Explanation: China’s problems with Taiwan

Shrouded in secrecy and courting controversy, Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was met with thanks in Taiwan and rage in Beijing.

So what is the problem between these two countries that share so much cultural heritage and trade? Like many complicated relationships, it starts with the story.

how it started

From the Dutch to the Spanish to the Japanese, the island of Taiwan has bounced between nations seeking to control it. China lost it to Japan after their war in the 1890s, but after World War II, Japan was forced to return its colonies, including returning Taiwan to China.

The situation begins to deteriorate again during the Chinese Civil War. In 1949, the losing Nationalist government fled to Taiwan and established the Republic of China (ROC), while the mainland came under the control of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In 1979, the United States and the PRC agreed to the “One China” policy, which meant that they would deal officially with the PRC and only have unofficial relations with Taiwan. New Zealand also adheres to the “One China” policy.

Neither the United States nor New Zealand recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation.

Complicating factors

China is angry with Pelosi for his visit to Taiwan in part because it sees it as a violation of this “One China” policy. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the policy hasn’t changed. But there is the complicating factor of the Taiwan Relations Act – which states that the US Congress will provide the means to help Taiwan defend itself against threats.

Jason Young, director of the New Zealand Center for Contemporary China Research, explains that it is partly for this reason that the United States wants to help Taiwan.

“Pelosi’s message to Taiwan is that the American people support democracy in the region and their commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act is strong,” he told 1News. “But it also reflects the poor state of US-China relations.”

China targets Taiwan

The visit of the speaker of the United States House of Representatives has heightened Sino-American tensions because China claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been clear – he considers Taiwan part of China and has not ruled out taking it by force.

Young says there is a geopolitical overlay as Taiwan’s position is also strategically important, providing a direct channel to the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s the first island in a chain of islands off the coast of China, so it’s an extremely important part of defending its coasts.”

Young also says that while Taiwan started out as a political model very similar to China’s, it went through a process of democratization in the 1990s and now follows a Western style of politics.

“Taiwan has strong Chinese cultural roots, so it has shown that a multi-party democracy can work in China as well…so it has moved in a different direction in the same way as Singapore.”

Where New Zealand fits in

Although New Zealand does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, we have a “vibrant trade, economic and cultural relationship”, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“Taiwan is our eighth largest export market… Our dairy, meat, fruit, seafood and forest products are highly valued by Taiwanese and we are their largest supplier of dairy products. »

New Zealand also has a free trade agreement with China, exporting $20.1 billion worth of goods and services, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

According to Young, although China is an important economic partner, our government’s response will likely be consistent with calls for dialogue and de-escalation.

“The government won’t want to be adversarial, nor should they be. But this trade deal shouldn’t change New Zealand’s position on these sorts of issues, like taking a principled stance on rights of man, etc.”

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