AT least 18 Chinese aircraft, including fighters and bombers, reportedly entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on May 6, making it the second-largest intrusion by the former’s combat aircraft into the latter. The incident highlights the fragility of the peace in the region.
The China-Taiwan relationship has been strained for years, but the latest escalation is a result of a series of incursions by the Chinese military. The last incursion by the Chinese aircraft was in January 2022, when it sent 39 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone.
Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which sees it as part of its territory to be repossessed one day, by force if necessary.
This development has brought the Taiwan issue back into the headlines. We take a look at what China wants from Taiwan, the China-Taiwan dispute and where things stand.
Taiwan is an island, roughly 100 miles from the coast of southeast China. Taiwan was controlled by Japan for half a century until the end of World War II when it became a part of the Republic of China, ruled by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang.
China and Taiwan separated after World War II when there was fighting in mainland China between nationalist government forces and the Chinese Communist Party.
The communists won in 1949, and their leader, Mao Zedong, took control in Beijing. Meanwhile, the nationalist party – known as the Kuomintang – fled to nearby Taiwan.
The Kuomintang has been one of Taiwan’s most prominent political parties ever since – ruling the island for a significant part of its history.
Why does China want Taiwan?
China asserts that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is part of it. But Taiwan’s leaders say that Taiwan is an independent country that has its own constitution.
China exerts considerable diplomatic pressure on other countries not to recognise Taiwan.
Taiwan’s defence minister has said relations with China are the worst they have been for 40 years.
After decades of hostile intentions and angry rhetoric, relations between China and Taiwan started improving in the 1980s. China put forward a formula, known as “one country, two systems”, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has even vowed to pursue “reunification” with Taiwan by peaceful means.
“Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland and seek to split the country will come to no good,” Xi said.
In Taiwan, the offer was rejected, but the government did relax rules on visits to and investment in China.
China’s implementation of national security law in Hong Kong in 2020 was seen by many as yet another sign that China was becoming significantly more assertive on Taiwan.
Who Recognises Taiwan?
Today only 15 nations give diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, and thus do not have official ties with China. They are: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Paraguay, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland and Tuvalu.
A vast majority of Taiwanese people are opposed to the “one country, two systems” model simply because they don’t trust China to keep their promise of granting limited but significant autonomy to Taiwan after the reunification, especially in the context of China’s recent policy in Hong Kong.
According to polls conducted in 2020, almost two-thirds of Taiwan’s residents consider their identity as simply ‘Taiwanese’, while almost one-thirds consider themselves as Taiwanese and Chinese.
Only around three per cent consider themselves simply ‘Chinese’. These statistical findings also match with the conclusions of Pew Research Centre.
Millions of Taiwanese youth, who are the future of Taiwan, consider themselves being born as independent from China, having no cultural ties to the mainland.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led Taiwan to rethink its preparations for a possible Chinese invasion, with some even emphasising the need to ramp up with respect to the purchases of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles
The Taiwanese military has also staged exercises it hopes will deter Beijing from invading.
Can China Invade Taiwan?
Defense and political analysts are of the view that China’s military could invade and eventually take control Taiwan, especially if the US and other powers don’t intervene. China boasts of the world’s second-largest defence budget behind the US, totalling about $290 billion in 2022.
This has allowed the development of advanced weapons systems including the J-20 stealth fighters, hypersonic missiles and two aircraft carriers, with a third under construction.
Security experts are warning China is today more capable of launching a full scale invasion to capture Taiwan.
In 2021, China appeared to ramp up pressure by sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone, a self-declared area where foreign aircraft are identified, monitored, and controlled in the interests of national security.
Taiwan made data on plane incursions public in 2020.
The numbers of aircraft reported peaked in October 2021, with 56 incursions in a single day. The recent incursion is the second-largest single-day incursion this year, after 39 warplanes entered the zone on January 23.