Taiwan’s history with China and the feud explained amid Nancy Pelosi’s visit

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Nancy Pelosi meets with the President of Taiwan (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi meets with the President of Taiwan (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Nancy Pelosi, US Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has visited Taiwan, becoming the highest-ranking American official to do so in 25 years.

The visit has heightened tensions with China, with Beijing warning that Washington would “pay the price” for her visit.

Ms Pelosi met with Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, which is officially called the Republic of China.

During the meeting, Ms Pelosi said: “Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy.

“America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad.”

But what is Taiwan’s relationship with China and why has Ms Pelosi’s visit angered Chinese officials?

Where is Taiwan?

Taiwan is an island sound 100 miles from south east China. Japan lies to the north east of the island and the Philippines are to the south.

Its capital city is Taipei City, and the island has a population of around 23 million people.

Taiwan has a population of around 23 million people. (AFP via Getty Images)
Taiwan has a population of around 23 million people. (AFP via Getty Images)

Is Taiwan a part of China?

Taiwan considers itself to be an independent country, while China sees the island as a breakaway province.

Taiwan was first under Chinese control in the 17th century, under the Qing dynasty. But in 1895, China gave the island to Japan after losing the Sino-Japanese war. When Japan lost World War II in 1945, China took Taiwan again.

Then, a civil war broke out in mainland China, between the nationalist government and the Communist Party. The Communists won and took control of Beijing in 1949. The nationalist party fled to Taiwan and ruled from there.

China says that Taiwan was originally a Chinese province. But Taiwan argues that it was never part of either the modern Chinese state that was formed in 1911 following the Xinhai Revolution that ended China’s last imperial dynasty, nor the People’s Republic of China that was established in 1949.

Which countries recognise Taiwan?

Most countries do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state and China puts diplomatic pressure on other countries to avoid doing anything that would imply recognition.

Only 13 countries (plus Vatican City) recognise Taiwan as a sovereign country.

They are Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines, in South America.

In Africa, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), recognises Taiwan, as does Oceania’s Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu.

Vatican City also recognises Taiwan, and is the only state in Europe to do so.

Why has Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan heightened tensions?

China is aiming for “reunification” with Taiwan, and hopes to bring the island under Beijing’s control. It has put pressure on the leaders of other countries to avoid recognising Taiwan as an independent country.

But in an opinion piece posted in the Washington Post, Ms Pelosi praised Taiwan’s commitment to democratic government and criticised China as having dramatically increased tensions with the island in recent years.

China has said there would be “serious consequences” for Ms Pelosi’s visit.

Wu Qian, a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said that the military was on “high alert” and would launch a “series of targeted military operations” to “resolutely defend China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

He said that China would “thwart any external interference and ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist attempts”, and accused Ms Pelosi of “severely harming the relationship between the Chinese and US military forces”.

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