The short answer is; China thinks so. And China has a lot of international clout.
My first exposure to Taiwan was in the 80’s and 90’s, ‘Made in Taiwan’ seemed to be stamped at the bottom of every toy imaginable. Heck, I didn’t know where or what Taiwan was. But I knew they made a lot of toys.
Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China (ROC)… not to be confused with mainland China, which has the official name of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Yeah, it’s confusing, so take note of those initialisms, as I am going to refer to them.
Taiwan is a large island, off the east coast mainland China. It has a population of 23.5 million people. Taiwan’s history has seen it as part of Japan, then part of China. The roots of the current Taiwan (ROC) government began on mainland China (PRC), before the defeated government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the communist party successfully won government on the Chinese mainland.
So that gave way to the weird situation of having two Chinese Governments occupying different parcels of land. What could go wrong?
So is Taiwan a Sovereign State?
Taiwan’s international identity is ambiguous. Since 1949, mainland China (PRC) has claimed Taiwan. And since China is such world power, it demands that its trading partners do not recognise the Taiwan (ROC) government. This demand is known as the One-China policy… not to be confused with the one-child policy). Given China’s trading size and importance, the USA, UK, Japan, India and Australia diplomatically recognise (but don’t necessarily endorse) China’s stance. Australia formally recognised the ROC from 1941 to 1972, however it no longer does.
It’s important to note that Taiwan has its own government, its own passport (that PRC doesn’t recognise) and its own currency (the Taiwan dollar). Its GDP per capita is even among the top 30 countries in the World. So put simply, it satisfies the definition of a Sovereign State. But only 21 of the 193 United Nations member States formally recognise Taiwan. And that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Here are the 21 States that recognise Taiwan:
China takes strong diplomatic steps to ensure other Sovereign States favour its ‘One China’ stance over an independent Taiwan. Mainland China’s international funding and alliances have seen many African and Caribbean States favour the PRC. And the more States that favour mainland China, the less chance that Taiwan will garner the international support needed to become a recognised Sovereign State. Diplomatically it would not be a great move for a United Nations member State to raise the topic of Taiwan’s Statehood. Mainland China can be quite powerful.
Chinese Taipei and the Olympics
In 1932, Taiwan athletes competed in the Olympics under the Chinese flag. Future years saw much debate, with Taiwan, Mainland China and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) trying to reach an agreement. The main challenge being that the IOC didn’t recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, and so looked to mainland China for a position endorsement. China didn’t want to give an inch.
In 1979, in a mark of public relations genius, mainland China endorsed the ROC (Taiwan) to participate in the Olympics under the nation banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’. This agreed branding can only help PRC’s objectives, as the included word ‘Chinese’ indicates a sense of ownership to China.
So, to recap – the island nation off the mainland China is known as either:
- The Republic of China
- Chinese Taipei (at the Olympics)
Taiwan (the Republic of China) wants to be a Sovereign State, but the vast majority of States diplomatically agree that it’s part of Mainland China – as China is such an important trading partner.