The complexities of Cross-Strait relations in Greater China


This paper will examine Cross-Strait relations in terms of why and how its development has been problematic in solving the issue of Taiwan independence. While there are many reasons contributing to the complexity of Cross-Strait relations, only four factors will be discussed- Identity, China’s Stance, Economic Factors, and International Influence. The author regards these four factors as the most crucial key points at present and will show the importance of each one through data as well as observations made by the author. By describing each factor, showing the connections between them, as well as providing a possible solution for solving the complexities of Cross-Strait relations, the reader will hopefully gain a further insight as to what factors Mainland China and Taiwan are facing and how they can be solved. 


“A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation’s nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it back again.”

To understand the complexity of cross-strait relations the notions of identity as perpetrated through “nation” and “nationalism” should first be examined. Identity across the Strait over the last century has played a huge role is shaping the experiences and conditions of peoples’ lives in both Mainland China and Taiwan. Due to Chinese and Taiwanese being assimilated from different political, educational and institutional backgrounds, viewpoints and beliefs regarding “nation” and “nationality” have differentiated and have served as the core of discrepancies regarding how to unify a divided China across the Strait.

According to Ernest B. Haas, a “nation” might be defined as “a socially mobilized body of individuals, believing themselves to be united by some set of characteristics that differentiate them (in their own minds) from outsiders, striving to create or maintain their own state.” 2Another approach to the notion of “nation” comes from Stalin stating “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up, manifested in a community of culture.”

Nationalism on the other hand, may be defined as a set of modern ideas that centers people’s loyalty upon the nation-state, either existing or desired. Nation-state is a unique form of modern political organization different from traditional empires. Nationalism did not exist in China before the 19th century because China was an empire, not a nation-state based upon what Geller called “the national principle” of seeking to make “the cultural and the political unit congruent.”

With the notions of nation and nationalism in mind, countries act accordingly to form laws and policies, whether they are domestic or international. In China’s case, Beijing’s policy towards Taiwan has always been very sensitive to the sentiments of Chinese nationalism because territorial integrity and national unity, which are at the core of Beijing’s Taiwan policy, has a symbolic value in Chinese nationalism. Recovering territories lost to Western powers and Japanese imperialists has always been the declared goal of the communist governmentand Beijing’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan and its actions to stop Taiwan from becoming independent plays an important role in maintaining nationalist legitimacy of the communist regime as well as what the nation of China represents.

In addition, the concept of nationalism or “aiguo”, which in Chinese means, “loving the state” should be taken into consideration. Taiwanese for instance, have lived under a democracy and have been influenced by foreign countries to a much greater extent in the past than Mainland China, which as a result, has created a different perception of the importance and role of the state. More so, due to active international exposure, more and more Taiwanese have become self-conscious of their own collective identity, especially in face of Taiwan’s isolation in the world arena. Many people believe the rise of China has severely constrained Taiwan’s international space, stimulating the emergence of a stronger Taiwanese consciousness and a more negative approach to Mainland China.

With this in mind, the nation building China has built itself upon and the resulting sense of nationalism has been inherently different from that of Taiwan’s. Taiwanese have grown under the influence of different institutions and have grown and progressed differently to a point where their psychological make-up and economic lives have been different. These characteristics suggest that both sides have developed into societies with different aspirations that as a result, represent different nations. This is key in dealing with cross-Strait identity. Although the land dispute of Taiwan being part of China is still lingering about, it is at this point, a rather futile argument that is built on too much historical data that can’t be interpreted objectively. However, even though clear reasoning for why China is divided may be apparent on the surface, what lies within Taiwan is even more complex.

The idea of Taiwan independence is a very sensitive topic across the Strait, but particularly, in Taiwan. People in Taiwan are very divided about the idea of unifying or re-unifying (depending on who you ask) with China and the reason being due to how Taiwanese have assimilated over past decades. When asked about identity the answers that one receives from Taiwanese are about as opposite as the North and South Pole. Some people feel that they are Taiwanese, others Chinese. Some even say that they are both Taiwanese and Chinese meaning that their current identity is based on being Taiwanese, which holds certain beliefs with politics and society etc., but their ethnic origin is Chinese. In other words, these people feel that ethnically they are Chinese and nationally they are Taiwanese.

