China sent its sole aircraft carrier to buzz the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday. In response, Taiwan scrambled jets and its own ships in the heavily disputed South China Sea. It’s the latest incident in a back-and-forth conflict that may come off as typical military posturing, but there’s a rich, deep history of the diplomatic and territorial row between China and Taiwan that some may not fully know.
China and Taiwan’s murky and rocky relations technically date back centuries, but much of their conflict today originates nearly 70 years ago after the end of World War II and the rise of former Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
China has long maintained that the island of Taiwan is part of “one” China and believes credence to its claim stems from Taiwan’s original inhabitants coming from the mainland and an agreement reached in 1992. China first documented Taiwan as far back as 239 AD, when it sent a group to explore the island and the Qing dynasty ruled the island between 1683 and 1895 prior to the Dutch setting up a colony.
China was forced to hand over Taiwan to rival Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, but following Japan’s defeat in World War II it fell back under China and the government of Chiang Kai-Shek, who was part of the Kuomintang political party (KMT).
As Mao and his Communist Party rose to power, Chiang and his forces lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949. The KMT then led Taiwan until 1987 under martial law.
When fears about the spread of communism from Western powers rose, the United States and other nations refused to acknowledge Mao’s government, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In turn, little changed until President Richard Nixon and eventually led to official recognition of the PRC in 1979.
In the 1980s, China created an offer dubbed “one country, two systems,” which would have allowed Taiwan some freedom as long as it was considered one with the mainland, but it was refused.
Then in 1992, Beijing and Taipei dispatched representatives to hold “semi-official” talks over communication issues. The two sides appeared to reach a “consensus,” but it turned out each side interpreted the meetings differently.
Taiwan’s National Unification Council later released a statement in Aug. 1992 after those talks, which Taiwan has essentially stood by ever since, according to The Greater China Journal.
“Both sides of the Taiwan Straits adhere to the principle of ‘one China,’ but the two sides attach different meanings to this” the statement read. “The Chinese Communist authorities regard ‘one China’ to be ‘The People’s Republic of China’ and after unification, Taiwan would become a ‘Special Administrative Region’ under its jurisdiction. Our side feels that ‘one China’ should refer to the Republic of China, which was founded in 1912 and has continued to exist to the present; its sovereignty extends to the whole of China, but at present its governing power only extends to Taiwan, the Penghu Islands, Quemoy and Matsu. Taiwan is indeed part of China, but the mainland is also part of China.”