Mar 25, 2008




         To download Taiwan's profile, click the image above.        


Status: De facto State in Eastern Asia
Population: 22,974,347 (CIA World Factbook  - July 2009 est.)
Capital City:Taipei
Area: 35,980 km² (CIA World Factbook 2009)
Language: Mandarin (main language), Minnan (also known as Hoklo or Taiwanese), Hakka and indigenous languages 
Religion: Combination of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (93%), Christianity (4.5%) and other religions (2.2%)
Ethnic Groups: Hoklo (70%), Hakka (14%), Mainland Chinese (14%), Indigenous peoples (14 tribes: Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Pinuyumayan, Rukai, Saisiyat, Sakizaya, Sediq, Thao, Truku, Tsou and Yami) (2%)

UNPO REPRESENTATION: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

Taiwan is represented at the UNPO by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD). Taiwan is a founding member of the UNPO having joined the organization on 11 February 1991; TFD has served as Taiwan’s representative since 2006.



The island of Taiwan, meaning ‘terrace bay’, lies some 120 kilometers off the southeastern coast of mainland China, across the Taiwan Strait, and has an area of 35, 980km². It is surrounded by the East China Sea to the North, the Philippines Sea to the East, and the Luzon Strait to the South.

Taiwan’s population of approximately 23 million includes the island’s first aboriginal inhabitants that comprise 14 recognized Indigenous peoples (2%), mainlanders who emigrated from China after 1949 (14%), and the majority “native Taiwanese” (including both Hoklo and Hakka) who are descendants of Chinese who came to Taiwan during the 17th and 19th centuries (84%).Taiwan, whose official name according to the Constitution is the Republic of China (ROC), is a multiparty democracy seeking full participation in international forums such as the World Health Organization and ultimately membership in the United Nations. Since 1991, the Government of Taiwan has renounced its claim to represent all of China, stating that instead it represents the people of Taiwan. Taiwan’s main concern remains its difficult relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which claims that Taiwan is part of its territory and that it has the “right” to use force against Taiwan whenever it sees fit.

Taiwan is well known around the world for its successes first in economic development, and more recently in democratization. However, as a result of its lack of UN membership and recognition by most major states, coupled with the threat posed by China, it remains in a precarious state in the international arena, which prevents the Taiwanese people from being able to fully enjoy their newfound prosperity and human rights. 



Just after the Communist Revolution in China in 1949 and the consequent withdrawal of the Nationalist Party (often referred to by its Chinese name, Kuomintang, or the short form KMT) to Taiwan, Taiwan endured 38 years under a military rule headed by Chiang Kai-shek and his son.

Starting from 1987, Taiwan’s political system began to liberalize and enter a democratization process with the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 1986 as the first genuine opposition party. Among other issues, the party advanced the right of self-determination for the people of Taiwan, thus resurfacing the issue of the political status of Taiwan, a previously taboo question.

Despite the severe pressure and military threats from the PRC, Taiwanese held their first direct presidential election in 1996, re-electing Lee Teng-hui of the KMT. The DPP received 44% of the votes in the legislative elections of 1997 and the second direct presidential election of 2000 saw the victory of DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian, bringing about the first transfer of executive power away from the KMT.

In 2004, President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected for a second (and last, under the constitutional term limits) presidential term; however later the same year the DPP failed to gain a majority in parliamentary elections.

In recent years, there has been an increased polarization of politics in Taiwan between two main political camps, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its allies (the so-called Pan-Blue Coalition) the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its allies (the so-called Pan-Green Coalition.

In the 2008 presidential elections, Ma Ying-jeou from the KMT was elected with an electoral program based on establishing a ‘diplomatic truce’ with the PRC, beginning with high-level talks on agreements on trade and travel that included the first direct flights from the ROC to the PRC in July 2008.

Despite the progressive normalization of the situation, the PRC’s military buildup across the Taiwan Strait remains a major concern. Since the 1990s, when Taiwan renounced its claim to represent mainland China and decided to pursue its own political identity, the extent and quality of Chinese armaments explicitly deployed for a conflict over Taiwan has only increased. For example, as estimated by the US Annual Report on military expenditures from PRC, 50 more missiles are deployed targeting Taiwan every year, and now there are probably over 1,300 deployed in the region. These forces have been used to intimidate Taiwan notably in 1995 and 1996, when unarmed M-9 ballistic missiles were launched across the Taiwan Strait.

Even if the relationship between Beijing and Taipei is more stable in 2009 than it has been over the past years, it is not clear that this apparent truce will last forever. China has not renounced its “right” to use force to prevent Taiwan’s independence, nor discussed amending its anti-secession law (enacted in 2005 to provide legal justification for the use of force against Taiwan), nor withdrawn any missiles that are currently pointed at Taiwan.



