Chinese unification, also known as the Cross-Strait unification or Chinese reunification, is the potential unification of territory currently controlled (and/or claimed) by the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China under one political entity, possibly the formation of a political union between the two republics. Together with full Taiwan independence, unification is one of the main proposals to address questions on the political status of Taiwan, which is a central focus of Cross-Strait relations.
In the year 1895, the Qing dynasty, which was recognized as the legitimate government of China at the time, lost the First Sino-Japanese War and was forced to cede Taiwan and Penghu to the Empire of Japan after signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Over sixteen years later, the Qing dynasty was overthrown and was replaced by the Republic of China (1912–1949) (ROC); the founding date of the ROC is 1 January 1912. Based on the Theory of the Succession of States, the ROC originally lay claim to the entire territory which belonged to the Qing, except for Taiwan, which the ROC recognised as belonging to the Empire of Japan at the time. The ROC managed to attain widespread recognition as the legitimate successor state to the Qing dynasty during the years following the ousting of the Qing.
In the year 1945, the ROC won the Second Sino-Japanese War, which was intertwined with World War II, and took control of Japanese Taiwan on behalf of the World War II Allies, following the Japanese surrender. The ROC immediately asserted its claim to Taiwan as "Taiwan Province, Republic of China", basing its claim on the Potsdam Declaration and the Cairo Communique. Around this time, the ROC nullified the Treaty of Shimonoseki, declaring it to be one of the many "Unequal Treaties" imposed on China (under the Qing) during the so-called "Century of Humiliation". At the time, the Kuomintang (KMT) was the ruling party of the ROC, and was widely recognized as its legitimate representative, especially due to the collaboration of its leader Chiang Kai-shek with the World War II Allies.
However, throughout much of the reign of the ROC, China had been internally divided, during a period which is known as the "Warlord Era of China". According to the common narrative, the ROC was divided into many different ruling cliques and secessionist states, which were in a constant power struggle following the power vacuum which was created after the overthrowal of the Qing. During this period, two ruling cliques eventually came out on top; that of the KMT, backed by the United States, and that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), backed by the Soviet Union. The power struggle between these two specific political parties has come to be known as the Chinese Civil War. The Chinese Civil War was fought sporadically throughout the ROC's history; it was interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War.
After the Second Sino-Japanese War concluded, the Chinese Civil War resumed, and the CCP quickly gained a huge advantage over the KMT (ruling the ROC). In 1949, the KMT evacuated its government (the ROC), its military, and around 1.2–2 million loyal citizens to Taiwan, which had only been ruled by the KMT for around four years by this time. Back in mainland China, the CCP proclaimed the "People's Republic of China (PRC)", effectively creating a reality of Two Chinas. Following the creation of Two Chinas, the PRC began to fight a diplomatic war against the ROC on Taiwan over official recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. Eventually, the PRC (mostly) won this war, and ascended to the position of "China" in the United Nations in 1971, evicting the ROC from that same position.
This left an awkward situation where the ROC still ruled Taiwan but was not recognized as a member state of the United Nations. In recent years, membership in the United Nations has become almost an essential qualifier of statehood. Most states with limited recognition are not at all recognized by most governments and intergovernmental organizations. However, the ROC on Taiwan is a unique case, given that it has still managed to attain a significant degree of unofficial international recognition, even though most countries do not officially recognize its existence. This is mainly due to the fact that the ROC was previously recognized as the legitimate government of China, providing an extensive framework for unofficial diplomatic relations to be conducted between the ROC on Taiwan and other countries.
In the years following the ROC's retreat to Taiwan, Taiwan has gone through a series of significant social, political, economic, and cultural shifts, strengthening the divide between Taiwan and mainland China. This has been further exacerbated by Taiwan's history as a colony of the Japanese Empire, which led to the establishment of a unique Taiwanese identity and the desire for Taiwan independence. The Taiwan independence movement has grown considerably stronger in recent decades, and has especially become a viable force on the island ever since the ROC's transition to multi-party politics, during what has become known as the Democratization of Taiwan. Due to this new political reality, independence-oriented parties have been able to gain majority control over Taiwan (ROC) via elections.
