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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Backgrounder: China-Taiwan Relations

Council on Foreign Relations

Authors: Esther Pan
Youkyung Lee

Updated: March 24, 2008


China and Taiwan, while in practice maintaining a fragile “status quo” relationship, periodically grow impatient with the diplomatic patchwork that has kept the island separate from the Communist mainland since 1949. After losing the civil war to Communist Chinese and fleeing to Taiwan in 1949, the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) leaders of the Republic of China regarded the Communist Chinese government as illegitimate, claiming the mainland as rightfully their own. KMT, in the opposition since the election of President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000, won the March 2008 elections with Ma Ying-jeou as president-elect. The DPP, under outgoing President Chen, has engaged in policy that widely departs from the KMT. Since becoming the first non-KMT leader of the Republic of China in Taiwan, President Chen has invigorated efforts to seek Taiwan’s sovereignty. Beijing, in turn, regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and has tried repeatedly to persuade the island to negotiate a return to the fold under terms similar to those governing the former British colony in Hong Kong. While the threat of hot war appears low, and economic ties have grown steadily since the two began serious bilateral exchanges in the 1980s, periodic spasms of anti-Taiwan feeling in Beijing, and of pro-independence sentiment on the island, severely test the peace that has reigned in recent years across the Taiwan Strait. Experts say KMT’s return to power may bring better relations with the mainland.

“One China” Principle

The two sides sharply disagree on Taiwan’s de jure political status. The People’s Republic of China asserts that there is only “One China” and Taiwan is an inalienable part of it. Beijing says Taiwan is bound by the consensus reached in 1992 between the representatives of both the governments (Chinese Communist Party and KMT) in Hong Kong.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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