The relationship with mainland China is what has dominated the politics of Taiwan, since the island became the last main redoubt of the Nationalists in 1949. The most important issue that divides the two main Taiwanese political parties 68 year later, remains how to manage an increasingly powerful China.
The island’s founding party the conservative Kuomintang (KMT), still holds out the possibility that there will be an eventual reunification, with the rest of China.
There are even some old time politicians that still speak of the idea, that their party still represents a legitimate claim to China proper.
The more liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is far more concerned with maintaining the prosperity and de facto independence of the island.
Having arisen in the democracy movements of the 1980’s, they see China as a constant threat to the political freedoms of the island.
For its part China prefers that the KMT maintain power, since the DPP continues to flirt with the idea of full independence. Chinese pressure escalated last year,as a result of the DDP taking control of the legislature along with the Presidency.
Chinese intimidation of Taiwan is done diplomatically, economically and militarily.
The communist Chinese government takes great pains, to further isolate Taiwan from international groups and organizations.
It has been an ongoing process, since Taiwan lost it’s seat as a member of the United Nations Security Council in 1971, in addition to any representation as a sovereign state in that body.
Economically, steps are taken periodically that remind the Taiwanese of the influence China has over the island.
An example of this was the new restrictions passed in 2016, on visitors from the mainland. It had created such a disruption of the tourist industry, that it lead to a massive demonstration numbering 10,000, last September in the capital of Taipei.
The efforts of financial relief by the Taiwanese government in response, cannot possibly cover the huge losses suffered by this sector of the economy. In 2015, about 2 million mainland Chinese came to the island, in 2016 this was reduced by half.
If the government of Taiwan steps over the line in the view of the Chinese, what follows is military threats of various forms.
There is already the constant barrage of cyber attacks, political infiltration, and information gathering operations, that are conducted on a daily basis.
Worse yet, a sizable number of the media are presumed to be comprised by mainland Chinese influence. These individuals can be expected to gather information, be critical of government policy, and have an impact on public opinion.
The United States of course, is the final guarantor of Taiwan’s nominal independence.
Although the American government no longer has formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, there exists a law, that requires the United States to provide arms to the island, for the purpose of self defense.
This legislation was passed in 1979, to mollify those members of the Congress, that opposed abandoning Taiwan, in favor of recognizing Communist China.
Over the years, the adherence to this act has become more reluctant and even inconvenient, as the American government has tried to strengthen relations with China.
In December 2016 for example, the National Security Council of former President Barack Obama, blocked a military package that had previously been approved, not only by the State Department, but the Defense Department as well.
In more recent times, there are growing numbers of officials in the American Defense Department and in the intelligence community, that believe it is foolhardy to hand over Taiwan advanced weaponry.
They base this opinion on the knowledge, that the Taiwanese military has been thoroughly comprised by Chinese intelligence.
Any new American weapons program that is going to be provided to Taiwan, is always met with blaring and vociferous opposition from the Chinese government.
It is likely though, the aforementioned obstructed arms package for Taiwan, will be allowed to go forward under a Trump Administration.
The growing belligerence of the Chinese navy and air force in the East and South China Seas, is being viewed with increasing alarm, by both China’s neighbors and the American military.
The occupying and militarization of islands in the South China Sea, threatens a number of nations that have similar claims in this part of the world, in addition to Taiwan. These include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
China has even begun a policy of island building through artificial expansion, that allows their military to station equipment and supplies, on these new pieces of land. It furthermore, allows the construction of airfields, military bases and ports throughout the region.
In the East China Sea, the dispute is mostly centered on five uninhabited islands, known as the Senkakus by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese.
Although they are presently under the control of Japan, sovereignty over the territory is being claimed by both China and Taiwan.
China is expected to achieve naval dominance in the East China Sea by 2035. It is likely that China will forcibly seize the islands, around this time. A Japanese attempt to regain the islands militarily, would therefore be doomed to failure.
It is also probable at that juncture, that the United States government would already recognize the futility of opposing the Chinese action.
By far the most concerning issue effecting the long term security of Taiwan, is the insistence of China to maintain a maritime claim in the South China Sea, known as the Nine Dash Line.
Although officially Taiwan makes the same assertion, it clearly puts the island under the sovereign control of Communist China.
In fact it was the Republic of China in 1948, that re-introduced the idea as a way to demarcate Chinese claims to the South China Sea. When the communists gained control over most of China, they retained this postulation.
Today, China is laying claim to near 90% of the South China Sea.
The Chinese military would like to create the modern equivalent of a Great Wall,but at sea.
The Chinese communist government is gradually asserting the claims, to the entire region of the South China Sea. For its part, the United States and a number of Western Powers totally reject the Chinese position.
As one of the most important waterways in the world, because of the amount of trade that traverses through the area, other nations reject the idea of allowing it to become a Chinese lake.
However, geography and time is on the side of China.
For now the Chinese objective, is to merely gain local superiority. That is to prevent the United States on its own or working in combination with other countries in the region, from blocking their long term goal.
Another advantage for China and liability for Taiwan, is the unique role that the American navy plays in the world. The United States has taken on the responsibility, since the end of the Second World War, to maintain the freedom of passage for all international shipping on a global scale.
China only needs to concern itself with the waters of the East, South China and Yellow Seas.
As the strength of the Chinese military, especially the naval strength of the nation grows, the more precarious the position of Taiwan becomes.
For China to really dominate the the three seas off their coast, in a sort of barrier to outside military threats, the eventual control of Taiwan will become necessary.
The question then remains, to what extent will the United States move to protect Taiwan from Chinese military aggression? Will the American government at some time in the near future, view the survival of Taiwan, worth the risk of an all out war with China?
These questions cannot be answered affirmatively, one way or another. One can therefore fully appreciate, the growing apprehension of the government and military leadership of Taiwan.