China (PRC) has never recognized the existence of Two Chinas. China (PRC) asserts that the ROC ceased to exist in the year 1949, when the PRC was proclaimed. Officially, China (PRC) refers to the territory controlled by Taiwan (ROC) as "Taiwan area", and to the government of Taiwan (ROC) as the "Taiwan authorities". China (PRC) continues to claim Taiwan as its 23rd Province, and the Fujianese territories still under Taiwanese (ROC) control as parts of Fujian Province. China (PRC) has established the One-China policy in order to clarify its intention. In 2005, China (PRC) passed the "Anti-Secession Law" in order to discourage Taiwan independence sentiments and in order to legitimize the use of force against Taiwan, which it claims would fall under the definition of an "internal conflict of China", if Taiwan approaches independence.
Most Taiwanese (ROC) people oppose joining China (PRC) for various reasons, including fears of the loss of Taiwan (ROC)'s democracy, human rights, and Taiwanese nationalism. Opponents either favour maintaining the status quo of the Republic of China administrating Taiwan or the pursuit of Taiwan independence. The ROC Constitution states that its territory includes the mainland, but the official policy of the ROC government is dependent on which coalition is currently in power. The position of the Pan-Blue Coalition, which comprises the Kuomintang (KMT), the People First Party and the New Party is to eventually incorporate the mainland into the ROC, while the position of Pan-Green Coalition, composed of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, is to pursue Taiwan independence.
The concept of Chinese unification was developed in the 1970s as part of the Chinese Communist Party's strategy to address the "Taiwan Issue" as China (PRC) started to normalize foreign relations with a number of countries including the United States and Japan.
According to china.org.cn, in 1979, the National People's Congress (of China) published the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” (告台湾同胞书) which included the term "Chinese reunification" as an ideal for Cross-Strait relations. In 1981, the Chairman of the People's Congress Standing Committee Ye Jianying announced the "Nine Policies" for China (PRC)'s stance on Cross-Strait relations, with "Chinese Peaceful Unification" (祖国和平统一) as the first policy. According to Xinhua, since then, "One Country Two Systems" and "Chinese reunification" have been emphasized at every National Congress of the Communist Party as the principles to "deal with" Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (ROC). "One Country, Two Systems" is specifically about China (PRC)'s policy towards post-colonial Hong Kong and Macao, and "Chinese Unification" is specifically about Taiwan (ROC). Taiwan (ROC) has also been offered the resolution of "One Country Two Systems”
Taiwan has a complicated history of being administered by larger foreign powers including the Dutch East India Company, the Southern Ming Dynasty, the Qing dynasty and the Empire of Japan. Taiwan first came under Chinese control when it was invaded by the Manchu-led Qing dynasty in 1683.
The island remained under Qing rule until 1895 when it fell under the control of the Empire of Japan. Following the Axis power's defeat in World War II in 1945, the Kuomintang-led Republic of China gained control of Taiwan. Some Taiwanese resisted ROC rule in the years following World War II. The ROC violently suppressed this resistance which culminated in the 228 Massacre of 1947. With the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950, Taiwan and China were separated from each other with governments on both sides aiming for a military takeover of the other.
The irredentist narrative emphasizing the importance of a united Greater China Area, which purportedly include Taiwan, arose in both the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party in the years during and after the civil war. For the PRC, the claim of the Greater China Area was part of a nationalist argument for territorial integrity. In the civil war years it set the communist movement apart from the ROC, which had lost Manchuria, the homeland of the Qing Emperors, to Japan in 1932.
Rise of Tangwai and Taiwanese nationalism
From the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950 until the mid-1970s the concept of unification was not the main subject of discourse between the governments of the PRC and the ROC. The Kuomintang (KMT) believed that they would, probably with American help, one day retake China, while Mao Zedong's communist regime would collapse in a popular uprising and the Kuomintang forces would be welcomed.
