Australia: Why does China want Taiwan when it's already so big and rich? The answer is about more than land and money

Pelosi leaves Taiwan to sound of Chinese fury

  Pelosi leaves Taiwan to sound of Chinese fury "Those who play with fire will not come to a good end," warns China's foreign minister after the visit.Ms Pelosi - the most senior US politician to visit in 25 years - departed on Wednesday after meeting leaders in the capital Taipei.

There's a long history of tension between China and Taiwan and the global ramifications of this are complicated — even for experts keeping up with every development.

China has never recognised Taiwan's government, viewing it as a breakaway province.

It had set a deadline to unite the mainland with the island by 2049, but things appear to be heating up now.

This week China put out a document detailing plans for "reunification" after a week of conducting military drills near the island

Here's a quick guide to get you up to speed on the situation.

Why does China want Taiwan?

There's a few reasons here.

The key ones are that China wants to reinforce its dominance as a global superpower and consolidate its power.

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China published a white paper (a term used for a government report or authoritative guide) called The Taiwan Question and China's Reunification in the New Era.

In it, China said reunifying with Taiwan was the only way to:

"...foil the attempts of external forces to contain China, and to safeguard the sovereignty, security, and development interests of our country."

This would fuel the Chinese government's push for rising nationalism.

There's also the matter of Taiwan's geography — being able to set up bases further into the Pacific Ocean would extend China's military reach and intimidate nations in the region.

Controlling Taiwan would disrupt the US geographical security concept known as the "island chain strategy", which is essentially a barrier of islands between the Chinese mainland and the Western Pacific ocean.

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If China controlled Taiwan, it could then control Asia's major shipping routes, the Australian Institute of International Affairs says.

And let's not forget about money.

Taiwan's gross domestic product was nearly $US790 billion in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook from April.

While it points out this pales in comparison to China's $17.5 trillion, the white paper highlights the economic advantages of reclaiming Taiwan:

"Taiwan boasts a high level of economic growth, industries with distinctive local features, and robust foreign trade.

"Its economy is highly complementary with that of the mainland."

On top of this, China says there are "profound historical and cultural ties" with Taiwan, which it says dates back to at least 230AD.

The white paper says it's an "indisputable fact" that Taiwan is part of China:

"The fact that we have not yet been reunified is a scar left by history on the Chinese nation."

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China says it wants a peaceful reunification and a "One Country, Two Systems" approach which it says would protect the rights of Taiwanese citizens who would "enjoy a high degree of autonomy as a special administrative region".

And yet, the white paper warns China will take "drastic measures" to reclaim the island as a last resort to "compelling circumstances":

"... we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures."

What do Taiwanese people think?

During his address at the National Press Club earlier this week, China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian said he believed the "majority of the people in Taiwan believe they're Chinese".

But a poll by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council last year says that's not the case.

It found only 1.6 per cent of Taiwanese people said they supported unification with China.

However, only 6.8 per cent said Taiwan should declare independence as soon as possible.

Most people — a whopping 84.9 per cent — supported maintaining the "status quo".

Why wouldn't Taiwan want to be part of China?

Taiwan democratically elects its leaders, so citizens have a say on the local laws and how the self-ruled island is run.

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China is an authoritarian state run by the Communist party — a very different and much more restrictive system of government.

There's also the complicated history of China and Taiwan.

Early last century, civil war raged between the ruling Nationalists (Republic of China) and Communists (People's Republic of China).

After losing the war decades later, the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan in 1949, but continued to maintain it was the legitimate government of the whole of China — and it continues to do so in the Constitution of the Republic of China.

What does Australia think about this?

Australia's official stance is that Taiwan is a province of China, as per what's described as our "one China policy" on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

That means that Australia doesn't recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state.

However, it "strongly supports" the development of economic and cultural ties with Taiwan on an unofficial basis.

Based on the latest commentary, political leaders from both sides want things to stay as they are.

Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles called for calm from China, which had been holding "deeply concerning" military drills close to Taiwan:

"What we need to be seeing is a de-escalation of tensions.

"It is critical for the region and it is critical that we return to a much more peaceful and normal set of behaviours in the region."

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also said he supported maintaining the status quo:

"A population of 26 million people are living peacefully and we want that to continue.

"I want there to be a respect for the current situation and nobody's advocating anything different from that."

China's massive. Can't it just take Taiwan if it wants?

Absolutely not, defence strategist and recently retired Australian Army major general Mick Ryan says:

"The studies by both the [Chinese Communist Party] and the United States over the last few years have indicated that they probably need to put at least half a million soldiers on the ground to have any success in this.

"The Chinese would have to have a lot of boots on the ground to have any chance of success.

"I don't know that the Chinese really are capable of this."

He also said the distance between Taiwan and mainland China is beneficial for the Taiwanese:

"Their geography — 200km off the coast of China — makes it a difficult proposition for the Chinese, but also the physical terrain in Taiwan is easily defendable.

"Two hundred kilometres of ocean might not seem a lot in the modern era, but it is a very, very significant gap for any invasion force to cross or even any blockading force to sustain its presence in for a long period of time.

"It's not clear to me that the Chinese are actually up to this when there will be resistance to such an activity."

Would it be bad for China to take Taiwan?

That depends on where you come from — China, obviously, thinks it would be a great thing.

But Mr Ryan says the geographical location of Taiwan makes it very important, militarily speaking.

If China controlled Taiwan, it would have a strategic advantage and that could impact security in the region:

"Particularly in a maritime sense, but for a range of reasons, Taiwan being possessed by China would be a military catastrophe in the Western Pacific."

Taiwan had the upper hand in the 60s, now China knows its power .
China has gone from being an impoverished nation unable to repel Taiwan's propaganda missions to posing the greatest threat to peace in Asia in generations. For the past two weeks, the People's Liberation Army has harassed Taiwan's median line, sending missiles over the democratic island, destroyers to surround its territorial waters and warplanes to simulate attacks on its defence forces. The visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - seen as an insult to Beijing's sovereignty - gave China the excuse to practise a military blockade.

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