The Taiwan Strait has often come under the international media's spotlight, as many people throughout the world fear that tensions between Taiwan and China might intensify to an unmanageable degree. As one of the countries at the centre of this gathering storm, it is in Taiwan's own interests, as well as those of other parties, to present some of the facts pertinent to this matter and to make its policies clear to the international community.
The situation across the Taiwan Strait is more complicated than usually presented by the media, and it is necessary to take into consideration the numerous inter-related dimensions if a clear picture is to be seen. These include the military and diplomatic confrontations, parallel historical developments, and economic interdependence of the two sides. At the centre of this complex intersection of conflicting elements, Taiwan would also like the international community to understand that the pursuit of peace is its paramount objective.
It is known from a number of widely available sources that China's military budget began to expand rapidly in 1994, and has had double-digit growth in almost every year since. This is far in excess of China's economic growth rate and, by comparison, Taiwan's military budget has stagnated. Taking 2003 as an example, according to the Beijing authorities' own published figures, China's military budget topped US$23 billion, which is almost three times the figure spent on defence by Taiwan. This fact alone provides a number of reasons for concern.
Much of China's growing military budget has been spent on foreign procurement, including Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets, Sovrenmenny-class destroyers, Kilo-class submarines, and other advanced weapon systems. China's deployment of missiles is also a cause for worry, with around 550 short- to mid-range ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan from the south-eastern coastal region. Some in Washington have been moved to describe China's missile deployment as the most de-stabilising factor in the region. In addition to these increasingly accurate, traditional ballistic missiles, China has also been developing, and possibly deploying, multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) and cruise missiles, thus further destabilising the situation.
In such circumstances, Taiwan's most immediate need is to prevent this military imbalance from tilting so far that China thinks it can use force against its tiny neighbour without the fear of an effective defence force. In order to prevent the cross-strait military situation from deteriorating further, Taiwan's government is moving to strengthen its defence, which explains its attempts to pass a special budget for necessary air, submarine, and missile defence capabilities.
Of similar seriousness to this military buildup and, perhaps, even more destabilising due to the strong emotions involved, is the confrontation in the diplomatic arena. Taiwan's existence, under the formal national title of the Republic of China, is denied by the People's Republic of China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan. It has proclaimed that there is only one China, that the People's Republic represents China, and that Taiwan is but a province of the People's Republic. It uses this 'one China principle' to exclude Taiwan from international affairs, causing much antagonism among the people of Taiwan, and resulting in feelings of hostility towards China, as is repeatedly shown in public opinion surveys.
One example that illustrates this point occurred on 23 July 2002. On the eve of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's swearing in as chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), China announced that Nauru, one of Taiwan's diplomatic allies in the South Pacific, was switching diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing. It later emerged that China had 'bought' this allegiance with US$137 million in economic aid, for a …