Taiwan is an island which has for all practical purposes been independent since 1950, but which China regards as a rebel region that must be reunited with the mainland – by force if necessary.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled to the island as the Communists, under Mao Zedong, swept to power.
China insists that nations cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan, with the result that Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with only a few countries. The US is Taiwan’s most important friend and protector.
Despite its diplomatic isolation, Taiwan has become one of Asia’s big traders. It is considered to have achieved an economic miracle, becoming one of the world’s top producers of computer technology.
Outgoing president: Ma Ying-jeou
Ma Ying-jeou of the nationalist Kuomintang party was voted into office in 2008 and won a second and final term in January 2012.
After his re-election he promised further steps towards reconciliation with China, having campaigned on his record of economic rapprochement with Beijing.
- Ma Ying-jeou will be succeeded in May 2016 by Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
The media environment in Taiwan is among the freest in Asia, and extremely competitive.
There are hundreds of newspapers, all privately-owned and reflecting a wide range of views. Laws which prohibit the promotion of independence from China or communism are not generally enforced.
Internet penetration is estimated at 80% of the population.
Some key dates in Taiwan’s history:
1683 – Island comes under administration of China’s Qing dynasty.
1895 – China – defeated in the first Sino-Japanese war – cedes Taiwan to Japan.
1945 – Taiwan reverts to Chinese control after Japanese defeat in Second World War.
1947 – Nationalist troops crush island-wide rioting by Taiwanese disgruntled with official corruption, killing unknown thousands. The event is now known as the 228 Incident.
1949 – Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek loses civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist forces and flees to Taiwan. He rules the island with an iron fist until his death in 1975.
1950s-1960s – Rapid industrial development.
1971 – UN recognises Communist China as sole government of whole country. People’s Republic takes over China’s UN Security Council seat.
1979 – Washington switches diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei. US Congress passes the Taiwan Relations Act promising to help the island defend itself.
1987 – Taiwan lifts almost four decades of martial law and eases ban on travel to China.
2000 – Voters put Democratic Progressive Party in power for first time, ending more than five decades of Nationalist rule.
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