While talking to my students about my Taiwan trip, I referred to the island as a country. Several students shook their heads and others gave me a puzzled look.
When I asked one of them what was wrong, she emphatically said, “Taiwan is not a country. It is a province of China.’’
This is what Chinese students are taught. Even though Taiwan has a democratic government, a separate military, a different currency and its own Olympic team, China insists that it is part of the People’s Republic.
Taiwan broke away from the mainland in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fled there and established an independent government after losing a civil war against Mao’s communists. Ever since, Taiwan’s identity has been a volatile, politically sensitive issue.
During the Cold War, most Western countries and the United Nations recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. But that changed after U.S. President Richard Nixon announced in July 1971 that he would visit the People’s Republic, the first step in normalizing relations with that country. Later that year, the U.N. passed a resolution recognizing the People’s Republic as the sole representative of China and kicking Taiwan out of the international organization.
For all intents and purposes, Taiwan remains a separate country. But Taiwan and China have informally agreed to a standoff where they no longer constantly threaten each other. Even in Taiwan, however, there are two distinct views of the national status: The Pan-Blue Coalition favors eventual unification with the mainland, while the Pan-Green Coalition supports independence.
No one expects anything to change in the near future. China will still insist that Taiwan is one of its provinces, while Taiwan will continue to operate as an independent state. There’s been talk of a Hong Kong-style solution, where Taiwan would be reunited with China under a compromise that would allow the island to retain a separate political and economic system.
I don’t know what will happen. All I know is that, as far as my students are concerned, Taiwan is already part of China.