One China or Two? page 3 of 6
Over the course of the last four centuries, Taiwan has been transformed from a neglected backwater and unsettled frontier into a prosperous modern democracy of 23 million people. During this time, control over the island has passed through the hands of a succession of masters: indigenous tribes, Dutch colonizers, Han Chinese pioneers, Manchu dynasty officials, Japanese imperialists, and the Nationalist Chinese. Within this history there are several factors and historical truths that continue to influence cross-strait relations today and are likely to shape them in the future:
First, Taiwan is situated on China’s strategic periphery at the very point where international trade routes crisscross East Asia. The Taiwan Strait–as narrow as 90 miles in some places--is the only geophysical feature separating Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.
Second, the vast majority of the people on Taiwan are Han Chinese whose ancestors arrived on Taiwan at different times over the past four centuries and who therefore share many ancestral, historic, cultural, and linguistic ties with those across the strait.
Third, because of the geographical proximity and cultural affinity between China and Taiwan, economic exchanges have been both unavoidable and beneficial.
Fourth, because Taiwan and the mainland were united for less than five years in the twentieth century (between 1945 and 1949) and because the PRC has never ruled Taiwan, distinct political, economic, and social systems have developed on each side.
Fifth, the long separation has also produced on either side of the strait different values, perspectives, visions, and even identities.
And sixth, cross-strait relations are not only dynamic but also fluid and malleable. Taiwan’s relationship to the Chinese mainland has changed a number of times in the past and certainly is currently not static. There would seem to be no question that it will change in the future—we hope for the better.
Now let’s look at some of the current positive developments in the relationship. First, let me cite a few statistics. In addition to exchanging millions of phone calls and letters with people on the mainland, Taiwan residents, over the last sixteen years, have made nearly 27 million trips there, including more than 3 million trips in 2002. During those trips they have spent roughly $30 billion (U.S. dollars). And with Taiwan’s gradual relaxation of its policy regarding mainlanders' visits, people from the mainland have made more than 800,000 trips to Taiwan in the last few years. These exchanges have led to new bonds, such as 150,000 cross-strait marriages and hundreds of thousands of people from Taiwan now living on the mainland.