Power, not history, is driving China’s stance on Taiwan

Show caption A Taiwan coast guard ship travels past the coast of China, in the waters off Nangan island in the Matsu archipelago of Taiwan. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters Power, not history, is driving China’s stance on Taiwan Letters Richard Sproat, Joseph R Allen and Adam Burden put the Chinese ambassador’s pronouncements in an opinion article into historical context Thu 18 Aug 2022 18.03 BST Share on Facebook

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Zheng Zeguang, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, parrots the standard People’s Republic of China talking point that “Taiwan has been an inalienable part of China’s territory since ancient times” (Taiwan is now a touchstone issue for the UK, the US and for us in China. This is how we see it, 16 August).

The island of Taiwan has indeed been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, but the Han Chinese only started settling there in the late 13th century. This hardly counts as “ancient times” in terms of the 3,200-year recorded history of China (dating from the earliest Chinese written documents, the oracle bone inscriptions), not to mention the much, much earlier history of continuous settlement in mainland China, for which there is ample evidence in archaeological records.

In any case, political boundaries have been fluid throughout history, and part of being a mature culture involves understanding that point. The PRC needs to grow up. There are too many more pressing problems in the world today to countenance the sort of childish nationalistic movements that, lamentably, are too widespread at the moment, and of which China’s behaviour towards Taiwan is a prime example.

Richard Sproat

Tokyo, Japan

• Taiwan was never an integral part of China “since ancient times”, as claimed by Zheng Zeguang. In ancient times, Taiwan was inhabited entirely by Austronesians who found their cultural links to the island peoples to the south and east. When the Dutch set up their small colonial operations in southern Taiwan in the early 17th century, occupying a tiny area, there was little Chinese presence on the island.

After the Dutch were ousted by Chinese rebel forces, looking for a safe haven, Taiwan remained on the very edges of Chinese rule for a century and a half. It became a nominal province only at the end of the 19th century, and then grudgingly so. When Japan defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese war (1895), Beijing handed over Taiwan (but not its north-east provinces) to Japan “in perpetuity”. The PRC’s current claim to Taiwan is built on fabrication and distortion.

Joseph R Allen

Professor emeritus of Chinese literature and cultural studies, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

• Chillingly, Zheng Zeguang fails to make any mention of the will and desire of the 23 million inhabitants of the vibrant democracy that is the island of Taiwan. As a former resident of many years, I am still in regular contact with family and friends there, and the groundswell has never been stronger for maintaining the current status quo, as a minimum.

The proportion of locals wishing for reunification with the mainland has shrunk dramatically since witnessing at close hand the outcome of the “one country, two systems” approach applied in Hong Kong.

In the latest white paper on Taiwan published by the Chinese, the removal of a key phrase that the Chinese government will not send troops or administrative personnel to be stationed in Taiwan shows that this not about reunification; it is about the invasion and suppression of what is in essence a sovereign state.

We should do all we can to prevent Xi Jinping adopting this destructive path merely to enhance his political legacy, à la Putin.

Adam Burden

Alton, Hampshire

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