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official name: Taiwan, Chung-hua Minkuo

1. names

2. geography

3. administrative division

4. population

5. political parties

6. state system

7. state structure

8. international status

9. Cross-Straits relations

Appendix: ideas for dummies

1. Names: Formosa, Taiwan Province, Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan (1)

Taiwan’s oldest name ‘Formosa’ is attributed to Portugese sailors passing the island on their way to Japan and naming it ‘ilha formosa’, beautiful island.

On January 1, 1912 Sun Yat-sen, chosen as interim president by the provisional national assembly of provincial delegates, proclaimed the establishment of the ‘Republic of China’. At that time the island Taiwan was a Japanese island (2) and thus the name ‘Republic of China’ did not relate to Taiwan.

In 1945 Chiang Kai-shek sent troops to Taiwan to recover it from the Japanese. Until 1949 it had the status and name of ‘Taiwan province’ of the Republic of China. In that year Chiang Kai-shek lost control of the mainland to the communists, and had to flee to Taiwan and install the government of the ‘Republic of China’ there. Taiwan had still the status of a province (3) of this republic-in-exile but represented also the ‘Republic of China’, and thus a double name: Taiwan (province) and Republic of China.

Political and economic developments in the 80s and 90s moved state power away from Chiang Kai-shek’s mainlanders (4) to the Taiwanese (5), and the Kuomintang had to compete for power with the Democratic Progressive Party. Both parties have champions for Taiwan independence who wish to ‘rectify names’(6) and discard the name ‘Republic of China’ for the name ‘Taiwan’(7).

 2. Geography

The area of Taiwan includes the islands Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu (the Pescadores) and some smaller islands and islets.

The total area of Taiwan is 32.260 km² of land and 3.720 km² of water. Taiwan also claims 12 nautical miles territorial sea and 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone. Taiwan island is approximately 394 kilometres long and at its widest point 144 kilometres wide, and has 1566 kilometres coastline The eastern and central part of the country is mountainous, its highest point is mount Yushan (3997 metres), and about two-hundred mountain peaks are over 3000 metres high; the western part is flat.

Taiwan island is situated less than 160 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of China. Since China also claims 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, arise boundary disputes (8) arise, not so much with China (9) which already claims sovereignty over all of Taiwan, but with Chinese fishing-boats (10). More serious boundary disputes arise from the conflicting claims on the Spratley and Paracel Islands (11).

3. Administrative division

Taiwan administers two provinces (sheng): Taiwan and part of Fukien, and two provincial-level municipalities (zhixiashi): Taipei and Kaohsiung. Taiwan province administers Taiwan island and Penghu and is divided into eighteen counties (xian) and five provincial cities (shengguanshi). Fukien province administers two island groups of county level, Kinmen and Matsu.

Administrative hierarchical structure: national level, provinces and provincial-level municipalities, counties and provincial cities, rural townships and urban townships, villages and neighbourhoods.

 4. Population

Total population: 22.708,280 million, density 627,51/km²; birth rate: 8,29 ‰, death rate: 6,13 ‰, population growth: 2,16‰ (12).

Ethnic groups: Taiwanese 84%, mainland Chinese 14%, aborigines 2%. Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese (Minnan), Hakka dialects, aboriginal dialects(13).

 5. Political parties:
Multi-party system since 1989

During Chiang Kai-shek’s reign the ‘Emergency Decree’ put a ban on the formation of new political parties. Political activists were sent to prison. When in 1975 Chiang Kai-Shek died , his son Chiang Ching-kuo succeeded him and became president in 1978 after Yen Chia-kan had served out the remainder of Chiang Kai-Shek’s term.

Under his administration there was a gradual loosening of political controls, culminating in the second half of the eighties with freedom of demonstration, of association and press freedom laid down in new legislation. Most important: the lifting of the ‘Emergency Decree’ on July 15, 1987 and the passing of the ‘Law on civic organizations’ January 20, 1989, thereby legalizing new political parties.

From that date the ‘Democratic Progressive Party’ (DPP), established September 28, 1986, could openly compete for power with the old Kuomingtang (KMT) of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese. There are other new parties, like the ‘People First Party’ but for now only DPP and KMT have great appeal to the electorate, and since the elections in 2000 the DPP got the upper hand (14).

