Is Taiwan a developed country

Taiwan in focus

The question behind the tension was whether and to what extent this event would stabilize or worsen the relationship structures between Taiwan and China on the one hand and Washington and Beijing on the other.

Historically, no area of ​​East Asia has been exposed to so frequently changing influences of international politics as the island of Taiwan, which covers 36,000 square kilometers and is 180 km off the coast of southeast China.1 However, it was only after the invasions of the Japanese in 1872 and the French in 1884 that the Ch'ing dynasty rose to power 1885 to the rank of a province of the Chinese Empire. A decade later, at the end of the war with Japan in 1894/95, Beijing had to cede Taiwan to the Japanese, who endeavored to make the island and its inhabitants part of so-called "outer Japan". In 1945, China's rule on the island was restored. But the corruption and repression of the first Chinese governor caused a bloodily suppressed popular uprising among native Taiwanese in 1947, which they consider to be the beginning of Taiwanese independence efforts, which is still felt today as a strongly emotional beginning. Defeated by Mao Zedong's armies, the Chinese national government evaded annihilation by withdrawing to Taiwan in 1949. Washington, initially disinterested in Taiwan, has taken on the protective function of the USA for the island, which is still effective today, since the Korean War.

Under the authoritarian leadership of Chiang Kai-shek and his National People's Party (Kuomintang), Taiwan developed into the so-called “Free China”, which, with its successful economic development, was to act as a counter-model to Mao's People's Republic. Shortly before his death, the succeeding President Chiang Ching-kuo enabled the development of a system of pluralistic democracy from 1987 onwards. This gave previously severely suppressed supporters of the Taiwanese idea of ​​independence the opportunity to be politically active as the “Democratic Progressive Party”.

Internationally, Taiwan only had to cede its representation of all of China in the United Nations to Beijing in 1971, but without obtaining its own representation for Taiwan. In 1978, Beijing also caused Jimmy Carter's administration to terminate the US alliance with Taiwan and even to withdraw diplomatic recognition. However, with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the US Congress passed a unilateral commitment by the US to protect Taiwan and supply it with defense weapons, which is still in force today.2 The US thus de facto remained a decisive security factor in Taiwan's position vis-à-vis the People's Republic of China.

Chen's precarious election victory

Domestically, the separatist Democratic Progressive Party achieved a surprising victory in Taiwan's presidential election in 2000 with its candidate Chen Shui-bian, a 1951 lawyer and former mayor of the capital Taipei, who had made a name for himself as a criminal defense attorney for supporters of the independence movement

He owed his election victory in 2000 in particular to the fact that the ruling Kuomintang party had previously split: its most popular top politician, James Soong, had separated from the party and competed with its candidate Lien Chan, a former prime minister and foreign minister. This made it possible for Chen Shui-bian to win the presidential election with only 39.3% of the vote as the first opposition politician and to beat the Kuomintang, which had ruled since 1949, for the first time.

The shock of defeat resulted in an electoral alliance between the Kuomintang and James Soong's new People's Party in February 2003. Lien served as a presidential candidate in 2004, with Soong running for vice-president of the Pan-Blue Camp, which is made up of supporters of the Kuomintang and Soong's People's Party and has been credited with a more positive attitude towards China. Nevertheless, during the election campaign, Lien and Soong endeavored to emphasize Taiwan's “sovereignty” and the “Taiwan-first” principle that also applies to their camp. Since they could have beaten Chen Shui-bian unequivocally in 2000, the forces of "Pan-Blue" said that they would be able to beat Chen Shui-bian relatively easily after they merged in 2004. All the more shocking were the 2004 election results, which Chen Shui-bian won after a dramatic election campaign with a total of 12,914,422 valid votes with a wafer-thin margin of only 29,518 votes. With Chen, the “Pan-Green” camp (consisting of the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union) received 50.11% and the “Pan-Blue” camp received 49.89% of the valid votes

Immediately after these results became known, the leaders of the “Pan-Blue” camp began to challenge them. The assassination attempt on President Chen and Vice President Anette Lü in Tainan on the day before the March elections, in which both were only slightly injured, helped both of them to gain unanimous support, may have been deliberately staged and require detailed investigation. The high number of 337 297 invalid votes cast is also suspect. Furthermore, a state of alarm imposed after the attack prevented many soldiers and police officers, including numerous supporters of “Pan-Blau”, from going to the polls.