Taiwan is now a multiparty democracy with a semi-presidential system.  The central government consists of the Office of the President and five separate branches, called “Yuan” (literally courts or councils): the Executive Yuan, the Legislative Yuan, the Judicial Yuan, the Examination Yuan, and the Control Yuan.

Executive Yuan

The Executive Yuan has a Premier and Vice-Premier that control eight ministries and 31 ministerial-level organizations. All ministers appointed by the ROC President with recommendation of the Premier Since September 2009, the current head of government or Premier (President of the Executive Yuan) is Wu Den-yih and the Vice Premier (Vice President of Executive Yuan) is Eric Li-luan Chu. Executive branch functions are exercising the control of subordinated agencies and working with administrative policies and legislative tasks together with the Legislative Yuan. 

Since May 2008, the current chief of State is the President Ma Ying Jeou, with Vincent Siew as the Vice-President. According to the constitution, President and Vice-president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms and they may only be re-elected to serve one consecutive term. The last election was held on 22 March 2008 when has Ma Ying Jeou (KTM) obtained 58.45% of the votes and the second candidate, Frank Hsieh (DPP), received 41.55%. Electoral participation was very high, around 13.22 million people, equivalent to 76.33 percent of Taiwan’s voters. The ROC’s next presidential elections are scheduled for March 2012.

Legislative Yuan

Parliament is comprised of unicameral Legislative Yuan serving four-year terms. The new electoral system is based on a Single-Member District of two votes. The two ballots consist of one cast for a district or indigenous-constituency candidate and the other (at-large ballot) for a political party. The 113 parliamentary seats are thus allocated according to the following distribution: 73 seats for district members elected by popular vote, 34 at-large members elected on basis of proportion of nationwide votes received by participating political parties, 6 elected by popular vote among aboriginal populations. Parties must receive 5% of vote to qualify for at-large seats and at least 50% of a party’s at-large legislators must be women. The current speaker of the Parliament is Wang Jin-pyng.

The last legislative elections were held 12 January 2008. As a result KMT received 81 seats, DPP received 27, and minor parties and independents received 5 seats. The next elections are to be held in January 2012.

Judicial Yuan

The 15 justices of the Judicial Yuan, including that body’s president and vice president, are nominated and appointed by the president of the Republic with the consent of the Legislative Yuan. Justices serve single terms of eight years. In 2007, 373 petition cases were handled while 13 interpretations were rendered. ROC judiciary power has three levels: District Courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court.

Control Yuan

The Control Yuan exercises the powers of impeachment, censure, and audit. The 29 Control Yuan members (including its president and vice president) are nominated and appointed by the ROC president with the consent of the Legislative Yuan for a term of six years, which may be renewed. The Constitution empowers the Control Yuan to institute impeachment proceedings against public officials (except for the president and the vice president of the Republic, whose impeachments are responsibility of an ad hoc Constitutional Court).

Examination Yuan

The Examination Yuan is in charge for the nation’s civil service system. At the end of 2007, there were 336,842 civil servants in Taiwan. Although the majority (62.74 percent) were male, authorities affirmed that an increasing number of women have joined the civil service in recent years.


UNPO believes that Taiwan should be allowed to fully participate in the United Nations, as well as all its specialized agencies. Denying Taiwan’s international recognition is preventing Taiwanese people from their right to self-determination and thus constitutes a violation of international law.

A non-violent and democratic solution to all disputes with People’s Republic of China (PRC) must be both countries’ priority; therefore UNPO condemns the permanence and increase of Chinese military presence in the Taiwan Strait as well as the Anti-Secession Law (2005),that purports to grant China the right to use force against any attempt of independence coming from Taiwan.

UNPO commends Taiwan’s government democratization efforts and its work in contributing to a flourishing democratization of the Asia-Pacific region. UNPO also welcomes the country’s attempts to embrace its indigenous peoples and to build a more inclusive and open society.



Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) was initiated in 2002 by the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was formally created in 2003 as an independent, non-profit and non-partisan organization. TFD is governed by fifteen trustees and five supervisors who represent political parties, the government, academics, non-governmental organizations and the business sector. Its current president is Szu-chien Tsu, the Chairman is Jia-Chyuan Su, and the Vice-Chairman is david Tawei Lee.

The TFD is the first national democracy assistance organization in Asia, making grants to non-governmental and non-profit organizations at home and abroad to support projects that promote democracy and human rights. In addition to consolidating Taiwan's democracy and its commitment to human rights, the TFD works to join forces with related organizations around the world, though advocacy projects, research programs, conferences, publications and educational programs.