Due to this, it is hard for Taiwanese reach a consensus of what it means to be a certain community; that is, either Taiwanese or Chinese. Even though the greater part of the population is aware that they have assimilated differently over the years, elder generations as well as political groups fighting over control for their own personal power in particular, still heavily influence younger generations. And because of this fundamental cleavage, Taiwan politics is permeated by norms that seem to require citizens to choose between Taiwan and China. The idea that a person could both treasure Taiwan and value his Chinese cultural heritage does not fit easily into this configuration, since the Taiwan subjectivity movement defines Taiwan largely in opposition to ‘China’. Nor is there a comfortable political fit for a person who views Taiwan as her homeland, but would like to build a career in mainland China, or for a person who wants Taiwan to remain politically independent, but believes that its economic future rests on ever-deepening engagement with the mainland.”

Mores so, since Taiwan is transforming itself into a modern democratic state that arguably shares more political values with Western democratic countries in North America and Western Europe, they have been and will be more reluctant to unite with a political system like the Leninist party-state of the PRC. According to author Steve Tsang, Taiwanese people want to have good relations and improve economically with the PRC, but don’t like the idea of merging with the PRC politically. However, it is increasingly difficult for people in Taiwan to see why it would be in their best interest to join the PRC, which remains under the authoritarian rule of the CCP. Since Taiwanese have tasted freedom, liberty, respect for individual rights and the security of the rule of law, then they will not want to live under the arbitrary oppression of authoritarianism.

Therefore, since the government is the main institution that has controlled and censored what information and opportunities are allowed in China, thus creating Chinese perceptions of things, it is obvious that the way the government has conditioned the Chinese as a whole differs a great amount from that of Taiwan. With Taiwan being a more free and democratic society that isn’t nearly as harsh with censorship as well as crackdowns on organizations that perhaps question authority, people as a whole have grown in a different environment and their perception of what institutions, nation, and nationality have as a result, diverged from those of Chinese. However, since China’s national and international integrity is dependent on maintaining Taiwan as a part of China (despite its lack of presence in Taiwan), China will always hold steadfast to their beliefs and reiterate their stance no matter what may challenge it. 

China’s Stance 

In 1949 when the civil war ended between the CCP and the KMT, China was left with two governments both claiming seats in the UN. Each year from 1950-1971, the general assembly of the UN had to conglomerate to discuss whether delegates should represent China from the mainland or from Taiwan. In 1971, the final decision was made that the People’s Republic of China was the legitimate holder and Taiwan (Republic of China) lost its seat. However, regardless of Taiwan losing its seat in 1971, China has always maintained a strong One-China policy and has always regarded Taiwan as part of China. This has been reiterated in numerous accounts as well as the ramifications if Taiwan were to make a final declare of independence. Former Premier Jiang Zemin formulated one of accounts in the “8- Point Proposal”.

8- Point proposal

  • Adhering to the principle of one China is the basis and prerequisite for peaceful reunification.
  • We do not have objections to the development of nongovernmental economic and cultural ties between Taiwan and other countries.
  • It has been our consistent stand to hold negotiations with Taiwan authorities on the peaceful reunification of the motherland.
  • We shall try our best to achieve the peaceful reunification of China since Chinese should not fight Chinese. We do not promise not to use force.
  • Challenged with world economic development in the 21st century, we shall spare no effect to develop economic exchange and cooperation between the two sides separated by the Taiwan Straits so that both sides enjoy a flourishing economy and the whole Chinese nation benefits.
  • The splendid culture of 5,000 years created by the sons and daughters of all ethnic groups of China has become ties keeping the entire Chinese people close at heart and constitutes an important basis for the peaceful reunification of the motherland.
  • The 21 million Taiwan people, whether born there or in other provinces, are Chinese and our own flesh and blood.
  • We welcome leaders of Taiwan to visit the mainland in their proper status. We also are ready to accept invitations to visit Taiwan.

In 2000, similar points were reiterated by Vice Premier Qian Qichen to send a message to Taiwanese in regards to their voting decision-making:

I. The eight-point proposal is the guiding document and principle for resolving the question of Taiwan at the present stage. The return of Macao to the motherland, following that of Hong Kong in 1997, is one great and firm step closer to the reunification of the motherland. President Jiang’s reunification statement is the guiding document and principle for resolving the Taiwan issue at the present stage.

II. “Taiwan Independence” will only mean a war between the two sides of the Straits.

Over the past decade, the Chinese Government has had to put up heated and repeated struggles against Taiwan’s separatist force led by Lee Teng-hui. Lee has told the world his ultimate goal to split the motherland by advertising the “two-state” theory.

