The Struggle for Sovereignty Between China
ROBERT A. MADSEN
The Communist Party that rules the Chinese mainland and the Nationalist Party that dominated Taiwan through early 2000 have quarreled with one another for the better part of a century. Initially their conflict assumed the form of a civil war whose purpose was to decide which of the two states would unite all of China's territories under its aegis. After the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949, however, the dispute entered a new and theoretically more interesting phase. In this period the struggle occasionally became violent but was generally waged diplomatically. Its objective, for each of the contenders, was to garner exclusive recognition from the international community that it was the sovereign government of China. Beijing and Taipei fought over this status for many reasons, including the tangible benefits it would bring, the greater domestic legitimacy it would confer, and a visceral desire to eliminate the indignities that lingered from the imperialist era of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But more important in the present context, the two states wanted international recognition because they believed that it would help determine which of them achieved its original goal of asserting control over China's many regions. They realized that geopolitical and diplomatic factors would ultimately decide the issue of this contest, but each reckoned that attaining formal sovereignty would contribute marginally to the outcome it desired.
This essay examines the dispute between the People's Republic of China and the authorities who govern Taiwan—the Republic of China (ROC), as they prefer it to be called—over the principle of national sovereignty. More