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Debate: Taiwan independence

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Should Taiwan declare independence?

Background and context

In 1895, military defeat forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan, however it reverted to Chinese control after World War II. Following the communist victory under Mao on the mainland in 1949, 2 million Nationalists under General Chiang Kai-Shek fled to Taiwan and established a government that over five decades has gradually democratized and incorporated the native population within its structure. Throughout this period, the island has prospered to become one of East Asia's economic "Tigers." The dominant political issue continues to be the relationship between Taiwan and China and the question of whether Taiwan should declare independence or whether it should look to eventual unification with China. The Proposition run along the lines that Taiwan is wealthy, well supported by the US and capable of sustaining independence. The proposition necessarily implies the abandoning of the one China policy in favour of a realistic recognition of China and Taiwan. The opposition will hinge its arguments on the strength of Chinese opposition.

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Taiwanese politics: Is independence politically feasible in Taiwan?

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Yes

Independence is more politically possible in modern Taiwan: Political liberalization and the increased representation of opposition parties in Taiwan's legislature have opened public debate on the island's future; advocates of Taiwanese independence oppose the ruling party's traditional stand that the island will eventually reunify with mainland China. Part of the reason for President Lee Teng Hui’s election in 1996 was his view that China and Taiwan should have a state to state relationship. Even if we disregard polls as easily changing, in principle, this is also in Taiwan’s interest.

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No

The stand of the ruling party has been that Taiwan will eventually unify with China. The most recent elections for President Chen Shui-bian in 2000 has shown a preference for the traditional view. The desire for independence among the people is greatly exaggerated and dangerous.

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Economic factors: Are economic factors in Taiwan conducive to independence?

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Yes

Taiwan has a strong economy and is definitely capable of sustaining itself: Real growth in GDP has averaged about 8% during the past three decades. Inflation and unemployment are low; the trade surplus is substantial; and foreign reserves are the world's third largest. Even with the Asian crisis, Taiwan suffered little compared with many of its neighbors.

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No

A move to independence would cause China to severely punish Taiwan's economy: Taiwan might have a strong economy now, but the real question is whether they will be able to maintain this economy in the face of attack from China. This attack could come in military and/or economic forms, both of which would severely harm Taiwan's economy.

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Chinese response: Is China likely to respond militarily against Taiwan independence?

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Yes

Taiwan's own military capabilities provide a substantial deterrent against a Chinese invasion: Taiwan has a strong military of its own, with 6,554,373 conscripts available on call and a budget of US$8.042 billion. China will sustain heavy casualties if it tries to attack. While its army might only be a fraction of China’s its total spending is comparable and this reflects the superior technology Taiwan has invested in the military.

The US support of Taiwan provides a substantial detterrent against a Chinese invastion: When China was launching missiles into the Taiwan Straits in 1996, the US sent aircraft carriers to protect them. While there are no official links with Taiwan, the US has firm business links and unofficial relations maintained through a private instrumentality, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US with headquarters in Taipei and field offices in Washington and 12 other US cities.

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No

China has consistently maintained that if Taiwan declares independence it will declare war. When President Lee merely suggested having ‘state to state relations’ they started launching missiles into the Taiwan Straits. Taiwan’s spending hardly compares to the Chinese military’s 199,178,361 and budget of US$12.608 billion. It is almost impossible to imagine Taiwan surviving an attack from the largest army in the world.

The US may not come to Taiwan's aid: The US does not have any official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It recognises one China, the mainland and has official ties only with them, through Ambassador Li Zhaoxing in the US. While George W Bush has said he will defend Taiwan, this has not been born out in actions and in the most recent arms sales he refused to sell Taiwan Aegis radar combat system, which would have helped their defence significantly. A show of force as done in 1996 by both sides is a long way from saying that the US will be wiling to engage in a war against China. It is far more likely to express its displeasure but do no more, as when China annexed Tibet.

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How culturally distinct is Taiwan from mainland China?

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Pro

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Con

See also

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