The visit will not have lasted more than 24 hours. But the foot posed by Nancy Pelosi, American Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Taiwanese soil triggered a real explosion in a diplomatic balance already under high tension in this region located in the China Sea. The Chinese Foreign Minister had already reacted firmly ahead of this visit: “Nothing good will happen to those who play with fire.“
If frictions are intensifying from hour to hour around the island territory located 130 kilometers from the Chinese coast, it is because its independence is widely contested by the communist regime of President Xi-Jinping.
Taiwan – China, a complicated relationship
To grasp the complexity of this issue, we must go back to 1949 when Mao Zedong ended the ongoing civil war and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China over all of mainland China. Nationalist supporters of the Kuomintang find refuge on the island of Taiwan. The island officially declared itself the Republic of China by forming a new government on December 7, 1949.
Two Chinas, separated by the Taiwan Strait located in the East China Sea, are claimed. Internationally, the UN considers Taiwan to represent China. It was not until 1971 that the situation changed. The seat assigned to China within the UN becomes the business of the People’s Republic of China.
The United States juggles
The island’s status took a new turn when, eight years later, the United States, hitherto allies of Taiwan against the regime in mainland China, decided to no longer recognize Taiwanese independence in order to appease their relations with the then chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Ye Jianying.
But the Americans are playing on all fronts. At the same time, they sign the Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the USA to providing the island with the means to defend itself, potentially against mainland China. The links between the two territories are strengthened to the point of making the United States the first suppliers of military weapons to the island.
If the ambiguity remains total between the two Chinas, relations calm down over time. In 1991, Taipei even reversed the provisions establishing a state of war with the continent.
China is toughening up
But five years later, tensions are rekindling. Beijing passes an anti-secession law and promises armed action in the event of the island’s declaration of independence. Since the arrival of Xi-Jinping at the head of the People’s Republic of China in 2013, relations have only become more strained. In 2019, he even announced reunification as “a necessity for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era”.
Today, 14 countries recognize Taiwan as a state in its own right. Paradoxically, the Americans are not part of this small circle since their relations are considered unofficial. Belgium is also in the lot of the 47 countries maintaining this type of exchange.
The United States, anxious not to see the Chinese zone of influence expand, has nevertheless decided to considerably strengthen its ties with Taiwan. Joe Biden has already announced that he will use force if China tries to take over the island. The latest military actions launched by Xi-Jinping around Taiwan following Nancy Pelosi’s visit recall the particularly unstable situation around this territory of more than 20 million inhabitants.