Despite scarce documentation on the matter, pre-historical human activity in Taiwan has been studied through archaeological records. Taiwanese prehistoric culture lasted for more than fifteen thousand years, from the late Paleolithic Age to the Iron Age. These prehistoric cultures were scattered in various areas in Taiwan, distributed in 1,000 different known sites that are considered to form at least more than 10 distinct cultures which appeared at different times. Anthropological evidence indicates links with the prehistoric cultures of the Philippines and Indonesia, and indeed many scholars believe that Taiwan is the ancestral homeland of all the Austronesian peoples.

Towards the end of the prehistoric period, there is evidence that some of these peoples conducted trade with coastal regions of China. At the time of the first well-documented contacts in the 17th century, there were at least 20 tribes, including the 14 currently recognized plus several which were assimilated wholly or partially by later Chinese immigrants.

Despite the existence of a small number of Chinese texts which some consider to indicate knowledge of Taiwan from the 3rd century, the island was not formally documented before the 16th century. At the time of the Age of Exploration, Taiwan was part of the newly discovered maritime routes linking Europe to the East. In 1542, Portuguese sailors came across a non-identified island and they called it: ‘Ilha Formosa’, meaning “beautiful island”. In 1624 the Dutch established a commercial base on the island, the East India Company working with sugarcane and rice plantation for exportation. At that time the Dutch encouraged the first significant emigration from mainland China as a source of labor. 


During the clashes between Ming and Ching Dynasties in China, the pirate warlord Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga) defeated the Dutch and took control of Taiwan in 1662. Taiwan became incorporated into the Chinese Empire in 1683, when Zheng’s successor was defeated by the Ching Empire. The island was partially invaded by during the Sino-French War of 1884-5, stimulating the Ching government to formally include Taiwan into Chinese territory as a province within the Empire and begin a modernization programme. But only ten years later, following China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895 ceded Taiwan in perpetuity to Japan.

Rejecting this outcome, Taiwanese political elite declared in 23 May 1895 the establishment of the Taiwan Republic, but the fledging state was no match for the Japanese military, and it collapsed within months. The Japanese established a colonial administration with the intent of demonstrating their equality with European colonial powers. By 1930, the Japanese unified the island for the first time in its history (neither the Dutch nor the Ching had ever established control over all the indigenous peoples in the center and east of the island). The colonial administration greatly accelerated the economic and social modernization of Taiwan, introducing effective public health measures, universal primary education, a complete rail and electricity network, etc. Taiwan experience an economic boom, supplying first commodities and eventually light industrial goods to Japan and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in 1905, the founding father of the ROC, Sun Yat-sen, proposed the name “Republic of China” at the first official meeting of the Tung-meng Hui (Revolutionary Alliance) in Tokyo. Against the backdrop of the collapsing Qing dynasty in mainland China, Sun’s suggestion was officially adopted when the Provincial Assembly was established in 1912, the year of the Republic’s foundation.

Between the 1920s and WWII, China lived under a Warlord Era. In 1919, Sun reorganized his party into the Kuomintang (KMT) and he appointed Chiang Kai-shek as commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy and later in 1926, as the commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army. During years of civil war, Chiang gradually extended the control of the ROC government over most of the former Ching territory and established the ROC capital in Nanking. However, before much consolidation had occurred, Japanese aggression in northern China brought war in 1937.

At the end of WWII in August 1945, ROC troops and administrators took over Taiwan on behalf of the Allied Powers and accepted the surrender of Japanese troops on Taiwan. Citing the Cairo Declaration, the ROC in effect annexed Taiwan on October 25, 1945, officially proclaimed as ‘Retrocession Day’. However, international law experts disagree as to whether Taiwan’s status was settled at this time, since the formal peace treaty with Japan signed by all the allies (except the ROC) in San Francisco in 1951 included Japan’s renunciation of sovereignty over Taiwan, but without specifying to whom.

Although many Taiwanese initially welcomed the end of the Japanese colonial rule, the officials sent by the ROC to administer Taiwan were notable mainly for corruption and ineptitude, presiding over an economic collapse and hyperinflation as the social and economic systems put in place by the Japanese were largely destroyed. In 1947, a Taiwanese rebellion demanding for reforms and against the KMT’s hold of power emerged. In the aftermath of the uprising, called the February 28 Incident, ROC military reinforcements were sent from the mainland to reassert control through systematic massacres which caused between 10,000 to 20,000 Taiwanese deaths. This incident poisoned the Taiwanese attitude towards the ROC, the KMT, and even to Mainlanders as an ethnic group.


