I found this awesome article the other day. It is extremely informative, unbiased, and beneficial for all: those who are in power and those who are not. I’ll leave the rest of the “argument” to the original author’s words, but in summary? I really hope to see Taiwan standing own its feet and out of the shadow of China sometime in my lifetime. Since this is such an important matter, I’ll include the full content here, but still 100% credit to original writer.
This is where I will attempt to explain Taiwan’s political status:
how in the world did we get to where we are today? Why are we still here? What’s all the fuss between China and Taiwan? (DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog reflects the view of the author, who is not affiliated with the Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan), with any of its organizations and individuals, nor with any political parties in Taiwan. The author of this article is not an expert in history or political science, but someone born to Taiwanese parents and grew up in Taiwan. The view expressed here should only be considered as an opinion on the Taiwan-China relationship.)
So first thing first, is Taiwan part of China?
That would actually depend on which “China” you are referring to.
Taiwan was occupied by the Dutch (1624-1662) and Spanish (1626-1642) in the 17th century. The Dutch drove the Spanish out of the island in 1642, yet was defeated in 1662 by Koxinga, a remaining general of Ming Dynasty after it was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty. In 1683, the Qing Dynasty defeated the army in rebellion in Taiwan and formally annexed Taiwan in 1684 into the Qing Empire as part of the Fujian province 福建省. Taiwan was upgraded to the status of province in 1885.
In 1895, the Qing Empire lost the First Sino-Japanese War and signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the eastern portion of the bay of Liaodong Peninsula to the Japanese Empire.
In 1912, the Nationalists overthrew the Qing Dynasty and established the Republic of China 中華民國 (ROC) with its capital in Nanjing (but moved to Beijing within one year of establishment, and back to Nanjing in 1928). Taiwan and the Pescadores were still colonies of the Japanese Empire at that time.
In the Cairo Conference in 1943 held during WWII, one of the three main clauses of the Cairo Declaration was that “all the territories Japan has stolen from China, including Manchuria, Taiwan and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”
On October 25th, 1945, when the commander-in-chief of Japanese forces on the island signed an instrument of surrender to the Allies in Taipei, the clause was accepted by the Japanese, and Taiwan and its nearby islands were returned under the rule of the ROC.
In 1949, when the Nationalists lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan, the Communists established the People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (PRC) with its capital in Beijing.
Beginning January 1st, 2013, the Republic of China 中華民國, now on the islands of Taiwan 臺灣, the Penghu islands 澎湖, Kinmen 金門, and Matsu 馬祖, is now officially in its 102nd year of establishment (1912-1945 occupying mainland China, 1945-1949 occupying both mainland China and Taiwan, 1949-present occupying Taiwan). The people of Taiwan now enjoy a life of prosperity, democracy, and freedom.
So throughout history, Taiwan has always been a part of the Republic of China since 1945, and was never under the People’s Republic of China‘s control. The People’s Republic of China currently does not have, nor did it ever have, any jurisdiction over Taiwan and its nearby islands. All that happened was the ROC moved to Taiwan and never gained control of what used to be its territory.
So to answer the question, is Taiwan part of China? NO, Taiwan is NOT part of the People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國, but YES, Taiwan is part of the Republic of China 中華民國. Currently the territory that’s actually under the ROC’s control only includes Taiwan, the Penghu islands, Kinmen, and Matsu. Since the ROC doesn’t rule anything other than Taiwan and nearby islands, most people today refer to the Republic of China as the formal country name of Taiwan.
So why do you call Taiwan a country then?
Well, Taiwan is much easier to explain to people than the ROC, which people tend to confuse with the PRC. And whenever we say the word “China”, people automatically associate that with the PRC. Since Taiwan by itself fits the definition of what most people would agree to be a country/sovereign state, we’d like to think of Taiwan as a country/sovereign state. In fact, you would see that the English version of a lot of websites of Taiwan’s governmental agencies will state the country name as “the Republic of China (Taiwan)”. While we Taiwanese people don’t have a mutual agreement on which names (Republic of China, Taiwan, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of China on Taiwan, etc.) is/are the best to represent the country we love yet, we would like to let it be known that we do live in an independent political entity that is completely separate from and in no way under the control of the PRC government.
What are these definitions of a country/sovereign state?
We have a defined territory, a permanent population that lives in the said territory, a government that rules the said territory, and capacity to enter into relations with other states or international recognition from other sovereign states.
–Article 1. Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States
1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.
2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
–Article 4, Chapter II. Charter of the United Nations
So what’s there to argue about then?
The problems are international recognition and membership in the UN. In 1949 when the PRC was first established, most countries recognized the ROC as the only legitimate government of China. Slowly, however, many countries switched side and recognized the PRC instead. In 1971, the ROC lost its seat in the United Nations, the General Assembly of which decided that PRC would be the sole government representing people of China (the territory of which wasn’t specified). Before 1971, the ROC was not only one of the founding members that signed the UN Charter in 1945, but also a permanent member in the UN Security Council (Charter of the UN, Chapter V, Article 23). However, on October 25, 1971 the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758, which recognized the PRC as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations (after multiple different propositions and negotiations). Almost all UN members chose to recognize the PRC in the following years, but avoided to state what territory the PRC actually included (see Timeline of diplomatic relations of the Republic of China).
Also, before the 1990s, the ROC government continued to claim to be the only legitimate government of “China”, including territories that are actually under PRC’s control. It was only after 1990s when the ROC government started to claim Taiwan by itself as an independent country. Currently only 22 members of the United Nations and the Holy See recognize Taiwan as a country (meaning they recognize the government of the ROC, not the PRC), and have official diplomatic missions in Taiwan. Taiwan has been attempting to rejoin the UN in recent years, but due to Resolution 2758 and PRC’s power to veto, these attempts have been unsuccessful.