China’s anti-separatist campaign has won widespread support around the world. There is no country in the world that supports or chimes in with Lee’s “two-state” remarks. Lee has failed to overturn the “one China” principle, but instead, has turned himself a “trouble-maker” for the international community. “Taiwan independence” absolutely will not mean peace but a war between the two sides of the Taiwan straits, and compatriots both in Taiwan and the mainland must make concerted efforts to fight against it. The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese Government will never make compromise on safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Separatists in Taiwan must not “play with fire.”

III. The basic principle of “peaceful reunification, and one country, two systems” and the eight-point proposal will be carried out. To realize peaceful reunification, both sides of the Taiwan Straits must adhere to the one China principle and seek ways to solve the differences between them through equal consultations. The mainland side will continue to carry out the basic principle of “peaceful reunification, and one country, two systems” and the eight-point proposal put forward by President Jiang Zemin for an early reunification of the motherland. Policies dealing with the Taiwan issue will be more flexible than those for Hong Kong and Macao to fully meet the aspirations and demands of compatriots in Taiwan. The Taiwan compatriots will finally come to believe that reunification under the “one country, two systems” principle is the best way to safeguard their interests.

IV. On working for the establishment of three direct links. The mainland will continue to promote economic and cultural exchanges, and work for the establishment of direct links in trade, transportation and postal services between the two sides of the straits. No matter what happens, the legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan investors will be protected in the mainland. The mainland is willing to see Taiwan join the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a separate customs territory following the mainland’s entry.

V. About Cross-strait talks. Cross-strait talks under the “one China” principle are a must to seek ways for the peaceful reunification. Topics of the talks can be the “three direct links”, economic relations after the WTO entry of the two sides, the international space for economic, cultural and social activities of Taiwan that suits it, and the political status of the Taiwan authorities.

VI. The question of Taiwan is an internal affair of China. The question of Taiwan is an internal affair of China, and all foreign countries should respect the feeling and will of the Chinese people including Taiwan compatriots. China firmly opposes any foreign force to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, or sell or transfer to Taiwan technologies related to the so-call theater missile defense system. China also strongly opposes the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act of the US Congress.

It is clear how China feels about Taiwan. There is little if any negotiation regarding Taiwanese independence and China accentuates this with the “one country, two systems” policy and by statements such as “the question of Taiwan is an internal affair of China.” With that said, there will be little room for both sides across the Strait to negotiate an independent Taiwan. More so, whether welcomed by Taiwan or not, there are still other factors that play a role in China’s sovereignty over Taiwan; namely, economics, which can ultimately manipulate Taiwan’s economy and stimulate peoples’ motives for wanting to (re) unify with China. 

Economic Factors

Economic integration and interdependence has been a major topic of discussion in Cross-Strait relations since roughly 2001 due to many reasons.  One explanation holds that interdependence deters conflict by raising the opportunity of war. A Second explanation states that interdependence reshapes the domestic political contexts in participating states in ways that reduce the values of goals that can only be attained through conflict. A third explanation posits that economic interdependence makes it easier for states to signal their intentions, and thereby avoid misunderstandings that lead to conflict. The first one, however, will be described most in detail.

There is roughly US $20 billion worth of cross-strait trade, over 5,000 Taiwan funded companies with a total investment of over US $10 billion in the Mainland’s Fujian province, and 9,300 Taiwanese companies with a total investment of US 11.2 billion in the Guangdong province. These numbers are most likely to be even hire since there is most likely a lot of unregistered trade and labor taking place in China. More so, with China becoming Taiwan’s No. 1 export market in 2002, economic interdependence will make Taiwan’s permanent separation from China increasingly improbable, thus reducing the risk of a military conflict.

Economic interdependence has made both sides reliant on each other to the point where it would be suicidal for both economies to engage in war. From a Cross-Strait Relations standpoint, a war across the strait would be so severely damaging to both sides that Beijing would be deterred from launching a military attack on Taiwan except as a very last resort. Apart from bilateral trade, a war would affect China’s trade and business climate as a whole, while economic disruptions and the threat to the sea-lanes would draw in the world’s other major powers that are likely to be more sympathetic to Taipei than Beijing. Taiwan sees that by cooperating more intimately with China economically, peace and security can be further developed across the Strait and peoples’ living standards will increase as well. However, this also means that Taiwan’s economy can be manipulated by Mainland China, which serves as a tool for slowly integrating Taiwan as a whole back with the Mainland. Thus, economic interdependence is becoming the most potent tool for integrating Taiwan more with the mainland and since Taiwan has neglected this aspect to a large extent in the past, as well as facing identity issues and an unchangeable stance of Mainland China, the prospects of being independent are even less today than they were 10 years ago. More so, with international influence being the last “hope” for Taiwan, things appear to be getting even gloomier.

