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U.S.-Taiwan Relations


Recently, The President of the United States made a controversial statement, during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister.

  • He gave an affirmative reply to a question on whether the U.S. will come to the aid of Taiwan militarily in case of an invasion by China.


GS II- International Relations (Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Taiwan issue?
  2. How has the U.S’s stance on the Taiwan question evolved vis-à-vis China?
  3. Why is the issue significant today?
  4. Why is Taiwan so important to China?

What is the Taiwan issue?

  • Taiwan is an island territory located off the coast of mainland China, across the Taiwan Strait.
  • After their defeat to the communist forces in the Chinese civil war (1945-1949), the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist) government of China fled to Taiwan.
  • They transplanted the Republic of China (ROC) government in Taiwan, while the Communist Party of China (CPC) established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the mainland.
  • Since then, the PRC considers the island as a renegade province awaiting reunification by peaceful means, if possible.
  • Meanwhile, the ROC retained its membership at the United Nations and its permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Relationships during the Cold War:
  • The cross-strait relations became strained as a result of the Cold War, with the PRC allying itself with the Soviet Union (USSR) and ROC with the U.S.
    • This resulted in the two Taiwan Strait crises of the 1950s.
  • However, with the shifting geopolitics of the Cold War, the PRC and the U.S. were forced to come together in the 1970s to counter the growing influence of the USSR.
  • This led to the US-China rapprochement demonstrated by the historic visit of then U.S. President Richard Nixon to PRC in 1972.
  • The same year, the PRC displaced ROC as the official representative of the Chinese nation at the UN.
One China Principle:
  • Diplomatic relations with the PRC became possible only if countries abided by its “One China Principle” — recognising PRC and not the ROC as China.
  • Taiwan transitioned from a single party state to a multi-party democracy at the same time that China reformed its economic system under Deng Xiaoping, and by the end of the Cold War they became economically entangled; nevertheless, they continue to compete for international recognition and preparing themselves for the worst possible scenario.

How has the U.S’s stance on the Taiwan question evolved vis-à-vis China?

  • The very foundation of the U.S. rapprochement as well as its recognition of the PRC is a mutual understanding on the Taiwan question.
  • This has been outlined in three documents —
    • Shanghai Communique (1972)
    • Normalisation Communique (1979)
    • 1982 Communique
  • According to the 1972 communique, the U.S. agreed to the ‘one China principle’, with an understanding that it “acknowledges” and “does not challenge” that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”
  • As per the 1979 communique, the U.S. recognised PRC, but stated that it merely “acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China”. It also established unofficial relations with Taiwan through this communique in the name of the people of both the countries.
  • The 1982 communique assuaged Chinese concerns of the possibility for continued arms supply to Taiwan by the U.S. provisioned in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979 which enabled it to resume supply of “defensive” arms.

Why is the issue significant today?

  • As Taiwan’s democracy flourished, the popular mood drifted towards a new Taiwanese identity and a pro-independence stance on sovereignty.
  • The past decade has seen considerable souring of ties across the Strait, as the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) became the most powerful political force in Taiwan, sweeping two consecutive elections in the past decade. The DPP government, led by Tsai Ing Wen has been catering to the pro-independence constituency in Taiwan and seeks to diversify economic relations away from China.
  • This has made China wary of Tsai.

Why is Taiwan so important to China?

  • China has always seen Taiwan as a territory with high geopolitical significance.
  • This is due to its central location in the First Island Chain between Japan and the South China Sea, which is seen as the first benchmark or barrier for China’s power projection.
  • U.S. military outposts are scattered throughout this region, and hence, taking control of Taiwan would mean a significant breakthrough as per China’s geostrategic calculus.
  • Moreover, its reunification will formally bury the remaining ghosts of China’s “century of humiliation”.
  • China under President Xi Jinping seems to have lost its patience and currently sees very slim chances of a peaceful reunification.
  • This has been demonstrated in the growing frequency of rhetorical spats between Beijing and Taipei, and China’s military drills and patrols across the Strait, as well as the record-breaking aerial transgressions by China of Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).
  • Also, this build-up of tensions is happening simultaneously and drawing parallels with the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023