The historic visit to China of the former president of Taiwan (2008-2016) Ma Ying-jeou, which began on Monday March 27, comes as relations between the island and its powerful neighbor have been experiencing growing tension for years. The day before, Beijing had announced that it had established diplomatic relations with Honduras, which thus broke its ties with Taipei. A setback for Taiwan, which is still losing an ally and is no longer recognized by more than 13 states in the world.
► 1912, creation of the Kuomintang, founder of Taiwan
In 1912, in the wake of the revolution that overthrew the imperial power and established the revolution, Sun Yat-sen created the Kuomintang, the oldest Chinese party. The party, which then defined itself as democratic and moderate socialist, founded the Taiwanese state in 1949.
Originally, the Kuomintang was allied with the Communists in order to fight against the warlords. This good relationship did not last, however.
► 1927, beginning of the civil war
In 1927, nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek succeeded in reunifying China after defeating the country’s various warlords. The civil war which will oppose them to the Communists begins the same year.
The first major confrontation came with the Nanchang uprising, led by revolutionaries. The conflict was interrupted in 1937 by the Japanese invasion of China, the two enemies deciding to unite to repel the invader.
► 1949, arrival of nationalists in Taiwan
Once the Japanese defeat was recorded, the Chinese civil war resumed. Despite the strong support of the United States, the nationalists are defeated. They are forced to beat a retreat, with two million refugees, towards the island of Taiwan which currently remains the last remnant of the Republic of China.
The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949. This victory took the world by surprise. It will push the United States to intervene in Korea and then in Vietnam in order to prevent this event from happening again elsewhere in East Asia.
► 1950, conquest of Hainan
If today Taiwan is all that remains of nationalist China, the losers of the civil war managed to cling to another important island after their departure from the mainland: Hainan. One hundred thousand of them found refuge there after the victory of the Red Army.
Located not far from Vietnam, in the south of the country, it remained for six months in the hands of the Kuomintang, before being taken over in March 1950 by the Chinese People’s Army. This conquest constitutes the final phase of the civil war.
► 1954, first Taiwan Strait crisis
In 1954, an armed conflict broke out between China and Taiwan, a territory supported by the United States. Beijing seizes the Yijiangshan Islands and the Tachen Islands, which are located not far from the mainland. A ceasefire was established in 1955, and the Taiwanese defeat resulted in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Taiwan, which expired in 1979.
► 1958, second Taiwan Strait crisis
A new conflict broke out during the summer of 1958. The Communists bombed the islands of Kinmen and Matsu and attempted an amphibious landing on Dongding Island. Taiwan is again supported by the United States. According to the Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, US President Dwight Eisenhower even considered a nuclear strike on the People’s Republic of China to protect Taiwan.
► In 1971, China replaced Taiwan at the UN
For thirty years, the government of Taiwan has continued to be regarded by Western nations as the legitimate Chinese power. The small island therefore occupied a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, alongside France, the United Kingdom, the USSR and the United States.
The UN finally recognizes the communist power as the only government in 1971, after Chiang Kai-shek’s refusal of a two-headed representation at the United Nations. Eight years later, in 1979, Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing.
► 1987, towards relaxation?
In late 1987, Chiang Kai-shek’s son allowed Taiwanese residents to travel to the mainland. Families separated since 1949 can reunite for the first time, and trade between Taiwan and China is exploding.
Detente continued in 1991, when Taipei ended the state of war with China. In 1993, the first discussions between the two former belligerents were held in Singapore. Despite ups and downs, this cordial agreement continued until the 2010s.
► 1992, a disputed consensus
In 1992, negotiators from the Communist Party and the Kuomintang met to decide on a framework to regulate relations between China and Taiwan.
Both parties agree that there is only one China. The question of which China is legitimate to rule the island and the mainland, however, remains open, and this “consensus” has been the subject of much criticism.
► 2016, the end of the honeymoon
The rise in power of the Democratic Progressive Party, supporter of independence, in Taiwan, leads to a deterioration of relations with the mainland. Its candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected President of the Republic in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. The party returned to business with the victory of Tsai Ing-Wen in 2016 – she was re-elected in 2020.
In 2016, believing that the new government refuses to adhere to the principle of “one China”, Beijing suspends all communication with the island. The United States is also more offensive, President Donald Trump calls Tsai Ing-Wen on the phone, a direct contact which is a first for decades. His administration then agrees to sell 1.4 billion euros worth of weapons to Taiwan.
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