China and Taiwan could possibly go to war. But what are they fighting for? We look at history.
China has reacted strongly to the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan two days ago by organising its largest ever military drill, comprising live fire, in the seas and skies around the island.
Beijing says it will sanction Pelosi for it considers Taiwan an internal issue, while the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling China’s military exercise “unjustified escalation”.
But why is China responding in such a manner? The explanation to this question goes back 77 years — the year 1945 to be precise — when Japan’s occupation of China ended with its surrender in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
China’s territory, during the Second World War, was divided and controlled by three players: the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, the Communists under Mao Zedong and Imperial Japan.
Once Japan was defeated, the arrangement between the Nationalists and the Communists to fight a common enemy together couldn’t hold any longer, and a civil war broke out. The US, one of the great powers of the day, sent emissaries tasked to bring the warring sides to the table to find a common ground, but to no avail.
The civil war that ended in 1949 resulted in a dominating victory of the Communists, forcing Kai-shek to flee to an island some 130 km away from the mainland and bringing it under his governance, calling it the Republic of China. The victorious Zedong, on the other hand, named the territory his military force—the People’s Liberation Army—secured as the People’s Republic of China.
For years, Beijing and Taipei continued to claim themselves as the sole representatives of the people of China. But in 1971, the United Nations General Assembly voted to admit mainland China, expelling Taiwan as a member.
The resolution paved the way for the Communists’-led People’s Republic of China to assume Taiwan’s seat on the assembly as well as giving its claim legitimacy as the rightful representative of China. The resolution specified that it was a “restoration of the lawful rights” to the mainland, while acknowledging that the country was denied its rightful seat since 1949.
China considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory. The US, too, following its recognition of the mainland in 1979 as the legitimate government of China, gives no consideration to Taiwan as a sovereign entity.
However, it also refuses to endorse China’s sovereignty over the island.
So, when Pelosi, the highest-serving US official to visit Taiwan since 1997, landed in Taipei, Beijing looked at it as an interference in its internal matters. China hasn’t shied away from stating that it reserves the right to bring it under Chinese control, even if it means by the use of force.
In the wake of the development, China’s foreign ministry has lodged a protest with the US, saying the house speaker’s visit damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and “has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and seriously infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Today, Beijing announced it’s halting dialogue with Washington in a number of areas, including talks between theatre-level military commanders and on climate, in what is being described as an escalating furore over Pelosi’s visit.
China’s foreign ministry says it’s also suspending cooperation with the US on prevention of cross-border crime and drug trafficking, an area along with climate change where US officials see opportunity for cooperation.
As Chinese warplanes continue to buzz across the line dividing the Taiwan Strait and its military carries on with its joint air and sea drills, experts fear that in this high-stakes game any miscalculation could result in a major military conflict.