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History Present Status China's stance Independence debate US Role
Present status

There is disagreement and confusion about what Taiwan is, and even what it should be called. Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China (ROC) government, which fled the mainland to Taiwan in 1949, at first claimed to represent the whole of China, which it intended to re-occupy. It held China's seat on the United Nations Security Council and was recognised by many Western nations as the only Chinese government.

But in 1971, the UN switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing and the ROC government was forced out. Since then the number of countries that recognise the ROC government diplomatically has fallen to less than 30.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it has vowed to retake, by force if necessary. It says the ROC's lack of diplomatic recognition proves that the world agrees there is only one China.

But Taiwan's leaders say it is clearly much more than a province, arguing that it is a sovereign state. It has its own constitution, democratically-elected leaders, and 400,000 troops in its armed forces.

Given the huge divide between these two positions, most other countries seem happy to accept the current ambiguity, whereby Taiwan has most of the characteristics of an independent state, even if its legal status remains unclear.

Nationalist troops retreating from Communist advance, 1949
The nationalists retreated in 1949

Last night's vote should not be considered in terms of victory or defeat, but as an essential step towards a more effective international system
UN Secretary General U Thant, 1971

Full diplomatic relations with 27 countries
Competes in Olympics as Chinese Taipei
Joined World Trade Organization in 2002
Blocked from joining WHO by China


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