By the 1970s, the Kuomintang's authoritarian military dictatorship in Taiwan (led by the Chiang family) was becoming increasingly untenable due to the popularity of the Tangwai movement and Taiwanese nationalists. In 1970, then-Vice Premier (and future President) Chiang Ching-kuo survived an assassination attempt in New York City by Cheng Tzu-tsai and Peter Huang, both members of the World United Formosans for Independence. In 1976, Wang Sing-nan sent a mail bomb to then-Governor of Taiwan Province Hsieh Tung-min, who suffered serious injuries to both hands as a result. The Kuomintang's heavy-handed oppression in the Kaohsiung Incident, alleged involvement in the Lin family massacre and the murders of Chen Wen-chen and Henry Liu, and the self-immolation of Cheng Nan-jung galvanized the Taiwanese community into political actions and eventually led to majority rule and democracy in Taiwan.
The concept of unification replaced the concept of liberation by the PRC in 1979 as it embarked, after Mao's death, on economic reforms and pursued a more pragmatic foreign policy. In Taiwan, the possibility of retaking China became increasingly remote in the 1970s, particularly after Taiwan's expulsion from the United Nations in 1971, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the PRC and United States in 1979, and Chiang Kai-shek's death in 1975.
Majority rule in Taiwan
With the end of authoritarian rule in the 1980s, there was a shift in power within the KMT away from the faction who had accompanied Chiang to Taiwan. Taiwanese who grew up under Japanese rule, which account for more than 85% of the population, gained more influence and the KMT began to move away from its ideology of cross-strait unification. After the exposure of 1987 Lieyu Massacre in June, Martial law was finally lifted in Taiwan on 15 July 1987. Following the Wild Lily student movement, President Lee Teng-hui announced in 1991 that his government no longer disputed the rule of the Communists in China, leading to semi-official peace talks (leading to what would be termed as the "1992 consensus") between the two sides. The PRC broke off these talks in 1999 when President Lee described relations with the PRC as "special state-to-state".
Until the mid-1990s, unification supporters on Taiwan were bitterly opposed to the Communist Party. Since the mid-1990s a considerable warming of relations between the Communist Party and Taiwanese unification supporters, as both oppose the pro-Taiwan independence bloc. This brought about the accusation that unification supporters were attempting to sell out Taiwan. They responded saying that closer ties with mainland China, especially economic ties, are in Taiwan's interest.
Rise of the Democratic Progressive Party
After the ROC Presidential elections of 2000, which brought the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party's candidate President Chen Shui-bian to power, the Kuomintang, faced with defections to the People First Party, expelled Lee Teng-hui and his supporters and reoriented the party towards unification. At the same time, the People's Republic of China shifted its efforts at unification away from military threats (which it de-emphasized but did not renounce) towards economic incentives designed to encourage Taiwanese businesses to invest in China and aiming to create a pro-Beijing bloc within the Taiwanese electorate.
Within Taiwan, unification supporters tend to see "China" as a larger cultural entity divided by the Chinese Civil War into separate states or governments within the country. In addition, supporters see Taiwanese identity as one piece of a broader Chinese identity rather than as a separate cultural identity. However, supporters do oppose desinicization inherent in Communist ideology such as that seen during the Cultural Revolution, along with the effort to emphasize a Taiwanese identity as separate from a Chinese one. As of the 2008 election of President Ma Ying-Jeou, the KMT agreed to the One China principle, but defined it as led by the Republic of China rather than the People's Republic of China.
One China, Two Systems proposal
Anti-Taiwan independence protesters in Washington, D.C. during Lee Teng-hui
According to the 1995 proposal outlined by CPC General secretary and President Jiang Zemin, Taiwan would lose sovereignty and the right to self-determination, but would keep its armed forces and send a representative to be the "number two leader" in the PRC central government, in accord with the One China, Two Systems approach adopted for Hong Kong and Macau. Thus, under this proposal, the Republic of China would become fully defunct.
Few Taiwanese are in support of "One Country, Two Systems" while some unification supporters argued to uphold the status quo until mainland China democratized and industrialized to the same level as Taiwan. In the 2000 presidential election, independent candidate James Soong proposed a European Union-style relation with mainland China (this was echoed by Hsu Hsin-liang in 2004) along with a non-aggression pact. In the 2004 presidential election, Lien Chan proposed a confederation-style relationship. Beijing objected to the plan, claiming that Taiwan was already part of China, and was not a state and therefore could not form a confederation with it.
Unification proposals were not actively floated in Taiwan and the issue remained moot under President Chen Shui-bian, who refused to accept talks under Beijing's pre-conditions. Under the PRC administration of Hu Jintao, incorporating Taiwan lost emphasis amid the reality that the DPP presidency in Taiwan would be held by pro-independence President Chen until 2008. Instead, the emphasis shifted to meetings with politicians who opposed independence.
A series of high-profile visits in 2005 to China by the leaders of the three pan-blue coalition parties was seen as an implicit recognition of the status quo by the PRC government. Notably, Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan's trip was marked by unedited coverage of his speeches and tours (and some added positive commentary) by government-controlled media and meetings with high level officials including Hu Jintao. Similar treatment (though marked with less historical significance and media attention) was given during subsequent visits by PFP chairman James Soong and New Party chairman Yok Mu-ming. The Communists and the Pan-Blue Coalition parties emphasized their common ground in renewed negotiations under the 1992 consensus, opening the three links, and opposing Taiwan's formal independence.
The PRC passed an Anti-Secession Law shortly before Lien's trip. While the Pan-Green Coalition held mass rallies to protest the codification of using military force to retake Taiwan, the Pan-Blue Coalition was largely silent. The language of the Anti-Secession Law was clearly directed at the independence supporters in Taiwan (termed "'Taiwan independence' secessionist forces" in the law) and designed to be somewhat acceptable to the Pan-Blue Coalition. It did not explicitly declare Taiwan to be part of the People's Republic of China but instead used the term "China" on its own, allowing definitional flexibility. It made repeated emphasis of "promoting peaceful national unification" but left out the concept of "one country, two systems" and called for negotiations in "steps and phases and with flexible and varied modalities" in recognition of the concept of eventual rather than immediate incorporation of Taiwan. In 2020, Li Keqiang left out the word "peaceful" when referring to unification with Taiwan, indicating a possible policy shift.
Under both President Chen and President Ma Ying-jeou, the main political changes in cross-straits relationship involved closer economic ties and increased business and personal travel. Such initiatives was met by grassroots oppositions such as the Sunflower Student Movement, which successfully scuttled Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in 2014. President Ma Ying-Jeou advocated for the revitalization of Chinese culture, as in the re-introduction of Traditional Chinese in texts to mainland China used in Taiwan and historically in China. It expressed willingness to allow Simplified Chinese to be used for informal writing.
Official stance of People's Republic of China (Mainland China)
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses the phrase "reunification" instead of "unification" to emphasize its assertion that Taiwan has always belonged to China, or that Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times, and that Taiwan currently belongs to People's Republic of China (but is currently being sporadically occupied by alleged separatists who support Taiwan independence) . The PRC does not consider the Republic of China to still exist today, instead believing itself to be the ROC's successor after the PRC's founding in 1949.
Taiwan and Penghu
Officially, the PRC traces Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, allegedly historically known by the Chinese as "Liuqiu" (which is closely related to the name of the modern Japanese Ryukyu Islands), back to roughly around the 3rd century CE (specifically the year 230 CE). However, most Western sources officially trace Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan back to either 1661–1662 CE (the year(s) when Koxinga established the Kingdom of Tungning in southwestern Taiwan) or 1683 CE (the year when the Qing dynasty (of China) absorbed the Kingdom of Tungning into its territory and subsequently lay claim to the entire island).
Kinmen, Matsu and Wuqiu
The islands that are part of Fujian Province, Republic of China (Taiwan), namely Kinmen and Matsu as well as the Wuqiu Islands (of Kinmen) are claimed by PRC. These islands were never parts of the Empire of Japan, unlike Taiwan and Penghu. Kinmen Island is of great importance due to its role in recording Chinese family records. From the Kinmen record every Chinese relation can be known going back to the Han dynasty.
PRC considers the islands to be part of mainland China. The Pan-Blue Coalition of Taiwan (ROC) generally agrees with this position, though the Pan-Green Coalition of Taiwan is divided on the issue of whether Kinmen and Matsu are part of Taiwan or part of mainland China. Kinmenese and Matsunese people do not generally self-identify as "Taiwanese".
Official stance of Republic of China (Taiwan)
Taiwanese politics is divided into two main camps, the Pan-Blue and the Pan-Green. The former camp is characterised by general Chinese nationalism and ROC nationalism, whereas the latter camp is characterised by Taiwanese nationalism.
Taiwanese (ROC) sources, regardless of whether they are Pan-Blue or Pan-Green, generally seem to trace Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan back to the year 1683, when Taiwan was incorporated into the Qing dynasty of China. This is starkly different from the official PRC claim, which extends for nearly two millennia.
Most Taiwanese (ROC) scholars agree that the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) ceded Taiwan in perpetuity to Japan in 1895. However, there is disagreement over whether or not this treaty was nullified in the aftermath of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and over what Taiwan's current political status is.
The Japanese Instrument of Surrender (1945) is seen by the Pan-Blue camp as legitimising the Chinese claims of sovereignty over Taiwan which were made with the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration (1945). The common Pan-Blue view asserts that Taiwan was returned to China in 1945. Irredentist in nature, those who possess this view commonly perceive Retrocession Day to be the conclusion to a continuous saga of reunification struggles on both sides of the strait, lasting from 1895, the year that Taiwan was ceded to Japan, up until 1945, the end of the Second World War. Hence, there is a common view among the Pan-Blue camp that Taiwan was always a Chinese territory under Japanese occupation and never belonged to Japan, whether legally or in spirit. The Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Declaration, and Japanese Instrument of Surrender are seen as proofs that the Treaty of Shimonoseki was nullified in its entirety in 1945, hence proving that Taiwan always rightfully belonged to China throughout those fifty years of reunification struggles. Shortly following these events, Taiwan was split from mainland China again, according to the common Pan-Blue view, marking the beginning of another reunification saga. Still, the Pan-Blue camp considers both Taiwan and mainland China to be currently under Chinese rule, with the division between Taiwan and mainland China merely being internal, rather than directly the result of outsider aggression; this view is demonstrated through the 1992 Consensus, an agreement reached between officials of both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China in 1992, which suggests that there is One China and that Taiwan is part of China, but that the legitimate government of China can be interpreted differently by the two sides of the strait.
Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng performed in many countries around the world but never in mainland China. During her 1980 TTV concert, when asked about such possibility, she responded by stating that the day she performs on the mainland will be the day the Three Principles of the People (三民主義) are implemented there – in reference to either the pursuit of Chinese democracy or reunification under the banner of the ROC."
Kinmen has a prominent white wall with giant red characters "三民主義統一中國" meaning "Reunify China under Three Principles of the People.
The views of the Pan-Green camp, though they are diverse, tend to be characterised by Taiwanese nationalism. Hence, most within the Pan-Green camp are opposed to the idea of Taiwan being part of China. Still, most within the Pan-Green camp accept certain historical facts which suggest that Taiwan was part of China. The common Pan-Green view accepts that Taiwan was controlled by a regime in mainland China between 1683 and 1895, though many characterise this as a period of constant rebellion, or suppression of identity (or discovery of a new identity), or colonization by foreign Manchu people. While most among the Pan-Green camp accept that the transition from Chinese to Japanese rule in 1895 was violent and tragic, many believe that rule under the Japanese was either more benevolent than rule under the Chinese (both KMT and Qing) or more productive. Hence, most Pan-Green do not support the notion that Taiwan was part of China between 1895 and 1945, and neither the notion that there was a strong Chinese unification sentiment in Taiwan at that time. "Dark Green" members of the Pan-Green camp generally do not believe that the Treaty of Shimonoseki was ever nullified. Certain sources claim that attempts were made to nullify the treaty, but that these attempts were either illegal or futile, whereas other sources claim that the notion that the treaty was ever nullified is a complete fabrication by the KMT in modern times, i.e. an example of historical revisionism; similarly, the 1992 Consensus is also commonly seen as a fabrication or misinterpretation. These such sources thus believe that Taiwan is not currently part of China, and has not been part of China since 1895. There is some disagreement over whether Taiwan is still legally part of Japan or is neither legally part of China nor Japan.
