According to its constitution, the Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, controls a staggering 11 million square kilometers of land, which makes it the second largest country in the world after Russia and before Canada.
This may seem a little confusing to people familiar with Taiwan—a relatively small island and a few very small archipelagos. This just doesn’t match up. The thing is that, according to its constitution, Taiwan controls all land considered to be Chinese based on their borders from 1911. This is more than 36,000% of the land that they actually control, and it puts them in dispute with 18 countries—the most of any country in the world. These border claims include the entire mainland of China and all of Mongolia. It may sound like a small country unrealistically bent on domination, but there is more to the story.
Taiwan: Some Background
First I’ll break down the legal situation. The Republic of China is theoretically in conflict with 18 countries in Asia: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the People’s Republic of China (which is what we know as China). When Taiwan broke off from China in 1949 at the end of the Chinese Civil War, both governments claimed to be the rightful government of “China”. Taiwan established a constitution that included the full boundaries of what was considered at the time to be Chinese territory, and adopted the name “ The Republic of China”. Since then, the People’s Republic of China has adjusted their borders and resolved many of the disputes, leaving Taiwan alone in holding up outdated border disputes.
Although these remain in the constitution, the government of Taiwan has not made moves towards most of these territories. For example, in 2002, the Taiwanese government excluded Mongolia from the administrative definition of “mainland area”, basically saying that they are acknowledging Mongolia as a separate country(though it’s still technically included in the constitution). In practice, Taiwan treats Mongolia as a functional government, with some creative loopholes used to avoid changing the constitution. This begs the obvious question: Why don’t they just update their borders and resolve these disputes?
The answer is frustratingly simple. If the Republic of China adjusted their borders, the People’s Republic of China would likely see it as moving towards independence. The logic here is that any change in the deadlock would cause China to see Taiwan as a trying to secede from China, instead of just being a part of China controlled by a rebel group. This would be considered a hostile act towards the obviously dominant China. Taiwan is forced into a situation where if they attempt to back down from their claims, China would escalate the conflict so they don’t lose territory (although in reality, they already have).
Both governments currently have a ‘One China’ policy, with each claiming that they are the rightful China, with a claim to all the land, and the other area is simply being currently occupied by a rebel group. This is aggravating for people of many parties. Because of China’s complete unwillingness to bend with their “One China” policy, it is hard for foreign governments to step in and fully recognize Taiwan under the UN. Current Chinese president Xi Jinping has also stated that his country will not accept any foreign intervention in dealing with the ‘One China’ policy and has made it clear to the rest of the world that the policy is absolutely non-negotiable.
Despite the potential danger in adjusting policy, many Taiwanese have moved that direction politically over the last few decades. Because of the ROC regime’s baggage with mainland China, many Taiwanese citizens have begun thinking it is outdated. The Taiwanese Independence Movement (a movement more about separating from the ROC regime than PRC’s China, although that’s also implied) has gained massive amounts of traction and is now considered to be mainstream in Taiwan. The current Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-Wen has many leanings towards Taiwanese independence and has committed her term to following in the footsteps of the last president, who was also somewhat pro-independence.
If the Taiwan independence movement were to oust the standing government of the Republic of China, then it would be possible for many of the outdated border disputes to be solved quickly and painlessly.
China Openly Discusses War with Taiwan
However, Chinese president Xi Jinping has made it clear that it would not be that simple for Taiwan. As recently as December, he was quoted as saying that any ratified Taiwanese independence movement would be cause for war. He has also said that China is willing to take major losses to enforce the ‘One China’ policy. Jinping’s term in office so far has been heavily characterized by an increase in attention towards what he calls the ‘Chinese Dream’. Under this ‘dream’, Jinping, who is widely regarded as a ‘strongman’ president, has increased efforts to reclaim and lock down disputed territories. These efforts have famously led to increased tensions with multiple other countries in the South China Sea and were denounced by a panel at the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2016.
Although China is much larger both economically and militarily, it could be possible for Taiwan to stave off a Chinese military invasion for a time due to geographic advantages. As of 2016, Taiwan is also ranked by the International Monetary Fund as the 22nd largest economy by GDP. It is not a completely defenseless country, and it has support from some other nations. At this point, it is just not to China’s advantage to go to war with Taiwan, which is why both governments have come to a standstill. Still, unless a Taiwanese independence movement can successfully ratify changes in the constitution or overthrow the Republic of China regime, it is unlikely that these border disputes, which exist mostly just on paper, will ever be resolved. Still, it’s good to know that there probably won’t be a war between Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan anytime in the near future.
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