US-China Tensions in Light of the Taiwan Crisis

The Taiwan crisis is one of the oldest crises in the modern world, in addition to being one of the most important issues affecting US-Chinese relations. Since the end of the forties of the twentieth century, coinciding with the end of the Chinese civil war, the Taiwan Strait has been a hotbed of crises and armed conflicts between the People’s Republic of China (“Mainland China”) and the Republic of China (“Taiwan”).

The historical roots of the crisis

After the defeat of the Chinese Empire by Japan in the Jia Wu War in the late nineteenth century, this island remained under Japanese rule for nearly half a century – from 1895 to 1945 – until the outbreak of World War II. After China’s victory in 1945, the conflict emerged within China between the Chinese Kuomintang Party, headed by Zhang Kai-shek, and the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong. The Kuomintang formed a coalition government with the Chinese Communist Party, leading to a civil war between them since 1946.

The war lasted three years and ended with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party, declaring the People’s Republic of China with its capital in Beijing in 1949. Members of the Kuomintang Party fled with the government of “Chang Kai-shek” from mainland China to the island of Formosa (“Taiwan now”) to declare the Republic of China with its capital in Taipei. They considered themselves the legitimate representative of China. The recognition of the Eastern countries, led by the Soviet Union, of the government of the Chinese Communist Party and considering it the legitimate representative of the Chinese people contrasted with the Western countries, led by the United States. The U.S. support for Taiwan enabled it to occupy the permanent seat on the Security Council reserved for China until 1971.

Taiwan’s Importance in China’s Strategic Calculations

Taiwan represents a vital area for China, constituting a strategic base for potential military operations by the United States and its allies against China. Due to its geostrategic importance between the South and East China Seas and its proximity to China, it is the center of gravity of Chinese security policy. Additionally, Taiwan holds a significant strategic value in the global supply chain for electronic chips, providing a strong reason for the West to keep China away from Taiwan.

Therefore, China believes that Taiwan’s survival in a state of separation from it detracts from its prestige and status. Taiwan’s annexation is a national issue and an integral part of the Chinese strategy in defending its sovereignty against U.S. orientations in Asia. In the event that China succeeds in restoring Taiwan, it would be able to thwart U.S. attempts to encircle it in the first island chain stretching from Japan to the Philippines, thus strengthening its ability to achieve regional hegemony.

Taiwan’s Strategic Importance in U.S. Policy

Taiwan holds strategic importance in U.S. policy as it occupies a crucial geographical location in East Asia, aiding the United States in maintaining military bases in the region. Additionally, Taiwan is a global leader in the semiconductor industry, with TSMC being the world’s largest semiconductor producer. Taiwan produces over 60% of the world’s semiconductors, which the United States benefits from across various advanced technologies, from self-driving cars to artificial intelligence and fifth-generation technology.

The American interest in Taiwan is driven by its significance to the United States in the strategic region and its economic interests. U.S. administrations continue to provide military assistance to Taiwan. In August 2023, the first direct military assistance to Taiwan was provided under a program dedicated to foreign governments, with an $80 million military aid package to enhance its defense capabilities. Although less substantial than previous shipments, it marks the first under the Foreign Military Financing Program, which grants sovereign states loans or arms grants. China vehemently opposed this move, asserting that it endangers the region’s security.

The impact of the Taiwan crisis on US-China relations

The issue of Taiwan is the most crucial aspect of Sino-American relations, representing the core of the rivalry and conflict between the two countries. The conflict over Taiwan dates back to 1949, with the U.S. support for the Kuomintang Party members who fled to Taiwan after the victory of the Chinese Communist Party. The United States pursued a policy of isolating and containing the new China while consolidating its relations with Taiwan, recognizing it as the legitimate representative of China.

With the changing international situation and China’s rise, the United States began modifying its policies towards China, leading to a trend of breaking the stalemate in US-Chinese relations. The dispute over Taiwan, however, remains one of the most sensitive issues in U.S.-China relations. China views U.S. interference in its affairs and violation of its sovereignty not only regarding human rights but also concerning the Taiwan issue, which it considers an integral part of its territory.

China asserts its right to annex Taiwan through peaceful unification, not excluding the possibility of military means if its strategic objectives related to the unity and integrity of its territory are threatened. The United States, recognizing China’s unity but not its sovereignty over all its territory, maintains relations with both Taiwan and China. The potential for a direct clash between China and the United States persists due to American support for Taiwan and the supply of weapons, while China insists that Taiwan is an integral part of its territory.

Since the visit of former US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022, tensions between China and the United States have escalated. China announced that it would take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, conducting military exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Economic sanctions were imposed on Taiwan, affecting imports and exports. Visits by Taiwanese leaders to the United States further heightened tensions, with China accusing the United States of supporting separatist tendencies, leading to increased military exercises and simulations of a blockade around Taiwan.

In conclusion, three possible scenarios can be monitored regarding the Taiwanese crisis. The first scenario involves Taiwan’s secession and independence, with the ruling regime benefiting from U.S. support and weapon supply. However, the practical likelihood of this scenario is weak due to the potential use of military force by China. The second scenario entails Taiwan’s integration with China, a historical perspective that considers Taiwan part of China. This scenario’s likelihood is low due to Taiwan’s rejection of integration and the U.S. role in supporting Taiwan to weaken China’s regional position. The third and final scenario is the scenario of common interests, maintaining the status quo between the United States, Taiwan, and China to avoid confrontation and prevent a catastrophic war with serious consequences for all parties involved. The continuation of the status quo is seen as being in the interest of the United States, China, and Taiwan.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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