While these events were transpiring on Taiwan, on mainland China a new civil war broke out between the KMT and the Communist Party. In 1949, KMT forces were defeated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As the CCP declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the ROC government and military left the mainland for Taiwan, joined by a variety of refugees. In total, approximately two million people came to Taiwan from China during this period.

The ROC established a “temporary capital” at Taipei, and continued to claim sovereignty over all of China (including, after 1949, Outer Mongolia, previously recognized as independent by the ROC) and refusing to recognize the PRC as a legitimate government Likewise, the PRC government asserted that the ROC had been replaced by the PRC in all the territory of China, including Taiwan, and thus refused to recognize the ROC government. Both governments formally maintain the latter positions until the present day.   

During the first 40 years after the defeat of KMT against the Communist Party, Taiwan was under a one party military rule, and from 1949 to 1987, Taiwan lived under a Martial Law. No trade relations or contacts with the PRC were allowed. Its relation with the PRC was tense, involving occasional military actions such as artillery bombardments, etc.. At the United Nations, the two governments carried out a diplomatic struggle for the right to represent “China.” After 30 years of declining international support, the UNGA Resolution 2758 of 1971, officially seated the PRC as the legitimate representative of “China” in the United Nations and expelled the “representatives of Chiang Kai-shek.” The reasons for such a shift are complex. They are first related to the insistence of the KMT-government in declaring itself the representative of all of China while de facto controlling only Taiwan and some smaller islands. The situation wherein the largest country by population was excluded from the UN was seen by many countries as increasingly untenable. Then, they are related to the compound realpolitik game during the Cold War, in which after the Sino-Soviet split the PRC and the US began contacts to counter the Soviet Union. Finally, there was the failure of the ROC government to accept a last-minute solution to institute dual membership, similar to the formula used to admit both the two Germanies the following year.

Therefore, the status of Taiwan remains an issue in international affairs, with some countries (24 at the time of writing) continuing to recognize the ROC, but the ROC being unable to participate in most intergovernmental organizations. Cross-Strait relations remain very complex, as the two sides engage in various contacts and transactions without formally recognizing each other. Most members of the international community generally avoid any involvement in the issue. The prime exception is the United States of America, which at the time of recognition of the PRC in 1979 also enacted the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the US to maintain a certain balance between Taiwan and the China notably through the sale of defensive armaments to Taiwan.



1. The question of Taiwan's status

The question of Taiwan's status has been a fundamental issue since the end of WWII. The relocation of the ROC government to Taiwan in 1949 and the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) with nearly complete control of all of the rest of China (with the minor but symbolically potent exceptions of the islands of Kinmen, or Quemoy, and Matsu) resulted in the appearance of "two Chinas" on the international stage. Each maintained formal diplomatic relations with a certain number of countries, as well as a Hallstein doctrine vis-à-vis other countries and international organizations (i.e. not allowing dual recognition or dual membership). From the beginning, this competition was part and parcel of the bipolar politics of the Cold War, and the Taiwan Strait was a military front line of superpower conflict.

In 1971, the ROC lost its seat in the UN and began a precipitous decline in the number of its formal diplomatic allies, notably the United States, which switched its recognition in 1979 to consolidate China's support against the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War, coinciding with the opening of Taiwan's political sphere, ushered in the present era. Taiwan began rebuilding "substantive relations" with major countries, and its number of formal diplomatic allies stabilized around 30. In the 1990s, having dropped its claim to rule all of China, Taiwan began to assert its right to join the UN and other international organizations, such as the WHO, as a separate entity from China. However, to date the only major organization it has succeeded in joining is the WTO, under the name "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu."

As for China, it refuses to renounce its "right" to use force against Taiwan. This claim is periodically buttressed with military exercises, notably the 1995-96 ballistic missile tests off Taiwan's coasts, and in 2005 it was formalized in the so-called "anti-secession law." China adamantly claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces, while offering Taiwan a version of the "one country, two systems" status given to Hong Kong and Macau (which are not provinces). It has been known to punish countries, international organizations, and even NGOs and academic organizations that do not pay at least lip service to its position, and its frequent warnings and threats are therefore usually effective.

On the other hand, although the majority of countries do not maintain formal ties with Taiwan, most do recognize its passports (usually also with visa treatment markedly different from China's) and at least indirectly its laws, especially in business and trade matters. Over 40 countries have established representative offices in Taipei, many of which are full-fledged de facto embassies, and almost none of which are considered to be under the jurisdiction of the respective embassies in Beijing. This creates an anomalous situation in international law and politics.