All of this and alleged irregularities in the election process required the votes to be recounted.5 To enforce this, the leaders of the “Pan-Blue” camp organized mass demonstrations lasting days, often nights, with up to 500,000 participants. Beijing threatened to intervene should anarchy break out in Taiwan. On May 10, 2004, a judicial recount and re-examination of all ballots cast began, a process that could take months.

Failed referendum

At the same time as the election, President Chen had scheduled two referendums. One asks voters whether, in view of the 500 missile positions set up by Beijing against Taiwan, they support the procurement of more sophisticated weapons. The second referendum asks whether voters will agree to peaceful negotiations between their government and Beijing

Critics suspected that this was just a matter of tactical showmanship. The American President George W. Bush, whose guest Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was in Washington at the time, criticized the planned referendum on December 9, 2003 as a possible cause of a destabilization of the situation on the Taiwan Strait. It would be better if it were not done.7 His deputy foreign minister Richard Armitage said that it is not the wording that counts, but the motive. In France, President Jacques Chirac described the idea of ​​a referendum as a “serious mistake.” 8 German, Japanese and Russian top politicians also endeavored to discourage Taiwan.

In contrast, in a speech by Chen Shui-bian on December 14, 2003, it was a double moral standard to demand democracy for Iraq while at the same time preventing Taiwan from exercising democratic rights. However, all concerns proved unfounded as the referendum did not receive the required minimum of 50% valid votes. The matter, however, showed Beijing's lately intensified efforts to pressure Taiwan from third countries as well.

Beijing, whose leaders and media had warned that the referendum embodied a tactic to prepare steps for the permanent secession of Taiwan from China under the guise of democracy, welcomed the face-saving failure of the referendum.9 It has shown that the majority of " Compatriots ”in Taiwan rejects Chen Shui-bian's separatism.

The Communist People's Republic of China, which has existed since 1949, sees itself as the de jure sovereign of all of China, including Taiwan, which it has never ruled de facto. In the 119 years since Taiwan received the status of a province of China in 1885, the island has in fact only been ruled by governments in China for a total of 14 years because of Japan's colonial rule and the Chinese civil war. The sword of Damocles, made visible by the deployment of 500 medium-range missiles, hangs over Taiwan's policy of Beijing's threat of military violence should Taiwan dare to proclaim its independence from China.

After a brief period of seemingly promising semi-official contacts between Beijing and Taiwan at the beginning of the 1990s, Beijing's Taiwan policy, with its self-damaging lack of imagination, is limited to military threats and diplomatic isolation. This is supplemented by the offer of a time-limited autonomy based on the principle of “one country, two systems”, which Beijing is increasingly devaluing in its attractiveness compared to Hong Kong, even through restrictive handling. Washington reacted to Chen Shui-bian's mentioned referendum and his further objective of Taiwanese de jure independence with irritated skepticism and the warning not to shake the current status quo of the ambivalent and unresolved triad between Beijing, Taipei and Washington. Burdensome with critical situations in Iraq, Palestine and Korea, the Bush administration would be extremely undesirable from a new crisis in the Pacific.

Beijing took the American Vice President Richard Cheney's visit to China in April 2004 as an opportunity to again sharply criticize the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which provides for arms deliveries from the United States to Taiwan, and called on the Bush administration to seek official contacts To refrain from Taiwan as well as any encouragement of Taiwanese independence.10 Previously, in early April 2004, the Pentagon announced the decision to sell Taiwan a sophisticated radar early warning system valued at 1.78 billion dollars. In an accompanying comment by the Pentagon it was said that strengthening the Taiwanese defenses also served the foreign and security policy of the United States

China and the USA see basic elements of the much-cited status quo on the Taiwan question in adherence to a so-called “fivefold negative”. This refers to a formal declaration of independence of Taiwan, the abolition of its official name "Republic of China", the establishment of a dual state of China in the constitution, a referendum on independence and the abolition of Taiwan's "guidelines of national reunification". As at the beginning of his first term in office in 2000, Chen agreed to comply with these status quo criteria after the 2004 election.

