The Tug of War between Taiwan and the PRC
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

The Tug of War between Taiwan and the PRC

Apr. 18, 2018  |     |  0 comments

In April 1979, when the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was signed into law by then US President James Earl Carter Jr., it was widely accepted that the term “Taiwan” mentioned in the TRA refers to the Republic of China (ROC). The TRA also signified a shift in the diplomatic recognition of the Chinese nation from the ROC (the Taiwan area) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (in mainland China).

In March 2018, the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) was signed into law by US President Donald J. Trump. The TTA encourages and promotes official exchanges at all levels between the two sides. The TTA seems to imply that the existence of the ROC since January 1912 has become a thing of the past.

After the TTA is signed, pro-Taiwan’s de jure independence activists and supporters at home and abroad are elated. After decades of struggle, especially after the 228 incident in 1947, the tug of war has now become a contest between the (Republic of) Taiwan (Guo/State) and the PRC.

It is important to first identify the major players on each side.

On the Taiwan side, firstly, we have the native Taiwanese and the non-natives who identify with the locals. All of them belong to what we call the pan-green camp. They do not want Beijing leaders to rule or govern Taiwan Island. On April 7, 2018, XiLeDaoLianMeng (the Formosa Alliance, FA), was launched. It is pushing for an April 6, 2019 referendum on a few issues,1 which will be discussed later on. The co-sponsors of this alliance include two former ROC presidents, and it is supported by pro-de jure independence overseas Taiwanese.

Secondly, there are some native Taiwanese and their descendants who identify with Imperial Japan, which colonized Taiwan in the late 19th century. After the Second World War, many Japanese people who migrated to Taiwan had no choice but to continue to live in Taiwan. According to one account, the number of such descendants has increased from 310,000 to almost one million today.2

An educational and advocacy group by the name of Taiwan MinZhengFu (Taiwan Civil Government) was established in February 2008 and began to issue identification cards. The activists and supporters of this political entity are promoting a closer relationship between Taiwan and Japan. To them, Taiwan was already incorporated into Imperial Japan on April 1, 1945. Some of them even harbor the dream of making Taiwan a commonwealth of Japan.

Thirdly, some residents are campaigning under the Formosa Statehood Movement to push Taiwan to become the 51st state of the United States or at least an unincorporated territory of America. They must have been happy with the recent news that the United States is practicing border preclearance at a number of ports and airports in foreign territories, which are staffed and operated by US Customs and Border Protection officers. To them, would Taiwan be a part of that program?

As for the PRC side, there are 1.4 billion Chinese in mainland China. In Taiwan, new immigrants from mainland China (including Hong Kong and Macao) to Taiwan numbered 353,684 as of December 2017. It is safe to say that there are many pan-blue camp supporters living in Taiwan.3

The provocative Taiwan team should wake up as soon as possible. If not, the Taiwan Strait will not be peaceful and tranquil in the foreseeable future.

Three major issues can be discussed regarding this tug of war between Taiwan and the PRC.

Firstly, tug of war is a test of physical strength and mental endurance. Looking at the sheer number of people who prefer peaceful reunification, the PRC side should be able to win at the end. It can counter the FA move by warning the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government of the Chinese Anti-Secession Law. Article 8 clearly states that “in the event that the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Secondly, when engaging in the sport, danger exists. For example, in October 1997, an incident took place in Taipei where the arms of two participants were ripped off below shoulder, in addition to 45 others who were injured.4 The FA, fully aware that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces have already encircled Taiwan in the last few years, is playing with fire by making three provocative moves. The first step is to urge the DPP to push for another round of amendments to the Referendum Act before the end of August 2018. Presently, the Act does not allow a plebiscite on issues related to sovereignty. The second step is to host an independence referendum on April 6, 2019. The third step is to draft a new constitution and strive for international approval of Taiwan’s admission into the United Nations under the name “Taiwan.”

Thirdly, during competitions, uncertainty exists or judges may err. For example, it is not clear what would happen to the residents in the remote islands of Jinmen and Mazu, who basically support the pan-blue camp. And what about those who migrated to Taiwan from mainland China after July 1987. Would some players decide to switch sides?

This possibility cannot be ruled out, because most politicians are opportunists. What they have in mind is the Chinese idiom JiangGongShuZui, which translates into English as “atone for a crime by doing good deeds or atone for mistakes by providing meritorious service.” In recent years, we have Ko Wen-je, who was once a staunch supporter of the pan-green camp before becoming the Taipei City mayor in December 2014. At the July 2017 Taipei-Shanghai Twin City Forum, he mentioned LiangAnYiJiaQing, which translates into English as “a close family” or “we are all Chinese.” He also touched on the idea that both sides of the Taiwan Strait could be MingYunGongTongTi, which translates as “a community of common destiny.”5 Ko is a potential presidential candidate for the upcoming 2020 election.

In the game of tug of war, a substitution may be used for tactical reasons or due to injury. Is it possible that President Tsai Ing-wen would quit by escaping to another country if the Chinese PLA attacks Taipei? Seven grand escape routes or options for her were mentioned at a session in the Legislative Yuan in March 2018.6 In sum, the provocative Taiwan team should wake up as soon as possible. If not, the Taiwan Strait will not be peaceful and tranquil in the foreseeable future.


1. April 7, 1989 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the self-immolation of democracy activist Cheng Nan-jung, who was a second-generation mainlander in the Taiwan area.

2. According to Ou Su-ying, “Retaining and Repatriation of the Japanese After the War,” Newsletter of Taiwan Studies, No. 103 (2018), pp. 12-14, as of August 1945, 222,257 belonged to Imperial Japan troops. Some 140,000+ (or some 43%) chose to live in Taiwan Province, while 180,000+ (or some 57%) went back to Japan.

3. In the January 2016 presidential election, the pan-blue camp voters numbered 3,813,365 or 31.04%, while the other candidate got 6,894,744 or 56.12%.

4. Luckily, medical doctors reattached the limbs.

5. 2018-04-03 00:16:14, accessed on April 3, 2018.

6. 2018-04-02 13:06:47, accessed on April 3, 2018.

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