Within Taiwan, this situation has two main effects. First, the specter of Chinese aggression hangs over the society. Many are fearful of somehow "provoking" military action, although it is never precisely clear what exactly would cause such an outcome. The military aspect also concerns other countries, especially the United States, which would likely feel at least a moral responsibility to intervene on Taiwan's behalf. Therefore, it is frequently the case that the US and other countries, as well as the mainstream international media, scholars, etc. warn Taiwan against "provocative behavior." Second, it creates a sense of grievance against the international community, especially among those who take pride in Taiwan's economic and democratic achievements. Repeated snubs at international venues, as well as lectures from the US and others, only serve to intensify this feeling.

2. Relations with China and the so-called One China Policy

With the end of the martial law, internal political liberalization in Taiwan provided a space for contacts with the PRC. Visits to the mainland were opened for the first time in 1987, initially for family reunions only, but soon Taiwanese investors began looking for opportunities in China as the PRC turned to capitalism. Formal transport, trade and communications links, however, remained difficult until very recently, due to various obstacles over how the respective agencies would recognize each other, what nomenclature would be used, would they be considered international links or domestic ones, etc.

During this period military tensions have also periodically broken out, most dramatically in the missile crisis of 1995-1996, which was an effort by the PRC  to intimidate Taiwanese voters in the run-up to the first presidential elections. As democratization accelerated in the 1990s, the KMT government under the leadership of President Lee Teng-hui gradually moved to a more “pro-Taiwan” stance, in keeping with rising public expressions of Taiwanese identity. Notably, in 1994 the government launched a campaign to re-enter the United Nations, without demanding the expulsion of the PRC as a prerequisite. This so-called “pragmatic diplomacy” also saw an end to the decline in countries officially recognizing the ROC.

The government also began a gradual move towards recognition of the PRC. The first step was the abrogation in 1991 of the “Temporary Provisions During the Period of National Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion”; this step was a unilateral end to the legal state of civil war and the restoration of the constitution. From this time, official documents ceased to refer to the PRC as “bandits” and instead began using ambiguous terms like “entity”, “authorities” etc.  The UN campaign was another step in this direction. In 1999, near the end of his tenure, President Lee made the statement that the cross-Strait relations were “special state-to-state relations.” This was the first time a top official had referred to the PRC as a state (albeit “special”), and was widely seen as a milestone. 

In 2000, the first transfer of power to the opposition occurred when President Chen Shui-bian won the second direct presidential election. His party, the DPP had  long advocated Taiwan independence, but in 1999 had adopted the “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” which said that Taiwan is already independent and sovereign under the name ROC, and that any change in this status can only be decided by plebiscite. On this basis the Chen administration pledged to maintain the “status quo,” but at the same time allowed continued gradual liberalization of trade, investments and tourism. Notable pronouncements by President Chen included his statement of 3 August 2002 in which he described the relations across the Strait as “one country on each side,” implying a further step towards recognizing the PRC from President Lee’s 1999 formulation.

However, despite sporadic contacts and semi-official talks, mostly on technical or economic matters, the PRC has refused to renounce its “right” to use force against Taiwan. Following “white papers” that attempted to justify this policy, in 14 March 2005, the PRC’s National Peoples Congress passed an “anti-secession law” declaring that it reserves the right to use force to solve this dispute with Taiwan, drawing criticism from the Taiwanese public as well as the international community. Currently, the PRC has a large number of missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait at Taiwan. By current estimates, there are about 1,300 Chinese missiles in the Strait, and the number rises continually.

The PRC’s official policy towards Taiwan remains the ‘One China Policy,’ which states that there is only one China and that mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan are part of that China. The one China principle is vehemently held by the PRC, and it often demands recognition of the principle in its diplomatic engagements with other countries. In effect, the policy requires all countries seeking diplomatic relations with China to acknowledge its version of the policy and refrain from maintaining its relation with Taiwan. Some countries, however, notably the United States and Japan, have refused to accept the PRC’s version completely, but instead created various diplomatic formulae to leave some flexibility.

Despite all this the political contention, Taiwan has de facto international exchanges with most countries worldwide, in many cases with flourishing economic, cultural, and social relations. ’Taiwan’s government has also developed technical and economic assistance programs for friendly developing countries as part of its effort to demonstrate its willingness to fulfill its international responsibilities. In recent years, however, China’s impressive economic growth and preponderance in international trade have given Beijing a growing advantage in the diplomatic arena, enabling it not only to use “dollar diplomacy” to convince many developing countries to restrict ties with Taiwan, but even to exert influence on major powers in order to prevent Taiwan’s efforts to achieve international recognition.      