But what seems to question the current status quo in practice is Chen's harsh rejection of the “one China principle”, his emphasis on the factual, albeit “unexplained” state independence of Taiwan, and his restless efforts to deepen a Taiwanese sense of identity as well as an understanding of history and culture. He stressed all of this during the election campaign and was able to increase his share of the vote from 39% in 2000 to 50% in 2004. A generation change, which biologically eliminated many of the mainlanders who immigrated in 1949, strengthened interdependent processes of democratization and Taiwanization on the island, which cannot be influenced by the wills of foreign powers. This creates an objective challenge to the status quo preferred by Beijing and Washington.

"Taiwan first"

The change in attitude of the Kuomintang, a party with a long tradition in China's history, is also contributing to the change in Taiwan. Its leader, Lien Chan, told the writer that it was "an entirely new party, only its name stayed the same." She identifies with Taiwan, which she regards as a "sovereign state", and wants to maintain the status quo vis-à-vis China for the time being. Its further development must be left to history. Lien's coalition partner James Soong added that there was "no timetable for reunification".

Despite its new “Taiwan first” slogan, the Kuomintang's statements on the fundamental question of the relationship with China often remained ambivalent. For example, in the election campaign program of the blue camp it says “we reject 'independence now' as well as 'reunification now'.” 12 Many observers saw this ambivalence as one of the main reasons for the loss of votes in the blue camp. In contrast to this, Chen's campaign speeches hammered his listeners into the fact that the question of Taiwan's identity was the fate of the island and its inhabitants. For the election result as a whole, the increase in votes for Chen as well as the relatively stronger Taiwan orientation of the formerly China-oriented Kuomintang results in a tendency for Taiwan to distance itself from China more than ever before. This could be significantly deepened if “Pan-Green” succeeds in gaining an absolute majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections in December 2004. This would put the leadership in Beijing before the need to re-examine and possibly change their Taiwan policy.

Indeed, in May 2004, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced that a new “Taiwan Law” would be drawn up. It is to become China's counterpart to the US Taiwan Relations Act. Almost at the same time, Chen Shui-bian announced in Taiwan on May 6th the establishment of a "Council to regulate peaceful relations between the systems on this side and the other side of the Taiwan Strait" and the development of new guidelines for this purpose.13 Beijing responded on May 17th, three Days before Chen's inauguration, flexible in that it offered to resume the dialogue with Taiwan under the aspect of the “one China principle”. The topics of the dialogue could be: more international leeway for Taiwan, measures to build military confidence and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.14 In the event of concrete Taiwanese steps towards independence, however, the most massive reactions are threatened.

Behind Chen's plan for constitutional reform by 2008 - the year of the Beijing Olympics - both China and the USA suspect a possible threat to the status quo. This consists on the one hand for China in its de jure claim to sovereignty over a reluctant Taiwan, which threatens it with war in the event of a declaration of independence, and on the other hand in a strategy of ambiguity that pays lip service to an unspecified " One China Principle ”with a de facto shielding of Taiwan against the use of Chinese force. Washington therefore admonishes Taiwan to be content with its "undeclared independence", since its proclamation of de jure independence could cause China to use force and shake the entire security architecture of the western Pacific region. For the time being, China seems to be content with the fact that Taiwan does not divulge nominal ties to China - e.g. its official name "Republic of China" or its constitution as a whole.

The constellation of the Taiwan problem thus contains contradictions and frustrations for all the powers involved: for China, since its claim to Taiwan is opposed on the one hand by the refusal of the Taiwanese and on the other hand by the US power to protect Taiwan against violence; for Taiwan, because Beijing and the USA prevent it from formally declaring its de facto independence and having it internationally recognized, and for the USA because they - themselves originated from an independence movement - deny Taiwan equal rights for reasons of crisis prevention in the Western Pacific have to.