 6. State system:
Republic, parliamentary-presidential system, free elections, democracy

The ‘Constitution of the Republic of China’, adopted January 1, 1947 is the basic document for the Taiwan government. It was drawn up to govern the whole of China. When the KMT government fled to Taiwan in 1949, it was internationally still recognized as the government of all China and it continued to assert that claim until 1991. The repulsion of the ROC from the U.N. and its subsidiaries, its seat and membership given to the People’s Republic of China (1971) and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States (1979) and other western countries and Taiwan, always on the condition of cutting diplomatic relations with the ROC, made it clear that the ROC had to give up its key point of recovering the mainland from the communists. In the end it recognized that it effectively exercised jurisdiction only over Taiwan (province), that is, the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (15). The focus then shifted to the educational and economic development of Taiwan. Chiang Ching-kuo also made the first moves toward political reform. Political reform continued under Lee Teng-hui (16) who steered Taiwan towards full democracy and full enjoyment of the freedoms the Constitution had promised (17).

The transition from a one-party system to a multiparty system, from autocracy to democracy came about by legislation and especially by amendments to the 1947 Constitution, in the form of additional articles, in 1991 (18), 1992 (19), 1994 (20), 1997 (21), 1999 (22), 2000 (23) and 2005 (24).

The question whether Taiwan will have a parliamentary or presidential state system is still open, as the current system is a sort of combination of the two: the president has the first word and the legislative combined with the judicial council the last word (25).

7. State structure

According to the constitution Taiwan is a republic with a national assembly (26), a president and vice-president and five branches of government (27): the executive council (cabinet), the legislative council (parlement), the judicial council, the examination council and the control council. The additional articles/amendments to the Constitution have allowed for a transfer of most functions of the national assembly and some functions of the control council to the legislative council, and strengthened the powers of the president.

The additional articles of 1994 transferred the right to elect the president and the vice-president from the national assembly to the people of Taiwan.

The five additional articles of 2005 halved the seats of the legislative council from 225 to 113 seats; enlarged the number of constituencies from 29 to 73, with single representatives and two ballot ‘first past the post’ elections; elimination of the national assembly; ratification of future constitutional amendments, if approved by a three-quarter majority in the legislative council, by a national referendum and passed if endorsed by 50% of registered voters; and transfer of the power to impeach the president and the vice-president to the legislative council and the Grand Judges of the judicial council.

According to the amendments of 2005 the state structure is now: a president and vice-president and five branches of government. There are plans in the make to reduce the five councils to three, legislative, executive and judicial, eliminating the examination and control councils. That will be a hard nut to crack because of the new ratification procedure for future constitutional revisions introduced by the amendments.

8. International status of Taiwan:
Status quo versus independence

8.1. status quo

The international status of Taiwan is a controversial issue. The DPP and the KMT take opposite positions: the DPP favours eventual independency of China, the KMT favours reunification with China, whenever the Chinese Communist Party-PRC should hand the power over China back to the KMT-ROC. As Taiwan has its own parliament, cabinet and judiciary, and governs itself, it is de facto an independent country. But China considers Taiwan de jure as part of its own territory and insists on its reunification with the mainland. To prevent an outright war (28), China, Taiwan and its protector, the United States, all oppose any unilateral action that alters the actual status of the island. But they interpret this ‘status quo’ differently.

China defines the ‘status quo’ of the cross-straits relations as a synonym for the one-China policy, that both sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one and the same China, with the eventual reunification of Taiwan with its motherland. But it will not respect the status quo indefinitely, and reserves the right to employ and execute non-peaceful means should ‘secessionist forces’ cause Taiwan’s secession from China or in case all attempts at peaceful reunification should fall flat (29).

Taiwan defines the ‘status quo’ as a synonym for Taiwan’s independence as a de facto independent country within specified boundaries(30), with a permanent population, a government exercising exclusive control over its territory, and formal and informal bilateral diplomatic relations with many countries and membership in a number of international organisations like APEC, ADB, WTO and IOC(31).

The United States, acknowledging but not recognizing China’s claim on Taiwan, define the ‘status quo’ as factual independence though not internationally recognized legal independence. All parties should tolerate indefinitely Taiwan’s ambiguous status of de facto independence until Taiwan and China can agree on a peaceful resolution of their dispute.

8.2. independence

‘Taiwan independence’ is a political movement for the creation of a sovereign ‘Republic of Taiwan’, seeking international recognition as a de jure independent country, separate from any concept of China. The movement started in 1895 when Japan began to rule the island, and intensified under the rule of the mainlanders because of the 1947 massacre and the discrimination (32) of Taiwanese people. As Taiwan over the years developed into a prosperous and democratically governed country, with real constitutional freedoms for all, Taiwanese and mainlanders, the prospect of reunification with the dictatorial and relatively poor mainland was far from attractive. Symbols of the movement are using the name Taiwan instead of Republic of China, promoting the use of the Taiwanese language and rewriting history books to focus exclusively on Taiwan.

