Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The United States, Taiwan and China - Stirring the Pot of Discontent Part I

The recently signed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 is a wide-ranging document, signed by the outgoing U.S. president in the dying days of his final year of office.  While attention has been paid to how the United States Department of Defense is to treat Russia, very little attention has been paid to America's relationship with China which has become increasingly fractious over the recent past, particularly over China's claims in the South China Sea.

In the Defense Authorization Act, for the first time since 1979's dismantling of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, there is specific discussion about the United States' relationship with Taiwan aka the Republic of China.  The People's Republic of China (PRC - often known as Mainland China) views the island nation as a province of the PRC whereas, the Taiwanese people regard themselves as an independent nation with a democratically elected government.  This difference in opinion results from the recent post-Second World War history of the region which I will briefly outline in Part One of this two part posting.

Taiwan was annexed by China's Qing dynasty in the late 1600s and was ceded to Japan as part of the post-Sino-Japanese War treaty in 1895.  Japan governed the island as colony until the end of the Second World War in 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Republic of China's (ROC) military forces led by Chiang Kai-shek.  The Republic of China came into existence in 1912 after the Qing dynasty was overthrown during the Xinhai Revolution and included the current territories of China, Taiwan and Mongolia and its government was headed by its president, Sun Yat-sen who handed over the presidency to Yuan Shikai who forced the last emperor to abdicate.  After short period of control after declaring himself the Emperor of China, he lost control of the territory and China returned to its warlord past.  Sun Yat-sen who had been in exile, returned to China and, along with the Communist Party of China and the rejuvenated Koumintang (KMT)and establ8isehd a rival government in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.  After his death in March 1925, the KMT was headed by his protege, Chiang Kai-Shek.  By 1927, the KMT and Communists split, marking the beginning of the Chinese Civil War with each group claiming that they were the true heirs to Sun Yat-sen.  Prior to the Second World War, Japan's desire to control China's ample natural resrouces resulted in the seizure of Manchuria in 1931, culminating in the fall of Nanking, China's capital city, in 1937.  Despite the loss of territory to Japan, the KMT and communists continued to battle in an attempt to control larger geographic regions of the nation.  After the end of World War II, despite American interventions and attempts to arrange truces between the two parties, the battle between the KMT and Communist People's Liberation Army continued during the Chinese Civil War , with Beijing being capture by the PLA in January 1949 and Nanking being captured in April 1949.  On October 1, 1949, the Communists, headed by Mao Zedong, founded the People's Republic of China.  Chiang Kai-Shek and his followers which included hundreds of thousands of troops loyal to him and two million refugees fled to Taiwan, declaring Taipei as its capital.  Chiang ruled Taiwan under martial law, banning opposition parties until 1989, and not holding its first free legislative elections until 1992 and its first presidential election in 1996.  Apparently, Washington preferred a non-Communist dictatorship over one that was part of the growing Red menace.   Backed by significant financial  aid from the United States who recognized Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government, Chiang launched Taiwan on a path to economic growth.  In addition, in 1954, the United States and Taiwan signed the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty as part of America's move to stiffle the growth of global communism and prevent China from taking over Taiwan.  This treaty was terminated in 1979 after the United States established official diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and replaced with the Taiwan Relations Act which pledged to continue commercial, cultural and other relations between Taiwan and the United States.  

Nonetheless, according to the Congressional Research Service, between 1990 and 2010, the following materiel has been sold to Taiwan:

Taiwan's primary military goal has been to prepare itself for an attack from China, however, its spending on its military is far outweighed by China's spending as shown on these graphics, a source of great concern in and diplomatic pressure from the United States:

a.) Taiwan:

b.) People's Republic of China:

What is particularly curious and unique about America's relationship with Taiwan is that, despite its security arrangement, the United States actually does not recognize or have diplomatic relations with Taiwan's government in Taipei, rather, it recognizes the People's Republic of China through its embassy in Beijing.  It's diplomatic ties with Taiwan are conducted through the American Institute in Taiwan, a nominally private organization.  In large part, America's Taiwan agenda over the past sixty years has been driven by its overriding "anti-communist in any form" sentiment.

With that background information in mind, in Part Two of this posting, I will take a look at some of the most contentious diplomatic issues that have arisen from the 2017 edition of the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act.

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