Under this policy, PRC frequently pressures other nations to exclude Taiwan from international multilateral mechanisms, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Such pressure hampers Taiwan’s efforts to engage other democracies in constructive dialogue and share its democratic and economic success with the rest of the world. PRC has also tried to use cultural and economic leverage, with varying degrees of success, to promote greater identification of the Taiwanese people with China. For example, in 2008, China sent two giant pandas (with names meaning ‘reunion’), as a gift to Taiwan, calculating that the attraction would overcome objections to the fact that the gift did not follow international procedures for the transfer of endangered species, thus implying that it was a domestic transfer. In 2009, the screening of a film about Rebiya Kadeer, president World Uyghur Congress (a UNPO member), at a film festival in the city of Kaohsiung led China to impose a form of de facto economic sanctions on the city by instructing Chinese travel agents to cancel tourist visits to the city.

Since 2008, the election of Ma Ying-jeou from the KMT brought about the second transfer of power at the central government, which was another milestone in Taiwan’s democratic consolidation, President Ma had campaigned on a platform of détente with China in order to boost Taiwan’s economy. Steps taken to implement this policy include unilaterally announcing a ‘diplomatic truce’ with China, which in 2009 meant a hiatus in the campaign to enter the UN. A series of high-level talks, building on “party-to-party contacts the KMT had begun with the CCP while in opposition, were held under the “1992 consensus” by which (according to the Taiwan government) both sides would agree to “different interpretations” of “one China” (there is dispute about whether the PRC government accepts this idea). A number of quick breakthroughs were announced, most dramatically in the opening of regular air links between Taiwan and China for the first time in 60 years. The current government continues to maintain that this more conciliatory approach to relations with the mainland will ensure peace and stability, and therefore be conducive to economic growth. It further proposes to sign an “Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” to greatly liberalize two-way trade and investment. It remains to be seen whether the economic benefits delivered by these measures will indeed be sufficient to balance the concerns of many of the public about a creeping reduction in Taiwan’s sovereignty. As of this writing, relatively little good will has been reciprocated by China, which adds to the anxiety. 
3. The Search for International Recognition

With the PRC holding a veto power in the United Nations Security Council, membership n international organizations has always been a difficult process Taiwan, despite the de facto state status of the government. As of August 2009, the ROC maintains official diplomatic relations with 24 sovereign states, although de facto relations are maintained with nearly all other major countries. The ROC government has campaigned actively for representation in the United Nations since 1993. However, despite some international support, such as the European Parliament resolution in 1997, calling for more international representation for Taiwan, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) General Committee has each year rejected the proposal put forward by Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to put the question of Taiwan or ROC participation on the UNGA agenda. In September 2008, for the 15th time Taiwan’s proposal was denied.

Following a similar pattern, Taiwan has been actively campaigning to participate in the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to better protect the health rights of its 23 million habitants. Especially in modern times with the outbreak of cross-borders diseases and the need to curb with them through multilateral and cooperative strategies. Based on its extensive and well-regarded health care system, Taiwan has thus been launching appeals for countries and organization to support its participation in the WHO, stating that “since diseases have no boundaries, health initiatives must be truly international”, as the world could see with the spread of the SARS disease in 2002.When, in 2007, then-President Chen Shui-bian applied, for the first time, for the country’s membership under the name “Taiwan,” the application was rejected by the WHO Secretariat on the grounds that Taiwan is not a sovereign state and is therefore ineligible for membership.

Since 2008, under the new administration, the ROC government has taken a flexible stance on participation in the WHO. As one concrete result of its policy of détente, China allowed Taiwan to attend the annual World Health Assembly in May 2009 as an observer, using the name “Chinese Taipei.” Thus Taiwan has gained limited access to follow-up information and implementation procedures and in some international meetings and activities of the WHO, but apparently this is to be decided on a case-to-case basis, Full membership remains Taiwan’s ultimate goal in WHO.

Some efforts for more representation of Taiwan in international institutions have sometimes proved to be successful .Most notably, in 2002 Taiwan became a full member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), albeit under the name “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu.” Since then, Taiwan has actively participated in WTO activities, and as of 2007, Taiwan had submitted about 150 working papers to various WTO councils and committees for discussion. Taiwan also enjoys membership in 27 other intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), including the Asian Development Bank and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and observer status or associate membership in 21 other IGOs. In almost all of these the name issue frequently arises, and Taiwan has been asked to use names such as “Chinese Taipei”—a name it also uses in the International Olympic Committee and thus in most international sports events.