International Influence 

China has always viewed Taiwan as being part of the “Motherland”. Thus, Beijing sees international involvement with cross-strait affairs as highly detrimental to a solution satisfactory to itself and thus claims the moral high ground that insisting that cross-Strait relationship is a domestic affair, which the rest of the world has no right to interfere. The “one country, two systems” model represents the PRC’s willingness to accommodate Taipei’s legitimate concerns and demonstrates its preparedness to exercise maximum flexibility to achieve national reunification. Thus, if Taiwan tries to declare independence, Beijing will react with a military confrontation, resulting in serious ramifications for both sides.

Steve Tsang argues that although the PRC is adamant that Taiwan’s reunification with mainland China is a domestic affair of Chinese about which no foreign power should be allowed to intervene, the future of Taiwan cannot be settled without the international community being involved one way or the other. Peace, stability, good order and security of the Taiwan Strait region are of great interest and significance to the Asia Pacific region and the world economy. Countries ranging from the US, Japan, the two Korea states, and the Southeast Asian countries, to Britain, and other major trading nations have vested interest in preventing a war across the Taiwan Strait and thus, should be more involved.

However in reality, Taiwan cannot count on the US or other countries to come to its aid if it is responsible for provoking the PRC to resort to force, that is, by claiming independence. More so, the US, which is Taiwan’s strongest ally, has been changing its policy towards Taiwan since 1949 in accordance with its national interest. The US is not fundamentally concerned with whether Taiwan should be part of China. It is mainly interested in protecting American investments in and with Taiwan and Mainland China, ensuring that American values will flourish, and persuading the PRC to American values, which will transform itself into a long-term friend with the US. The US hopes that there will be a peaceful solution across the Strait and unless the PRC tries to take back control over Taiwan through military means, then there will be no support for Taiwan’s independence internationally, Therefore, Taiwan should not and could not rely on these premises and international support will is slowly disintegrating due to China’s rising economy and preponderant influence in the world.

Solutions? “The Marriage Counselor” 

Scholars have often viewed cross-Strait relations as a “long separation” between a couple that has had lingering unsolved problems. In some cases, cross-Strait relations have been viewed as a divorce but without the legality behind it. Regardless of what kind of relationship it may be, there has already been 60 years of unsolved issues across the Strait, namely the biggest one being whether Taiwan is an independent country.

Thousands upon thousands of articles and books have been written on this subject and most of them argue from biased viewpoints that are due to the way the authors have been conditioned in their society; that is, the viewpoints they receive from their educational background, their family, their government, and the media. All these factors make up the way a certain people within a given territory experience their lives and they shape peoples’ ideas of what a nation is and what they stand for. But with these beliefs, they can become a hindrance for solving issues such as the divided China issue, for both sides are willing to think outside the box and question what they have been taught and assimilated to and more so, both sides aren’t willing to admit they’re wrong even if proven to be.

More so in Taiwan’s political frame, there are too many polar opposite views for supporting Taiwan’s international position. During the Chen administration there was a lot of disagreement between Taiwan and Mainland China governments as to how they can negotiate the termination of the civil war and how to normalize relations to resolve the divided China problem. The reason for the lack of dialogue is that the DPP government does not agree that Taiwan is part of China, although the ROC’s constitution stipulates just that. The DPP leaders insist that dialogue resume, on the condition that two independent, sovereign states exist on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. More so, there is disagreement between Taiwan’s KMT-led coalition and the DPP-led coalition. They refuse to cooperate with each other because they are unwilling to agree on the principles for how representatives of the ROC and PRC regimes can negotiate to resolve their differences. With these factors added together, Taiwan’s political viewpoints for dealing with Cross-Strait relations will always be fluctuating, thus hindering the development of a resolution.

And this is why there needs to be some kind of international framework for helping Cross-Strait Relations. At least, there should be a third party that will have access to negotiating with both sides in order to further the development of conflict resolution and help diminish the amount of disagreement. A good example would be The United Nations. The UN should be involved more to somehow assess the laws and agreements passed across the strait since the civil war such as The Joint U.S.-China Communique, The Joint Communique on the Establishment of U.S.-PRC Diplomatic Relations, The Taiwan Relations Act, The U.S.-PRC Joint Communique, The Guidelines for National Unification, the Eight Point Policy, and the Anti-Succession Law.

