The Changing Situation in the Relations Between Mainland China and Taiwan

Since the beginning of 2018, the relations between mainland China and Taiwan have become cooler and more strained, as evidenced by a series of specific events.

By Wang Weinan

Since the beginning of 2018, the relations between mainland China and Taiwan have become cooler and more strained, as evidenced by a series of specific events.

On January 4, the current Taiwan authorities disapproved extra cross-Strait flights for the upcoming Spring Festival. Additional cross-Strait flights for the festival have been a regular practice for a long time. The south to north operation of the M503 air route along the south-east coastline of China is designed to alleviate congestion amid the growing air traffic over the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. However, the current Taiwan authorities concluded that this operation was an unilateral act taken without Taiwan’s approval, and it might affect Taiwan flight safety. Using these factors as pretexts, the Taiwan authorities blocked a total of 176 additional cross-Strait flights operated by China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines for the Spring Festival. This caused public uproar, as it caused great trouble for Taiwanese who work in the mainland and who planned to come home for annual family reunions.

Cross-Strait Flights China Eastern Airlines

On January 9, the US-based hotel corporation Marriott International categorized Chinese territories, including Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macao as countries in a mail questionnaire to its members. This behavior angered its Chinese members and mainland netizens. Relevant Chinese authorities criticized the company’s representatives in China and ordered all related content to be removed from its website and mobile app. Even though the current Taiwan leaders kept a low profile on the issue, “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces complained that the mainland’s actions were detrimental to the image of Taiwan, and narrowed down its “international space”, posing a threat to Taiwan’s “sovereignty”.

Marriot Hotel

In addition, recent speculation about a mainland nuclear submarine circumnavigating Taiwan island has caused a stir among foreign media, which have claimed that this is another significant strategic development following mainland fighters and warships patrolling around Taiwan. In response to this speculation, Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, pointed out at a press conference on January 17 that this was ‘fake news’. However, despite the official mainland announcement, some Taiwan and foreign media have continued to speculate on the matter.

Since taking office in May, 2016, Cai Yingwen, the current Taiwan lrader, has said that the Taiwan authorities will uphold the current status of the cross-Strait relations. And yet “Taiwan Independence” separatist activists on the island claim that these developments are mainland attempts to undermine the current cross-Strait relations. So what exactly is the current status in cross-Strait relations? Will these developments change the current situation? And how will it be in the future?

What is the current status of cross-Strait relations?

The relations between mainland China and Taiwan are multi-layered.

They cover law, politics, security, economy and society, and the understanding of these layers varies.

From the standpoint of law, for instance, based on documents of international law, including the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, mainland China holds  that Taiwan officially returned to China’s sovereignty after the end of WWⅡ. However, in order to justify their secessionist leanings, separatist forces on the island deny the legitimacy and validity of the said documents, instead asserting that “Taiwan’s status is unsettled” and “should be subject to the self-determination of the local residents.

The Cairo Declaration

In fact, during WWⅡ, the 1943 Cairo Declaration clearly stated that “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China”. In July1945, the 8th clause of the Potsdam Proclamation also expressed the provision that “the terms of the Cairo declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine”. In September the same year, the first and second clauses of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender all stipulated that Japan unconditionally surrendered and accepted the provisions set forth in the declaration issued at Potsdam. All these documents testify that Taiwan was officially return to China.

From the standpoint of politics, most countries and international organizations have recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legal government that represents the whole Chinese nation, and Taiwan as part of China’s territory. There are still twenty or so countries that maintain “diplomatic” ties with the current Taiwan authorities.

In terms of security, there is an absence of mutual trust, and the vital external factor that affects cross-Strait security is the U.S.

In terms of economy and social exchange, since 1987 cross-Strait relations have developed from complete isolation to a trade volume of almost 200 billion USD, and 9 million people-to-people exchanges every year.

Hence, when we talk about the concept of cross-Strait relations, we need to figure out what layers are we referring to at the first place.

Is the current situation changeable?

The answer is certainly yes; it can change or be changed.

From the legal perspective, the One China policy must be upheld unconditionally.

