Exploring Chinese History
- International Relations -

Nationalist Era Policy

The Republic of China, now on Taiwan is currently recognized only by 25 countries. Therefore the course of the foreign relations of the Republic of China is dominated by maintaining ties with these countries, as well as de facto relations with other countries.
The political status of Taiwan as part of the Republic of China (ROC) is itself controversial.



Established in 1912, the early years of the Republic of China were characterized by the domination of warlords and foreign incursions. When the World War I broke out in 1914, Japan fought on the Allied side and seized the German possessions in Shandong (Shantung). The Japanese set before the Beiyang government in Beijing (Peking) the Twenty-One Demands. The Beijing government rejected some of these demands but yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession. Beijing also recognized Tokyo's authority over southern Manchuria and eastern part of modern-day Inner Mongolia. In 1917, in secret communiqués, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for Japanese naval action against Germany.
In 1917 China declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under Japanese control. But in 1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. When the Treaty of Versailles confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and Beijing's sellout became public, internal reaction was shattering. The government did not sign the treaty as a result of the May Fourth Movement.
Between 1901 and 1937, the United States military maintained a strong presence in China to maintain Far East trade interests and to pursue a permanent alliance with the Chinese Republic, after long diplomatic difficulties with the Chinese Empire. The relationship between the U.S. and China was mostly on-again off-again, with periods of both cordial diplomatic relations accompanied by times of severed relations and violent anti-U.S. protests. The United States military in China was slowly withdrawn to protect other U.S. interests in the Pacific with the approach of World War II.
After years of Japanese control of Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, war broke out Japan and China in 1937 in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

International Disputes

The 1970s saw a switch in diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China with countries like the United States, Japan, France, and Canada making the switch during that decade. In October 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the UN General Assembly, expelling "the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" and replacing the China seat on the Security Council (and all other UN organs) with delegates from the People's Republic of China. It declared "that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations" and thus do not regard the Republic of China as legitimately representing the whole of China.
Many attempts by the ROC to rejoin the UN, in recent years, have not made it past committee, under fierce opposition and threatened vetoes from the PRC. The recent resolutions have all emphasized that Resolution 2758, replacing the ROC with the PRC in 1971, only addressed the question of who should have China's seat in the UN rather than whether an additional seat for Taiwan can be created to represent the 23 million people on Taiwan and other islands. Today, only 25 nations officially recognize the Republic of China, as the PRC makes breaking ties with the ROC and the recognition of the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China the prerequisite to diplomatic relations.
Although the current presidential administration leans toward Taiwan independence it has not formally renounced its jurisdiction over Mainland China (including Tibet). The relationship with Mongolia is more complicated. Until 1945, the ROC claimed jurisdiction over Mongolia (including Tannu Uriankhai, part of which is present-day Tuva), but under Soviet pressure, it recognized Mongolian independence in 1946. Shortly thereafter, it repudiated this recognition and continued to claim jurisdiction over Mongolia until recently in 1953.
Since the late 1990s, relationship with Mongolia has become a controversial topic. The DPP is attempting to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia, but this move is controversial because it is widely seen as a prelude for renouncing ROC sovereignty over Mainland China thereby declaring Taiwan independence. Like Mainland China, the claim of Mongolia is not officially dropped, but the new de facto relations with Mongolia is handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instead of the Mainland Affairs Council, effectively acknowledging Mongolia as a foreign country. Mongolia has been excluded from the "Mainland Area" as defined in the Articles 3 of the "Enforcement Rules of Statute Governing the Relations between the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area", revised and announced in 2002.
On less official terms, the ROC is involved in a complex dispute for control over the Spratly Islands with the PRC, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei; and over the Paracel Islands, occupied by the PRC, but claimed by Vietnam and ROC. ROC claims the Japanese-administered Senkaku-shoto (Senkaku Islands/Diaoyu Tai), as does the PRC.
On November 7, 2003, ties were established with Kiribati. However, Taipei did not demand that ties be broken with Beijing and ROC Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said that he would not reject having both sides of the Taiwan strait recognized simultaneously. The PRC also broke precedent by not cutting ties until November 29 and spent the interim lobbying for Kiribati President Anote Tong to reverse his decision. The decision to hold off for weeks was possibly due to the strategic importance of the PRC's satellite tracking base on Kiribati, which had been used for Shenzhou V and thought to have been used to spy on a U.S. missile range in the Marshall Islands.