All of these international issues are interrelated with Taiwan’s domestic politics, in particular regarding the issue of identity. It is common to describe Taiwanese people as having a "dual identity," split between "Taiwanese" and "Chinese" or between identifying with "Taiwan" and ''the Republic of China." These feelings can be considered "national identities," especially in the latter case, but they are also ethnic/cultural identities. The overlap is not precise. In the martial law era, expressing any identities other than "Chinese" was forbidden, and Chinese identity was inculcated through education and the media. Following democratization, there has been a sharp rise in people calling themselves "Taiwanese," while the combination of both identities remains the most popular in opinion polls. Data from the end of 2007 show 43.7% identifying themselves as "Taiwanese," 5.4% as "Chinese," and 44.5% as both.

However, the term "Taiwanese" itself is politically charged. It simultaneously carries multiple meanings, each with a particular political stance. Depending on the context, it can refer to: 
1. The entire population of Taiwan;
2. Everyone who identifies with Taiwan, as opposed to identifying with China;
3. Everyone other than "Mainlanders"; this distinction can be expressed more neutrally as "old Taiwanese" and "new Taiwanese", or "old immigrants" and "new immigrants";
4. Only Hokkien people, especially in the context of the language issue (since the Hokkien language is often loosely labeled "Taiwanese").

Taiwan's politics cannot be easily analyzed in conventional ideological terms of "left" and "right," because all major parties contain a wide spectrum of views on topics such as economic and welfare policies. Instead, due to Taiwan's historical experience, as well as its unusual international situation described above, the primary political cleavage has been and remains the issue of national identity, often referred to as the "unification-independence" issue.

This implies a package of concepts. First, one's own self-identification (as "Taiwanese" or "Chinese," see above). Second, one's understanding of the current status of Taiwan, as either an independent state, the legitimate government of all of China, or a quasi-state entity somehow attached to China. Third, and perhaps most saliently today, there is the question of the aspiration for the future of Taiwan, whether it should seek closer relations with China, and perhaps eventual unification, or whether it should keep its distance.

Since democratization, the second aspect of the issue has largely faded, since the categories other than independent state have almost completely lost their persuasiveness for the vast majority of people; instead, it has been mostly replaced by the debate over the whether the current “status quo” of independence implies a separate Taiwanese nationhood, or rather a Chinese nation divided into two states. The issue of the name of the country is bound up in this debate, with adherents of the former concept preferring to use the name Taiwan, while adherents of the latter insist on the ROC name and national symbols. Especially since 2000, when the formerly pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party began governing under the ROC official name and flag, it seems that there is a "third way" which blends the two and equates the ROC with Taiwan. According to an opinion poll from the end of 2007, 55.6% of the people support the "status quo", while 21.3% support independence, and 11.6% support unification.


1. What are Taiwan’s main human rights concerns?

Taiwan generally enjoys high levels of human rights protection for its own people, and Freedom House, in 2009, has rated Taiwan as one of the most democratic countries in Asia. However, the PRC claims that Taiwan is a part of its territory, and it denies the people of Taiwan their right to self-determination. The PRC has proclaimed a “One China policy” in its relations with Taiwan, which maintains that there is only one China, and that mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are all part of that China. In the Anti-Secession Law, passed on March 14, 2005, the PRC declared that it reserves the right to use force to solve this dispute with Taiwan, and the PRC currently has a large number of missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait at Taiwan.

2. Why should Taiwan be a member of the United Nations?

The Taiwanese democratic government has been excluded from the United Nations, since the 1971 seating of the PRC. This violates the UN’s core principle since its establishment sixty years ago of universality for all nations and peoples. The UN Charter calls on “all other peace loving states” to join the organization.

However, China continues to refuse to let Taiwan participate in the UN or its related organizations, despite Taiwan’s important role in several other organizations such as WTO (World Trade Organization), The Asian Development Bank and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Taiwan’s’ long standing commitment to the UN principles of peace and human rights.


Taiwanese culture is an amalgamation of influences coming from indigenous roots and various Chinese Han traditional streams, strongly influenced by Japan since the colonial period and by the United States in recent decades. The interaction between all these makes Taiwan’s culture a mixture of East and West, of Modern and Traditional and of local and foreign manifestations, merged into a unique and singular fusion.  

Especially since the 1990s, along with political liberalization, greater freedom for cultural identity allowed the rise of distinct traditions in areas. Internationally known for its rapid growth and modernization, Taiwan also intends to protect and promote its early traditions.

Indigenous culture includes a wide variety of art, craft, and rituals, notably woodcarving, weaving, basketry and music and dance. In the aim of promoting understanding and protection of Indigenous history culture, the government of Taiwan established a Cabinet-level agency, the Council of indigenous Peoples. Several museums have been established as well, notably the National Museum of Prehistory. Moreover, an Indigenous television channel, the Taiwan Indigenous Television (TITV), was set up in 2005 and broadcasts not only cultural manifestation, but also educational linguistic programs and entertainment show based on indigenous culture.