But the new political tensions overshadow continued, almost normal economic relations of mutual trade, e.g. in 2002 with a total volume of 37.4 billion dollars (of which 78.8% exports from Taiwan and 21.2% exports from China). In addition, Taiwan has become the fourth largest investor in China, where about 300,000 Taiwanese businessmen have settled. In the same year, there were 3.6 million visits from Taiwan to China.15 On the political dimension, Chen said in an interview with the Washington Post on March 30, 2004 that “one-China” is a “guiding principle” for Beijing and only for Taiwan a “problem” that can be discussed with China.16 For him, Taiwan's irreversible status quo means de facto existence as an “independent, sovereign country”. But he does not intend to act contrary to the "five negations" mentioned; peace in the Taiwan Strait is a priority. Accordingly, Chen's inaugural address on May 20, 2004, described by the White House as “responsible and constructive,” avoided any direct provocation of Beijing.17 A few days later, Taiwan's newly appointed Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Jaushieh Wu, Taiwan said it welcomed a visit by the chief of the relevant Beijingers Wang Daohan Authority. 18

Presumably, however, it will only become fully apparent when the parliamentary elections in Taiwan in December 2004 whether and how the new crisis in and around Taiwan can be overcome.Should “Pan-Green” then achieve an absolute majority, Chen's position would be significantly strengthened. In order to prevent this, the parties of "Pan-Blau" are wrestling with the question of whether and how they should merge with one another beforehand and offer the electorate a new profile. 19

Notwithstanding new military threats from Beijing, Taipei has asked three smaller states, from which it is diplomatically recognized, to put the question of Taiwan’s UN membership on the agenda of the General Assembly in autumn 2004 in order to use this gesture to support Beijing’s “one China principle”. as well as questioning the sense of not admitting Taiwan to the world organization. However, practical success is not to be expected.


1 On the history of Taiwan: Hungdah Chiu, (Ed.), China and the Question of Taiwan. New York 1973 and Oskar Weggel, The History of Taiwan. Cologne 1991.

2 Lester L. Wolff, et al. (Ed.): Legislative History of the Taiwan Relations Act. Jamaica N.Y. 1982.

3 See Kindermann, Power Change in Taiwan - Reconciliation with Beijing ?, in: Internationale Politik (IP), 7/2000, pp. 37–38 and Urs Schoettli, Politikwechsel in Taiwan, in IP, 2/2002, p. 45 -50.

4 For the election results, see Taiwan News, March 21 and 22, 2004 and Taipei Times, March 21, 2004, and Taiwan Aktuell, March 22, 2004.

5 China Post, March 21, 2004 and Taiwan News, March 21 and 28, 2004.

6 Government Information Office: Questions and Answers about Taiwan‘s Referendum. Taipei, March 2004. Taiwan News, 3/18. and April 20, 2004.

7 Taiwan News, 12/15/2003, China Post, 12/11/2003.

8 China aktuell, January 2004, pp. 30-32.

9 Taipei Times, March 21, 2004 and Taiwan News, March 22, 2004.

10 See the reports by Kai Strittmatter in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 14 and 15, 2004.

11 For this comment by the Pentagon's Defense Security and Cooperation Agency, see China Post, April 2, 2004.

12 Lien-Soong Policy Papers. Lien-Soong Campaign Headquarters, March 2004, pp. 16-22.

13 China Post, 7.5.2004.

14 Xinhua News Agency, May 17, 2004. See also the text of the joint statement by the Taiwan Offices of the State Council and the Central Committee of the CPC of May 17, 2004 in: Beijing Review, May 27, 2004.

15 Government Information Office: Taiwan Yearbook 2003. Taipei 2003, pp. 98 and 141-143.

16 Full text of the interview in: China Post, March 31, 2004.

17 Text of the inaugural speech by Chen Shui-bian of May 20, 2004, ibid., May 21, 2004, excerpts in the documentation, p. 132 ff.

18 China Post, May 29, 2004.

19 Ibid., May 20, 2004.

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