In politics and security, we hope that both sides should build up mutual trust, end the confrontation that has lasted for decades by peaceful means, and finally achieve peaceful unification.

We hope that in economic and social terms, trade, cultural and people-to-people exchanges can be promoted, and by enhancing economic and social integration, a higher level of political integration can be achieved, and peaceful unification can ultimately be realized.

Tsai Ing-wen

If the current Taiwan authorities limit themselves to mechanical maintenance of the current cross-Strait relations, they are actually refusing to improve the relations and refusing unification. This will never be accepted; it must be changed. Even though Cai Yingwen has talked of “maintaining the current situation” since she took office, she has actually been urging “de-sinicization” in fields such as education and culture, intending to remove the sense of identity of its residents and make the environment more favorable to “Taiwan Independence” forces. This action is essentially an attempt to change the current cross-Strait relations at an ideological level, and an attempt to provoke confrontation among people of both sides. We should remain alert to any such conduct and resolutely oppose it.

Like the current Taiwan authorities, the US is making clear moves to change the current cross-strait situation. To start with there was the phone conversation between Trump and Cai Yingwen during his presidential election, and Trump’s destabilizing words and deeds, including describing Cai as the “president of Taiwan” and asserting that the One China Policy is negotiable. And if we focus only on the last three months – the U.S. Congress has passed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, signed-off by Trump, which includes exchanges between the fleets of Taiwan and the U.S.; the House of Representatives has passed The Taiwan Travel Act aiming to encourage diplomatic visits between U.S. and Taiwan officials. Both of these bills are reckless, and will undoubtedly have repercussions on the current cross-Strait situation. Once they come into effect, they will cause strain to both cross-Strait relations and Sino-US relations. This is conduct to which we should be constantly alert, and which we should resolutely oppose.

Therefore, should the status of cross-Strait relations go against the interests of the whole Chinese nation, then remedial action must be taken. Secessionist forces are also seeking to change the current status, in a way that is beneficial to their aims. Likewise, the pro-Taiwan forces in the U.S. also have hopes and plans to propel cross-Strait relations in a direction that is beneficial to U.S. interests. Again this is something that we should resolutely oppose.

How will the situation evolve in the future?

The future direction and the goal of cross-Strait relations lie in the power, will, and gaming strategies of mainland China, Taiwan and the U.S.

Sino-US relations have been deteriorating since the middle of November 2017. The U.S. is attacking China on a range of issues such as trade and the economy, the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea, and Taiwan.

Similarly, since Cai Yingwen took office in May 2016, cross-Strait relations have deteriorated, and disputes have arisen over several events and issues.

The Taiwan authorities resort to the U.S. as a shelter, while the U.S. is happy to exploit Taiwan as a strategic tool to contain the rise of mainland China. Sino-US relations and cross-Strait relations are becoming strained, and both Taiwan and U.S. have their own quite separate intentions in terms of their strategies towards mainland China. The Taiwan issue will gravitate towards the center of Sino-US relations.

In the course of this strategic game, it is essential that following a period of rupture and turbulence, cross-Strait relations should return to a situation of relative balance.

Xi Jinping delivers a report to the 19th CPC National Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Oct 19, 2017. (Photp/Xinhua)

China’s government and its people are fully prepared to respond to these move. General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out in his report at the 19th National Congress of the CPC that “We have the resolve, the confidence, and the ability to defeat separatist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence’ in any form. We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.”

In fact, this pledge targets not only separatist forces in Taiwan, but also external forces that support the secessionist forces in Taiwan either openly or secretly. The Taiwan issue concerns the core principles of Chinese territory and sovereignty, hence any attempt to damage cross-Strait relations, and especially any attempt to divert them from the ultimate end of unification, will be resolutely opposed by the Chinese government and Chinese people.

Our opposition is not mere words; resolute action will follow. Any separatist force must understand that imprudent separatist moves will inevitably lead to quicker unification.


Wang Weinan, associate professor and deputy director Center for Taiwan Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the view of China Matters.

Edited by Cai Hairuo