Traditional Han Taiwanese culture is promoted through many events and festivals, as well as the National Center for Traditional Arts, founded in 1996. Taiwanese opera is one of the most popular traditional cultural forms, with more than 200 amateur and professional troupes operating today. Operas are normally performed in Holo and in outdoors spaces. Taiwanese opera is also popular on television. Modern art, music, drama, and dance have been flourishing in Taiwan, especially since the liberalization of the society after the end of Martial Law.

Taiwan has also a very active, internationally recognized film industry. Taiwan started importing Japanese films in the beginning of the 20th century and twenty years later, there was already some local production. However, the Taiwanese commercial film industry began really started on the 1960’s and 1970’s. After a small decline due to competition with the rising Hong Kong industry, the New Wave Cinema of young directors appeared with its first major success In Our Time (1982), followed by a Second Wave more popular and focused on Taiwanese identity.     
Taiwanese literature has also gained in complexity from the different historical periods. From the Chinese rule, passing through the Japanese rule, and the Modernism and Nativist movement, Taiwan’s literature has frequently served as a means of social contestation and resistance. It explored topics of social reality and native identity, as well as urban lifestyles and traditional myths and stories. Since 2000 there is a new wave of writers benefiting from Taiwan’s insertion in the high-technology modernity and using electronic vehicles as a powerful source of literary diffusion.     


Taiwan has used Mandarin as its official language since 1945, when the ROC took over the island. However most Taiwanese people also speak their original mother languages, usually Minnan (known also as Holo) or  Hakka, as well as the various Indigenous languages. According to the 16th Ethnologue report (2009), the literacy rate is between 90% and 92%. In recent years, as a consequence of a growing concern for native languages, a movement has been initiated to introduce formal education in mother tongues, and  ‘language equality law’ was drafted aiming the recognition and protection of the 14 major languages and dialects used in Taiwan, but not yet adopted. However, the debate is still active concerning the equal respect accorded to Taiwan’s languages, especially whether all the nation’s tongues should be given an equal official status.


Taiwan’s religious landscape is highly diverse. About 93% of the Taiwan population adhere to various combinations of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. A sizeable number of people adhere to monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity (4,5%), although Islam also has a  small following, and some of the indigenous peoples follow their traditional animist religions .

Rather than attending regular religious services, most people in Taiwan visit a temple whenever they feel the need to seek divine assistance. They may choose a temple that honors a favorite deity, or stop by a shrine that simply happens to be close to their way to work or home.  Popular ritual practices are burning incenses and offering food, burning spirit money, drawing divination sticks and casting divination blocks. 


Abundant rainfall, fertile soil and great variations in altitude make Taiwanese flora and fauna very diverse. Taiwan is home to approximately 150,000 different lifer forms and although agriculture accounted for less than 2% of Taiwan’s gross domestic product in 2007, 5.5% of Taiwan’s working population was employed in the sector. Taiwan is relatively poor in mineral resources, with only small deposits of coal, natural gas, limestone, marble and asbestos.

Since the 1980s, growing awareness of the impact of pollution has encouraged the development of environmental-protection movements in Taiwan. The government has taken a number of steps to protect Taiwan’s natural environment, including the formulation of a legislative framework for pollution control, the Air Pollution Control Act; the establishment of an integrated system of conservation areas; and the promotion of waste reduction, recycling, and green consumption. In recent years, sustainable development has become a central aspect of national development plans, including the construction of green buildings and a draft bill of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, approved by the Executive Yuan in 2006.


Yuan T. Lee, scientist (1986 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry) Cheng Yen, Buddhist nun, founder of Tzu Chi Foundation Ang Lee, film director (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Hou Hsiao-hsien, film director (City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster) Lin Hwai-min, choreographer, founder of Cloud Gate Dance Company  Ju Ming, sculptor Cho-liang Lin, violinist Jay Chow, popular musician Stan Shih, founder of Acer Computer King Liu, founder of Giant bicycle company Chien-ming Wang, pitcher for the New York Yankees Chan Yung-jan & Chuang Chia-jung, tennis players, finalists in women’s doubles at 2007 Australian Open and 2007 US Open Kevin Lin, ultramarathoner, first to run across the Sahara Desert



Taiwan Foundation for Democracy  Republic of China Government Information Office Taiwan Headlines Taipei Times Education in Taiwan

The Republic of China Yearbook – 2008 
Taiwan Documents Project - 
Taiwan and the WHO -  
International Crisis Group - China and Taiwan: Uneasy détente (Sept. 2005)