealed by his comments about being a “worker” for Taiwan’s independence.
- While Taiwan and the US say Lai’s trips to the US are routine and there is no reason for China to be angry, Beijing argues that Lai’s trips support the quest for “liberation” for Taiwan, and a “disguise” to “seek victory in local elections through dishonest actions”.
- Lai is the ruling Democratic Party’s presidential candidate for the January election and is leading the polls.
What is Taiwan-US relations like?
- In 1979, the US severed official ties with the Taipei government and recognized the Beijing government instead. A Taiwan-US defense agreement was concluded at the same time.
- Post-1979 relations between the US and Taiwan are governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, which gives Washington the legal basis to provide Taiwan with means of self-defense but does not mandate that the US aid Taiwan if attacked.
- While the US has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it will intervene militarily to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, current US President Joe Biden is turning the dial saying that he is willing to use force to defend Taiwan. .
- The US continues to be Taiwan’s most important source of arms, and Taiwan’s contested status is a constant source of friction between Beijing and Washington.
What does Taiwan say?
- Taiwan’s government says that as the People’s Republic of China does not yet rule the island, it has no right to claim its sovereignty, speak for it or represent it on the world stage, and that the people of Taiwan only they can decide their future.
- The official name of Taiwan continues to be the Republic of China, although these days, the government often styles it the Republic of China (Taiwan).
- Only 13 countries have formally recognized Taiwan: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, Eswatini and Vatican City.
- Nine countries shifted alliances to China after Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s president in 2016, and Beijing has stepped up its efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.
- Taiwan’s government says it is a sovereign country, and it has the right to state-to-state relations.
How is the relationship between Taipei and Beijing?
- It’s very bad.
- China views Tsai as a separatist and has rejected her repeated calls for talks.
- Tsai has said she wants peace but her government will defend Taiwan if attacked.
- Beijing says Tsai must accept that China and Taiwan are part of “one China”.
- Neither side recognizes the other, and China shut down all formal dialogue mechanisms after Tsai first won office in 2016.