Another interpretation of ‘Taiwan independence’ is acceptance of the status quo, that Taiwan is de facto an independent country under the official name of Republic of China, separate from China. For the DPP independence and sovereignty are identical, the KMT makes a distinction and will maintain the sovereignty of the Republic of China but opposes Taiwan independence.

The PRC defines ‘Taiwan independence’ as splitting Taiwan from China. The PRC holds that in 1949 the Republic of China was replaced by the PRC as the legitimate government, so assertions that the Republic of China is still a sovereign state and therefore independent are unacceptable, as are proposals to bury the Republic of China and change the name to Taiwan. Instead the PRC adheres to the ‘status quo’, that there is only one China and both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China. Basis for peaceful national reunification is the acceptance of the one-China principle. If no peaceful reunification is possible, China will resort to non-peaceful means to bring reunification about, that is by force of arms (33).

The majority of the people in Taiwan want the ‘status quo’, whatever the definition, not reunification because Taiwan’s position in the union is uncertain, nor a declaration of independence because in that case China’s angry reaction is certain (34). But whether China will react with words or indeed with arms is less certain. If China resorted to war, Taiwan’s ally, the United States, could find there an alibi to enter the war and crush China’s economic and political expansion and growing influence as a second world power (35).

9. Cross-Straits relations:
principles and facts

China’s basic principle is that there is only one China, i.e. the People’s Republic of China which in 1949 succeeded to the ‘Republic of China’ and that Taiwan is therefore a renegade province (36) of the People’s Republic of China. In 1950 the PRC intended to ‘liberate’ Taiwan by military force, but repeated naval engagements resulted in heavy losses. The Korean War 1950 till 1953, with the Seventh Fleet of the United States deployed to Taiwan, and the mutual defence treaty between the U.S. and Taiwan, made military liberation of Taiwan not a realistic option. In 1956 Zhou En-lai proposed peace negotiations and asked the Taiwan authorities to set a date and a place. Taiwan replied with five conditions for negotiations, e.g. that land, commercial and industrial enterprises and other private property be returned to the owners, prisoners in concentration camps be released, that the political authority in Peking be annulled and transfer its loyalty to the Republic of China (37)! After the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the PRC renewed its efforts for reunification with declaration after declaration (38) and diplomatic manoeuvring blocking Taiwan’s membership of international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) (39) and refusing to maintain diplomatic relations with any country that recognises the Republic of China.

Most countries want favourable diplomatic relations with China because of its cheap labour and potentially big market. They uphold China’s official line and cut (official) diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The exclusion from organizations of the United Nations is a consequence of the 1971 U.N. declaration that the representatives of the government of the PRC are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations (40). The refusal of the WHO to give Taiwan information during the SARS-epidemic (41) and the enterovirus epidemic (42) on the ground that Taiwan was not a member or observer of the WHO - no wonder since the WHO repeatedly turned down Taiwan’s bid to join -, was illogical and against the WHO constitution which declares that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”(43). During the 2005 session the WHO even signed a memorandum of understanding with the PRC, declaring Taiwan’s bid a “domestic Chinese (i.e. PRC – issue (44), thereby endorsing the ‘one China’ policy. But the ‘One-China’ is just a policy, it is not a description of present-day reality. All China’s declarations, diplomatic manoeuvres and threats mask its impotency to come to terms with facts and find a political formula that could be acceptable to both countries.

Taiwan’s basic principle is that “the ‘Republic of China is an independent, sovereign state’. This opening sentence of the six-point statement of President Chen Shuibian (45) regarding China’s “anti-separation law”, continues “Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan and only the 23 million people of Taiwan may decide to change the future of Taiwan”. Clearly, the ‘Republic of China’ and ‘Taiwan’ are seen as identical. The process of the formulation and passage of the anti-separation law is seen as proof of the institutional differences between  the two sides, between democratic and undemocratic, between peaceful end non-peaceful. For the president the “anti-separation law” is undemocratic and un-peaceful in that the law expressly stipulates the use of violence to infringe the basic rights and interests of other people. By this law the Chinese government would unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. This has a negative impact on the cross-strait relations which lately were showing signs of improvement. Taiwan’s position in the dispute “reconciliation but not flinching, standing firm yet avoid confrontation”. “We have been happy to share our developmental experiences in all areas”, but what people on the other side of the Strait need most, are three special products of Taiwan that we are most happily to share: our democratic system, complete freedom and protection of human rights”. And indeed, Taiwan has been a key factor in China’s economic transformation, moving industries and services to the mainland at astonishing speed. In the 1970s and 1980s, the light-industrial firms moved their toy, textile, electrical appliances and footwear factories to Fujian and Guangdong because they needed cheap labour to remain competitive. In the 1990s, Taiwan’s high-tech and IT firms followed for the same reason. Most Taiwanese motherboard makers, computer-chip factories, desktop computers and notebooks manufacturers moved their production lines to China (Acer, Mitac, and contractors for Dell, HP etc.). Investments have shifted from Fujian and Guangdong to Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze River Delta. Entrepreneurs in Taiwan are concentrating on high-tech research, development and design, in cooperation with Taiwan’s universities.