Most other countries, though not actually recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign state, adapt perspective of the status quo: that is, to unofficially treat Taiwan as a state and at a minimum, to officially declare no support for the government of this state making a formal declaration of independence (which is the weird part because there’s nothing for Taiwan to be independent from, since the government that’s ruling it has been an independent country all along since 1912). This means that while many countries such as the US, members of the EU, Japan, and Canada could not actually say Taiwan is a country, they will try to treat Taiwan like one, consider a ROC passport valid, and consider Taiwanese citizens holding a ROC passport within their countries as different from Chinese citizens holding a PRC passport.
Currently Taiwanese citizens holding a ROC (Taiwan) passport are granted visa-free, visa-on-arrival, or electronic travel authority privileges in more than 130 countries and territories around the world, including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Schengen Area, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the Unites States, among many others. Different visa requirements are applied to Chinese citizens holding a PRC passport.
So what happens if I am to travel to Taiwan and need help from my country? Is there an embassy?
Other than the 23 countries that recognize Taiwan as a country, no countries have embassies in Taiwan. However, most countries operate de facto embassies that do everything an embassy would do in other countries, but just without the official diplomatic status (but the Taiwanese government pretty much treats them the same as the embassies of the 23 countries that recognize Taiwan). The equivalent of American embassy in Taiwan is called the “American Institute in Taiwan”. For a list of de facto embassies in Taiwan, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) or view the list of representatives of foreign countries in Taiwan.
Wait, Taiwan has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Taiwan has a fully functional and stable government like those of any other developed countries. The head of the state is the President of the ROC, who is elected by the people through popular vote. (Read Government of Taiwan 101 for more.) The ROC has a constitution that was adopted on December 25, 1946, went into effect on December 25, 1947, and is still in use today (and different from that of the PRC’s). Among many other things, Taiwan has its own laws (PRC law does not work in Taiwan), its own currency (New Taiwanese Dollar), issues passports (the ROC Passport has a green cover with the 12-point white sun national emblem and the word “TAIWAN” underneath), has military (Army, Air Force, Navy including Marines, and Military Police), has a national anthem (also see video below), and has a national flag anthem (all different from that of the PRC’s).
Do I need a visa to visit Taiwan? Does Taiwan have embassies in my country?
Since only 23 countries recognize Taiwan as a country, Taiwan does not and could not have embassies in other countries except those 23. Taiwan does have de facto embassies in most countries. Usually they are called the “Taipei Representative Office in [insert name of city or country]” or “Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in [insert name of city or country]“. To find an office nearest to you, visit the Portal of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Diplomatic Missions. Citizens of Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore do not need a visa to visit Taiwan and can stay up to 30 days. Citizens of Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, member states of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United States, and the Vatican can stay in Taiwan for up to 90 days without a visa. Citizens of Canada and the United Kingdom may also apply to extend the stay to 180 days once they are in Taiwan. For more information on countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter Taiwan, please visit the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
***If you wish to visit the People’s Republic of China, you will have to get a visa from a PRC embassy. A visa issued by Taiwan does not work in the PRC, and a visa issued by the PRC does not work in Taiwan. If you wish to obtain a PRC visa while you are in Taiwan, contact any Taiwanese travel agencies, they will send your passport to Hong Kong, where a PRC visa will be issued.
“Taipei” Representative Office? Why not the “Taiwan” Representative Office?
Here comes the conflict. The People’s Republic of China tries very hard to convince the international society that Taiwan is part of the PRC’s territory and that we live happily under policies made by the Beijing government (WRONG!!). Hence any appearance of Taiwan on anything that suggests Taiwan as a separate sovereign nation in any part of the world is unfavorable. The PRC is known to pressure international communities to list or recognize Taiwan as part of the PRC. It so happens (and doesn’t help) that the PRC economic is booming, the PRC is the second largest economy in the world, and the PRC is a huge market. Many countries give in in exchange for (or in fear of losing) the market and other benefits. It is for this reason Taiwan cannot use “Taiwan” in many of its diplomatic missions or international activities abroad. Using “Taipei” or “Chinese Taipei” is a compromise we made (PRC feels that by using “Taipei”, the name of a city, people will recognize the representative office as a local branch of the PRC government). This is also the reason why Taiwan has to appear as “Chinese Taipei” in the Olympics and many other international organizations.
So you don’t get recognized, what’s the big deal?
[Note: This paragraph does not necessarily represent the views of everyone in Taiwan, but those of the author and others like-minded.]
We, people of Taiwan, feel that as we live in a separate political entity from the PRC, we should have the right to be called what we want, not what some other government that doesn’t have control over us wants, and be treated the same as the citizens of any other recognized nation. Imagine winning a international competition (which Taiwanese people do a lot) and not seeing your country name displayed, national flag rises, or even worse, to have another country’s flag rise. Imagine travelling abroad and have trouble getting help from your own government because there isn’t an embassy or because your own government isn’t recognized. Imagine unable to obtain assistance from the World Health Organization during a global pandemic because your country is claimed to be part of some other country that doesn’t provide your country with crucial information. As a developed society, we know that there is a lot of contribution we could make if the international society would let us and treat us as a country. This is why we try so hard to tell anyone who would listen, that we are from Taiwan, an independent sovereign state.
Taiwan’s Country Profile & Pages (external sites):
Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Czech Republic Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí České republiky
Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs
European Union External Relations
The Netherlands Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade