Conflict over Taiwan (1949-present)

This page has a limited amount of information on conflict between China and Taiwan.

In 1949, Communists seized power in mainland China, causing the ruling Nationalists to flee to the island of Taiwan.

The People's Republic China implemented a communist economy, while the Republic of China (the Taiwanese government) implemented a relatively free-market economy. Starting in the 1980s, China began a long transition to a hybrid economy that blended the central control of a communist government with elements of capitalism.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and maintains that it will never allow Taiwan to declare independence. China has not invaded Taiwan partly because of Taiwan's formidable 400,000-person military with a strong air force, navy and missile capability, but mainly because of the U.S.'s threat to defend Taiwan by any means necessary.

Tensions in the 1990s

In summer 1995, Taiwan began making more movement towards independence, having its president visit foreign countries. After that, China began conducting more military exercises near Taiwan.

In March 1996, tensions reached a new high when China began extensive sea and air exercises very near Taiwan, even firing three surface-to-surface missiles into waters near Taiwan's two main ports of Kaohsiung and Keelong. China intended to scare Taiwanese voters from electing a pro-independence president.

Between 1996 and 1999, the number of nuclear-capable M-type missiles in China's three southern provinces (within striking distance of Taiwan) increased from 30-50 to 160-200. In late 1999, one U.S. Admiral estimated 600 short-range missiles facing Taiwan from mainland China.

In late 1999, the Chinese government began soliciting input from military and civilian think tanks on reunification with Taiwan. The consensus was that if the Western powers dared not intervene in Chechnya, then they would also refrain from intervention in Taiwan.

2000: Crisis Renewed

In late February 2000, the Chinese government released a "white paper" outlining their Taiwan policy. The biggest change was that China said that it would be "forced" to use military force to reunify Taiwan if Taiwanese leaders did not set a date for reunification talks.

The U.S. government is bound by its own laws to defend Taiwan if it is attacked, and after China announced its new policy, the U.S. reiterated its military commitment by moving an aircraft carrier off Japan and threatening "incalculable consequences" if China resorts to military action.

Some analysts believe that China has decided that it could win a military campaign against Taiwan, even if the U.S. gets involved. China apparently believes that, if it does not use nuclear weapons or attack the U.S. mainland, that the U.S. will not risk world condemnation by being the first to use nuclear weapons, making the conflict conventional. China believes that its people would tolerate heavy casualties to reunify Taiwan, but that the U.S. citizenry would not tolerate the heavy casualties to be expected from an all-out conventional war over Taiwan.