Globalisation, fierce international competition, and the complementarity of the two sides have led to an informal integration of their economies. The shift to China causes great concern to Taiwanese political and business leaders. Political leaders are careful, without economic independence Taiwan’s political independence is at risk. The business leaders are concerned because of the danger of politico-economic blackmail.

The cross-straits relations remain as volatile as ever. As long as Taiwan’s political independence is not accepted, this trend is not likely to change.

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1) This namelist is not exhaustive. In international organisations it is pressed to assume the name of Taipei, China, Chinese Taipei, or: separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei); for the fine political distinction between Taipei, China (Zhongguo Taibei) and Chinese Taipei (Zhonghua Taibei), see:
2) In art.2 of the peace treaty of 1895 ending the sino-japanese war over Korea, China had permanented ceded its souvereignty over Taiwan (under its old name
of Formosa), all islands pertaining to it, and the Pescadores to Japan, see. the English text of the treaty in: and When China ceded Taiwan to Japan,
islanders declared the island independent naming it the ‘Taiwan Democratic Republic’; it was soon crushed by the Japanese army, but armed resistance of the
Taiwanese against the Japanese occupation went on for years.
3) the status has changed over time:;;;,
4) Chinese who came to Taiwan following World War II (waishengren)
5) Hokkien and Hakka Chinese who came to Taiwan before World War II (benshengren)
6) allusion to Confucius, Analects 13.3
7); Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan; Taiwan and Republic of China are syonyms; no change:;;; Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan instead of Republic of China:
8) Info in: and
9) Hoping to find oil reserves China did send survey and exploration ships into Taiwanese waters,, Taiwan reacted with checking their movements plus verbal protests; a case of diesel smuggling Chinese ship entered a Taiwanese fishing boat was solved by
Info on the Spratley Islands:; info on the Paracel Islands:
Min (Minnan) is the southern Fujian dialect of the Hokkien Chinese; more info in the population and language folders
14) info in the biography and political parties folders; on the DPP see:
LYNN ROBBROECKX, Politieke aardverschuiving in Taiwan, de Democratische Progressieve Partij aan de macht, sinology master thesis, Leuven, 2002
15) the ‘free area’of the constitutional amendment of 1992
16) Lee Teng-hui is a Hakka-Taiwanese and a member of the Presbyterian Church. It means that Taiwan is the first consideration with Lee. The Presbyterian Church is a stout defender of Taiwan independence, and so is Lee.
For his background and ideas, see:
organization of regular elections for the national assembly and the legislative council, decided by an extraordinary session of the first national assembly. According to art.28 of the Constitution there had to be elections every six years. But the members elected in the 1947 mainland elections held their seats, in accordance with a 1954 ruling of the Judicial Council, until new elections could be held in mainland China, which meant indefinitely, after the flight to Taiwan free mainland elections had become impossible. In 1989 a law on the voluntary retirement of senior parliamentarians was passed, but the law was not implemented. Therefore a 1990 ruling of the Judicial Council, effective December 1991, forced all remaining ‘indefinitely’ elected members of the national assembly and the five councils to hand in their resignation. In December 1991 the second national assembly of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) was elected.
election of the president and the vice-president by the people in the free area of the Republic of China (i.e. Taiwan) for a term of four years and possibly for
a second term of four years; election of the municipality mayors by popular vote; nominations and, with the consent of the national assembly, appointments for the judicial council, the examination council and the control council by the President of the ROC.