Republic of China (Taiwan)
At the beginning of the millennium, polls consistently found 30% to 40% of all residents in Taiwan opposed to unification through CCP's "One country, two systems" formula even with more preferential treatments while the majority supported so-called "status quo now" Public opinion on unification has not changed significantly since then. Also, unification is generally not the deciding issue in Taiwanese political campaigns and elections. A majority of the population is supporting the status quo of mostly in order to avoid a military confrontation with PRC, but a sizable population supports a name rectification campaign.
Immediate unification is not endorsed by any of the major political parties. The People First Party officially advocates that Taiwan should maintain the status quo. The Kuomintang consistently defends Republic of China's sovereignty and that there is one China, but refer to ROC and not PRC. Although those two parties and the New Party, together forming the pan-blue coalition, are viewed as supporters, in most cases they do so in a traditional sense only. Their main difference with the pan-green coalition is that they believe Taiwan should identify itself culturally with China, and oppose any loss of national identity.
Opponents of "One country, two systems" cite its implementation in Hong Kong, where despite promises of high levels of autonomy, the PRC government has gradually increased its control of Hong Kong through restricting elections and increasing control over media and policy.
The Taiwanese pro-unification minority has at times been vocal in media and politics. For the 2004 presidential election the unification question gained some attention as different political parties were discussing the issue. A series of demonstrations, some of which were organized by pro-unification minorities, gained significant attention.
People's Republic of China (Mainland China)
Apart from political agendas by the Party elites and policy experts, PRC citizens' views are more multifaceted. Some commentators recognize that the progress made in Cross-Strait relations, including the Three Links initiatives opening up postal, transportation, and trade connections, has provided opportunities for and mutual benefits in economic development.The progress in cross-strait transportation methods such as railways and ferries has made certain coastal residents (e.g. in Fujian) feel that Taiwan became less distant and less exclusive.
Certain experts have a rational view on the PRC's motives and on the current stagnation in the unification progress, pointing out the geostrategically advantageous location of Taiwan: it can strengthen PRC's military defense line in the South China Sea, and with Taiwan backed up by the United States, the mainland may feel threatened and pressured by the U.S.
However, many PRC residents are concerned about the Taiwanese independence movement, and generally are against it for various reasons. Some are purely ideological, saying that the independence movements are radical separatists.The negative sentiments towards Taiwanese independence were exacerbated with the 2016 election of Tsai Ing-wen, a candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party with a Taiwanese independence agenda. Specifically, commentators noted that one of the ulterior motives of the "transitional justice" ideals proposed by Tsai manifested in initiatives to strengthen the outcomes of democratic reforms, is to further the divide and separation from PRC, thereby worsening PRC-Taiwan relations.
With regard to the future of Chinese unification, some have a positive view despite the recognition of deepening cultural and political differences, citing common ancient history, language, ethnicity, and the shared desire of peaceful development as drivers of unification. Some, on the other hand, are not as hopeful and see no progress in the future, as they see the problem as a complex one about foreign relations, especially regarding the power dynamics between PRC and the U.S., can sustain the stagnation. Some also noted that with the rapid economic development and rising political status of PRC in the international arena, PRC is gaining more bargaining power and putting more pressure on Taiwan towards unification, partly through diplomatic isolation.
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