List of countries with diplomatic relations with the ROC:

The 25 nations which have official diplomatic with the ROC all recognize it as the sole-legitimate government of the whole of China (although many of them have diplomatic relations with Mongolia), instead of just its current jurisdiction of the island groups of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and some other islands.
South Korea and Saudi Arabia ended their diplomatic relations with the ROC in 1992, and South Africa switched recognition to the PRC in 1998. Liberia switched from the PRC to the ROC in 1989, and back again in October 2003. In March 31, 2004, Dominica ended its recognition, which began in 1983 because of offers from the PRC to provide $117 million in 6 years. The Republic of Macedonia recognized Taiwan in the nineties but switched diplomatic recognition after the PRC imposed economic sanctions and used a rare veto on the UN Security Council to block peacekeeping efforts.
Although Singapore switched diplomatic relations to the PRC in 1992, it continues to maintain close economic and military ties with the ROC as part of its attempt to position itself as a neutral party to both sides. This is, however, a diplomatically delicate situation which has flared up occasionally. A severe diplomatic row broke out between the PRC and Singapore when Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan a month before being sworn-in as the Prime Minister of Singapore on 12 August 2004. The Singaporean defense ministry took great pains to correct an erroneous report in the Liberty Times on a joint military exercise between the Singapore and Taiwan in March 2005. Still, Singapore is the only foreign country to maintain military training camps in Taiwan, and continues to regularly send infantry, artillery, and armored military men there for training annually. There has been talk in recent years, however, of the possibility of moving some or all of these facilities to Hainan following an offer by the PRC, although this may not be taken up due to sensitivities in diplomatic relations between Singapore and her largely Islamic neighbors.
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, The Gambia, Sao Tome & Principe, Burkina Faso, Chad, Malawi, Swaziland, the Holy See, Palau, the Solomon Islands, and the Marshall Islands all have embassies in Taipei.

U.S.-Taiwan Relations

Current relations between the United States and Taiwan are governed by the Taiwan Relations Act. In addition Taiwan has been mentioned in the Three Communiqués between the United States and the People's Republic of China.
According to the CIA World Factbook,

"The U.S. has welcomed and encouraged the cross-Strait dialogue as a process which contributes to a reduction of tension and to an environment conducive to the eventual peaceful resolution of the outstanding differences between the two sides. The United States believes that differences between Taipei and Beijing should be resolved by the people on both sides of the Strait themselves. The U.S. has consistently stated that its abiding interest is that the process be peaceful."

This statement is an example of the careful wording that the United States has to undergo in order to avoid possibly disastrous diplomatic gaffes. A clear statement that the United States does not recognize the PRC claim to Taiwan would bring instant diplomatic retaliation from the PRC. A clear statement that the United States does recognize the PRC claim over Taiwan would risk encouraging the PRC to take military action against Taiwan, and would also be politically almost impossible, in view of the sympathy that Taiwan has in the United States. So the United States responds by refusing to be clear on anything.
Fortunately, all of the parties in this issue are not dissatisfied by the current situation, and there is a general agreement to maintain the "status quo," which includes not being very clear about what the "status quo" really is. There was some worry that the policy of strategic ambiguity would cause mistaken impressions of people's intentions. Partly to deal with this situation, the policy of the Four Noes and One Without has been developed in which Taiwan has pledged not to take certain actions that would be provocative toward Beijing. In a number of cases, when Taiwan appeared to be moving away from this policy, Washington has asked for and received assurances that this was not the case.
Similar positions on Taiwan are taken by a majority of countries. 25 nations recognize the ROC as the legitimate ruler of China and reject the PRC claims to legitimacy. During the 1990s, the ROC actively encouraged such recognition through generous grants of foreign aid. In the 2000s, this strategy was abandoned because the PRC could outbid the ROC with foreign aid, and the spending of large sums of money to buy recognition became quite unpopular on Taiwan.
In the 2000s, the diplomatic strategy of the ROC appears to have shifted to encourage "democratic solidarity" with major powers such as the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Diplomatic Representation in the US

Official diplomatic relations are currently nonexistent; unofficial commercial and cultural relations with the people of the US are maintained through a de facto embassy named the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) with offices in Washington and 12 other US cities. TECRO is technically a private organization, but its staff consists of career diplomats who have temporarily "retired."

