Will Everyone Please Stop Getting Taiwan Completely Wrong

Taiwan does not claim to be independent of China. It claims it is the one real China

It is interesting how what is common knowledge in one era can become completely lost in another. Case in point: China and “Taiwan”.

For some reason majority of people consuming western media think this is a classical separatist conflict where China insists Taiwan is a part of China, and Taiwan insists it is independent.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth. China indeed maintains Taiwan is its inalienable territory. But Taiwan agrees wholeheartedly!

In fact both Taiwan and China assert than China consists of both the mainland and the island. Their point of disagreement si merely which is the rightful government of that nation.

Taiwan insists it is the remnant of the pre-revolutionary government in exile in Taipei, and China that it is the post-revolutionary government in Beijing.

In fact if anything Taiwan which officially styles itself the Republic of China claims more land for China than Beijing does. Taipei does not recognize the independence of Mongolia from China nor the 1963 border compromise with Pakistan.

Taipei's Sun Jat Sen Memorial Hall honoring the founder of modern China in 1911

Taipei’s Sun Jat Sen Memorial Hall honoring the founder of modern China in 1911

Also the Chinese in Taiwan pride themselves in being the more traditional of the two and still write in the old style Chinese script rejecting reforms which simplified the script on the mainland in 1950s and 60s.

Actually until 1971 Taipei held China’s UN seat (which comes with the UN Security Council veto), and until 1979 it continued to be formally regarded by the US as the only China.

The situation between the two then is exactly as it existed in Germany before the 1972 mutual recognition between West and East Germany, and is exists to this day in Korea where both Seoul and Pyongyang insist they are the rightful governments of the entire peninsula.

Now it is true that in recent years liberals in Taiwan have challenged the nationalists on this issue and have proposed that Taipei drop the claim to mainland China and instead proclaim itself separate from it, however there have been no official proclamation of the sort yet.

So why then such confusion? Probably the biggest part is simply innocent ignorance, but a part I think is because it is more politically convenient for the west to pretend that Taiwan is a “breakaway province” rather than the seat of a rival government.

If these are two Chinese governments then it seems intuitively correct this is an inter-Chinese conflict that should be resolved between them and that foreigners have no business exacerbating.

However if the false impression is created that we are talking about two distinct peoples — one Chinese and the other ‘Taiwanese’ — then it suddenly becomes a conflict in which it is acceptable for third nations to get involved as well.