20) election of the president and vice-president by nationwide direct vote; counter-signature of the premier not required on presidential orders to appoint or
discharge personnel that was appointed with the consent of the national assembly or the legislative council; text in:

21) Presidential orders to appoint or remove from office the president of the executive council or personnel appointed with the consent of the national assembly or legislative council, and to dissolve the legislative council, do not require the counter-signature of the president of the executive council. The control council has the power to start impeachment procedures against public functionaries, but the power to impeach the president or vice-president is transferred to the legislative council and only possible for high treason or rebellion. Taiwan provincial elections shall be suspended; members of the provincial government will be nominated by the president of the of the executive council and appointed by the President of the ROC; text in
22) Extension of the term of national assembly delegates from May 2000 to June 2002. Due to the controversial nature of the tenure extension, constitutional interpretation was requested and the Council of Grand Justices in its Constitutional Interpretation No. 499 on March 24, 2000, announced that the Additional Articles of the Constitution approved on September 15, 1999, were void, effective immediately, and the revised Additional Articles promulgated on July 21, 1997 would remain in effect
23) text in:
e.g., and the power of impeachment, supra note 19; for the old procedure, see
26) the amendments of 2005 transferred its last remaining powers, a. the vote on amendment proposals to the voters in a national referendum, b. the impeachment of the president and vice-president to the legalislative and judicial councils
27) yuan, English translation council, German translation Rat. There are plans in the making for streamlining the government structure at the next revision of the constitution and replace the five branch system by a three-branch system of the legislative council (parliament), the executive council (cabinet) and the judicial council (the supreme court)
28) which eventually could lead to the use of nuclear bomb: see:; but China will not exclude eventual use of nuclear bombs against USA-cities:,0,89656.column?coll=la-util-op-ed
29) Art.8-9 Anti-secession Law 14.3.2005; this law is the legal formula for China’s definition of the status quo. Chinese text and translations of the Anti-secession Law can be found in the links folder government-foreign relations.
30) the free area, supra note 15
31) cf. Montevideo Convention art.1: the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. Condition d) requires the ‘capacity’ only, not actual relations, according the explicit statement in art. 3 of the convention: the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts. Text of the convention in the links folder government-international status
32) The mainlainders sent to accept the surrender of the Japanese were arrogant and corrupt, Taiwanese lost their jobs to incompetent mainlanders and were constantly harassed. When they protested and demonstrated the KMT governor sent the army, killing 20.000 Taiwanese,; under Chiang Kai-shek and until the second half of the eighties Taiwanese people were excluded from the political and economic power centres, only mainlanders had political functions and privileges.
33) see the Anti-secession Law, passim
34) see the Anti-secession Law; info:;

35) Bush irrationaly wages war: Afghanistan, Irak, eventually Iran, eventually Northern Korea, eventually China, landing his people in a quagmire of fiascos. There are three irrational factors that could press China’s leaders to start a war to capture Taiwan: 1. the negation of the different historical development of China and Taiwan leading to fundamental differences in the realities of their respective state systems, 2.the military who wish to show off their strength and 3. the ultra-nationalism of the youngsters fed on them by education. But for now Chinese leaders follow a different strategy. Making Taiwan economically dependent on China, and to use that dependency as a weapon to have Taiwan returning to the fold. Pushing international isolation of Taiwan, to make sure that no other country will come to its aid. If all that does not work, they will use the army to bring reunification about, cf. supra note 28. With the Olympics in sight, that is not for now, and at any time surrealistic because China risks a lot in such a war, grave economic consequences, social instability and possibly nuclear retaliation by the U.S.
36) info:;,13675,501040315-598584,00.html;;
37) info in the “Special Report” on the political war between Peking and Taipei, published in the Febrary-March 1979 issue of Monsoon, a magazine that no longer exists, and as there was no copyright notice, I copied the text in the appendix to the government-foreign relations folder
38) January 1, 1979 a message from the Standing Committee of the Fifth National People’s Congress to compatriots in China; September 30, 1981 a statement of Ye Jianying on Taiwan’s return to the motherland; June 26, 1983 the ‘Six Conceptions” of Deng Xiaoping for the peaceful reunification between the mainland and Taiwan; January 30, 1995 the “Eight-point proposal” for the reunification of China of Jiang Zemin; January 28, 2005, the speech by vice-premier Qian Qichen on “adhering to the basic policy of peaceful reunification and one country-two systems, and energetically promotion of Cross-Straits relations”; and March 4, 2005 Hu Jintao’s Four-point Guideline”on cross-Straits relations. All documents to be found in the linksfolder government-foreign relations.
39) Gao Qiang, Minister of Health of the PRC, Statement at the 58th World Health Assembly on the Taiwan-related proposal:

40) source:
41) 30 deaths which possibly could have been prevented by timely information
42) the epidemic caused the death of 70 children
43) § 3 of the Preamble, text in:
44) The WHO is the only international organization which denies the existence of Taiwan as a separate entity. It is a purely political decision of the WHO for
the pleasure of the PRC
Chen Shuibian, Six-point statement regarding China's "Anti-separation law", 21.3.2005


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