Tensions rise between China, U.S. over Taiwan

Kate Hill and William Fisher

Currently, Taiwan, which has been governed independently since 1949, has faced a growing conflict with China whose leadership still views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to unify both countries using force if necessary. 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen has reprimanded China’s approach to undermine democracy, which has resulted in China increasing political and military pressure toward Taiwan, causing tensions to worsen between both countries.

Senior and Vice President of Asian Culture Club Grace Morrow explained, “It is more important than anything that we advocate for peace and end the political violence between China and Taiwan.”

How is the U.S. connected with this conflict?

What makes this situation so complex is that the U.S. and the European Union have sent troops to Taiwan in order to help with any threats that Taiwan may face from China, but since the U.S. and China already have an unstable relationship, this situation could eventually worsen.  

Social Studies teacher Thomas Kuhn explained that the alliances between rival countries U.S. and China are “forcing President Joe Biden to talk to President Xi Jinping, which shows progress,” regarding the rising tensions between not only Taiwan but also the U.S. and China.

Also, in recent years, U.S. presidential administrations have gradually increased the sales of military weaponry to help aid the Taiwanese military in any attacks it may face from the Chinese military. 

“The increased activity by the Chinese military worries the U.S. since we don’t have an alliance with them,” said Kuh, describing how this conflict between Taiwan and China has affected China’s alliance with the U.S.

Furthermore, the U.S. follows the One-China Policy based on multiple documents spanning from 1972-1982 which assert that one sovereign state exists under the name of China and that Taiwan is a part of that state. The U.S. has also relied on the Taiwan Relations Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1979, which is focused on preserving and promoting commercial, cultural and other relations between the U.S. and Taiwan as well as with China. Generally, the U.S.’s goal is to maintain peace and stability in Taiwan while soliciting China and Taiwan to sustain the status quo.

The recent dominance from China has not only affected Taiwan, but the increase in pressure has led to surrounding countries, including “Japan and South Korea, looking to the U.S. more than ever now,” Kuhn said, and added, “Any Chinese aggression in the region will most certainly negatively affect those nations.” 

Why are Taiwan and China separate?

Taiwan was made a colony of Japan after Japan’s victory in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. In 1927 China descended into civil war with the two main forces being the nationalists or “Kuomintang” faction and the communists. However, they united to fight against the invading Japanese in 1937.

“Once WWII was over, we saw the communist forces of Mao Zedung and Chiang Kai-shek who led the nationalist forces. Both forces saw the devastation of WWII as they fought against Japan,” Susan Theotokatos, social studies teacher, explained. “They wanted to control the resources of the country, and they wanted control of the populated urban areas that were at the center of trade and commerce.” 

After Japan surrendered in 1945, Taiwan was given to the nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek. The civil war continued until 1949 when the communists defeated the nationalists on the mainland. Nearly 1.5 million people who were with the nationalists fled to the island. 

“[Chiang Kai-Shek] fled, escaped Mao’s communist forces and got to the island of Formosa, renamed Taiwan, Republic of Taiwan. It is a democracy today,” Neil McCarthy, social studies teacher, said. “We are friends with the Taiwanese; we want to protect them.” 

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union recognized the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China while the U.S. recognized the Taiwanese government as the real one. In 1979, however, a deal was made between the People’s Republic of China  and America, which led to the U.S. giving its recognition to the People’s Republic of China . 

“In exchange for China opening up its trade and going against the USSR, we would recognize them as the legitimate and only government of the Chinese people,” McCarthy said. “That doesn’t mean we stopped protecting [the Taiwanese], however. ”

What are China’s Ambitions in Asia?

China has many reasons to want Taiwan– pride, a boost to its own economy and even its use in expanding China’s influence into more of Asia and the world. By taking Taiwan, Xi Jinping could finally fully reunify China. 

“Xi has a plan, basically of unification under one governing system,” Theotokatos said. “You can see his plan play out in Hong Kong– limits on freedoms, a closer control of private enterprise, censorship, government control on what is viewed as ‘good.’” 

Another factor in the People’s Republic of China’s desire for Taiwan is economic. Taiwan is a wealthy island, and it has a massive chip industry, having nearly 63 percent of the world’s semiconductor microchip industry. 

“[People’s Republic of China have] already been flexing their muscles, rhetorically. But also doing sorties or military flights over [Taiwan’s] air space, which is illegal– it’s a violation of international law,” McCarthy said. “And they’ve been doing this constantly, requiring the Taiwanese air force to constantly rev up and so on, which exhausts them.”

Now, China is a rising power on the world scale, which has only one main rival– America. 

McCarthy said, “In other words, they want to dominate this region [South China Sea], and having Taiwan would give them an enormous amount of power as well– not just the great politics of reunifying, but now they can project their growing navy further out into the East China Sea and indeed into the Pacific, which traditionally has been America’s pond since 1945.”