By doing so, the UN will act as a “counselor” between both sides. By listening to what both sides have to say and examining past agreements across the strait, organizations like the UN can thoroughly assess the legitimacy of both sides’ claims regarding sovereignty issues and help them reach an agreement of how the issue of unification will be dealt with. If this is not done, both sides will be continue to exhort an unprecedented amount of energy and resources on resolving an issue that is caught up in political power and not for the well-being of the masses. The sooner that both sides are given an opportunity to constructively debate with each other, the sooner both can move on and begin tackling other issues that will enhance peoples’ lives more.

The UN itself is and always has been an instrument for negotiation as well as a tool for creating peace and cooperation, especially between governments. They are the most supranational force between countries. Maintaining peace and cooperation is crucial across the Taiwan Strait not just for China and Taiwan, but also, for the entire world. The UN unfortunately, has neglected in one-way or another the fact that China is divided and vulnerable to waging war. If China were to wage war with Taiwan, would it be considered as a civil war or other? This question alone is huge, for it incorporates what countries would be involved if a war were to break out across the Strait, which could very well be a WWIII scenario. More so, how would the world economy be affected and would a war across the Strait be considered within international law? With China developing at an unprecedented pace, it is arguably one of, if not the most important factors for economic stability and prosperity in the world. These issues can be problematic if not dealt with and because the rest of the world has been lead to believe to not get involved and to let the issue of a divided China continue to slip by, the world as a whole could be extremely affected by decisions made across the Strait.

Even the US, whose policies for Cross-Strait dilemma are unclear and constantly changing in respect to its own benefit, cannot officially state clearly the guidelines for getting involved. Because of these unclear guidelines as to how to deal with Cross-Strait dilemma within not only the US, but also in other countries around the world as well, discrepancies across the Strait are to a large extent unsolved. Other nations and superpowers are unable to work honestly and productively across the Strait. Even US presidents have even made trips across the world to go to China to promote peace and cooperation with them, but at the same time, providing immense amounts of weapons to Taiwan. This goes completely against what the US originally stood for under Truman when he stated “the US will not pursue a course which will lead to involvement in civil conflict in China. Similarly, the US will not provide military aid or advice to Chinese forces on Formosa.” 14 With countries like the US having motives constantly changing with unregistered guidelines, the ability of nations to solve issues with each other will unfortunately deteriorate unless another organized institution gets involved. This is why international organizations or a third party can play major roles. They help solve treaties and assess agreements between societies and should have a stance for helping nations solve problems, particularly ones related to war. This has been happening for decades within the UN.

With that said, a third actor in Cross-Strait Relations should be taken into consideration. To look at the prospects of a third party actor, one can see that the first example of a modern international organization acting as a liaison was the river commissions in Europe. The Central Rhine commission was created in 1804 by an agreement between France and Germany that set up regulation of river traffic and the maintenance of navigation facilities. The Central Commission has overlooked projects dealing with developments on the river and the construction of structures and until this day ensures the safety of navigation and its environment. A similar structure of this organization could very well be applied to Cross-Strait relations in order to further assess the agreements that have been made and will be made, such as ECFA. If not done, the author is skeptical and worrisome of the roads that lie ahead fears that Cross-Strait dilemma could backfire into a war across the Strait if the PRC were to ever try to take control of Taiwan, whether it be through coercion or not.


It’s important that China solve the issues of Cross-Strait dilemma not only for people who reside across the Taiwan Strait, but also, for the entire world. While the idea of a marriage counselor may seem far-fetched in Cross-Strait relations, the idea of it nevertheless, should not be neglected. When thinking of any discrepancy between two individuals or two groups, there are often times when an outsider or a counselor of sorts who has an unbiased view as well as an open mind comes and listens to what both sides have to say. This can be applied as a third actor in Cross-Strait relations. If the UN doesn’t step in and act accordingly, the future of the Taiwan could Strait could be detrimental to the rest of the world. It needs to be decided whether or not Taiwan is a part of China as well as what actions and procedures will have to take place in order to finally solves this problem. Otherwise, leaving this problem lingering is only going to harm the both sides and the sooner that both sides can sit down and talk constructively with the UN, the better off they’ll be.

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