Diplomatic Representation From the US

Official diplomatic relations were ended in 1979 as a prerequisite for establishing ties with China. However, unofficial commercial and cultural relations with the people on Taiwan are maintained through a de facto embassy called the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).
Technically, the AIT is a private organization, but its staff consists of career diplomats from the United States State Department who are formally "on leave" to serve in the AIT. Again, this is an example of the type of compromise that the United States has to go through in order to prevent diplomatic problems.

Relations With the People's Republic of China

Whether or not the People's Republic of China is considered a "foreign country" is itself a debated issue within the ROC. The pro-independence Pan-Green parties, which character itself as "Taiwan", generally consider "China" as a foreign country. The Kuomintang, People First Party and New Party of the Pan-Blue Coalition do not agree with this. "Cross-Strait relations" is a neutral term usually used to describe their relations.
Contacts between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait was very limited in the first few decades of separation. Limited war took place, for instance, the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (aka Quemoy Artillery Bombardment) in 1958.
Since the late 1980s, restrictions on the exchange of people between the two sides of the Strait has been relaxed. Residents of mainland China and of Taiwan are allowed to visit the opposite side of the Strait. Traffics of goods and people usually detour through Hong Kong and Macau (which were then under British and Portuguese rule respectively).
Talks were held in third places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, between the semi-governmental organizations of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and Straits Exchange Foundation. The 1992 Consensus was reached in Hong Kong in 1992.
Hong Kong and Macau were former British and Portuguese colonies until their sovereignty was transferred to the PRC, in 1997 and 1999 respectively. They have traditionally taken up the role as a third party. Although the relations with Hong Kong and Macau are handled by the Mainland Affairs Council, they are generally excluded from the "Mainland Area" in the "Statute Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau". They have continued the role of middlemen on trade and passenger traffic between the two sides of the Strait. The special flights between the two sides of the Strait during Chinese New Year in 2003 and 2005 were required to land in either Hong Kong or Macau.
For many years Taiwanese planes were unable to fly over PRC airspace. In 2005, the ROC government lifted its restrictions on civilian airplanes, the PRC granted China Airlines and EVA Air permission to fly over mainland China.

Relations With Other Countries

While maintaining diplomatic relations with the PRC, many countries still maintain unofficial 'trade missions' or 'representative offices' in Taipei, to deal with commercial and consular issues. However, owing to political sensitivities, these countries may often forward visa applications to their nearest embassy or consulate, rather than processing them locally. Similarly, the ROC maintains Taipei Economic and Cultural Office or Taipei Representative Offices in other countries, such as the UK.
The ROC also has to compete at the Olympic Games and other international sporting events under the name 'Chinese Taipei', with a different flag and anthem, because of pressure from the PRC.
The dispute over the ROC's status has also affected the island's air links with the outside world, particularly Europe, North America and Australia. For many years, Mandarin Airlines, a subsidiary of the ROC's national airline, China Airlines (CAL) served many international destinations that CAL did not, owing to political sensitivities. However, in 1995 CAL dropped the ROC national colors from its livery, and now flies to international destinations under its own name.
Many countries' national airlines operate services to Taipei using a different name and livery. For example, British Airways has never flown between London and Taipei, but its now defunct subsidiary, 'British Asia Airways' did, with Chinese characters on their aircraft's tailfins instead of BA's Union Jack. Australian carrier Qantas had a subsidiary called Australia Asia Airlines, which flew between Sydney and Taipei, but now operates flights to the island as a code share with EVA Air.
Before the completion of the second runway at New Tokyo International Airport (now Narita International Airport) near Tokyo, Japan, airlines from Taiwan were required to fly to Tokyo International Airport (commonly known as Haneda Airport) in Ota, Tokyo in order not to offend the airlines from the People's Republic of China that flew to the airport in Narita. Also, Japan Air Lines set up a subsidiary called Japan Asia Airways for flights to Taiwan.
International dialing codes are assigned by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to its member states and their dependencies. However, as the ROC was not an ITU member state, it had to be allocated the code 886 unofficially, with the ITU listing the code as 'reserved'. The PRC does not recognize the 886 country code, although it does recognize those allocated to Hong Kong and Macau. Instead, it has reserved part of its numbering plan for calls to Taiwan, using the prefix 06.


Scroll to Top