A brief history of China-Taiwan relations

For decades, the relationship between China and Taiwan has sat on the edge of conflict — with China viewing Taiwan as a “renegade province” that must be returned by force if necessary. David Sacks, a fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, presents a guide to the origins of the tension between the two nations and a view of what may be in store in the future as Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-Te takes office in the coming months.

Video Transcript

DAVID SACKS: China's position on Taiwan is pretty clear. China views Taiwan's continued separation as a relic of the Chinese Civil War, when Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan after the Chinese Communist Party defeated them, essentially a renegade province that must be returned to China by force, if necessary.


DAVID SACKS: From Taiwan's perspective, Taiwan is already a sovereign independent country under the name The Republic of China Taiwan. The president-elect, William Lai, has stressed that he seeks to maintain the cross-strait status quo. But according to the DPP, there is no need to declare independence because no country declares independence twice.

LAI CHING-TE: I will maintain the status quo and continue to bring society together with the framework of the Republic of China Taiwan.

DAVID SACKS: So while many brand the DPP as, quote, "pro-independence," I don't believe that Lai is going to pursue de jure independence through things like seeking a seat in the United Nations for Taiwan or changing Taiwan's name through a legislative process. I also don't think that Taiwan is going to pursue closer economic ties with the PRC.

So I think that Taiwan's general trajectory over the next four years will be really consolidating its ties to the West, attempting to deter the Chinese use of force by investing in its own defense, building security ties with the United States and Japan, and pursuing some form of economic diversification as well through investments in Southeast Asia, elsewhere in East Asia, as well as its trade ties with Europe and the United States.