Why can't Taiwan be independent?

After separating from China for over seven decades, why Taiwan can’t be independent?

Taiwan doesn’t want independence, for one - the current government doesn’t emphasize it, but their constitution defines the Republic of China as the legitimate government of all China, including Tibet and Outer Mongolia.

Welcome to the straight dope.
The answer to your question is of course that there is nothing stopping Taiwan from being independent, indeed it’s de facto independent already.

However, China does not want to officially renounce all claim to that terroritory, envisioning one day that it will be more formally joined to the mainland.
And most countries try to stay out of the dispute because China is too big to piss off.

That’s the TL;DR version, and also the limit of my understanding.

Thank you all.

I guess Taiwan will just keep the status quo for quite a while…

This is a political truth, but the reality is that the Republic of China (ROC, colloquially “Taiwan” but actually including Penghu, Matsu, Kinmen, and numerous other islands) will never gain control over the mainland, and if they were offered recognition as an independent nation by major world governments and assurances that its sovereignty would be protected against military action by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the leadership would probably find a way to spin that as a positive. Taiwan’s status as an “un-nation” has significant trade and treaty restrictions, making it dependent upon the United States which has placed it in an increasingly tenuous position as PRC naval power has expanded and the United States has been challenged to maintain operational readiness of the 7th Fleet even pre-COVID.

There is no particular practical reason the PRC and ROC can’t be treated in a fashion similar to that of the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”), as separate nations divided post-conflict; however, Taiwan basically has no influence and is of no particular strategic value to any nations except the United States (see above), and Japan (with which, owing to historical enmity, the Taiwanese would never intro a strategic alliance that would compromise its sovereignty). The actual reality is that the PRC will never allow this to happen. The PRC maintains its ostensible sovereignty over Taiwan and the other islands controlled by the ROC as a matter of nationalistic and cultural pride, and while it is unlikely they would be willing to accept the military losses and threat to strategic stability of invading, is regularly testing the response of the ROC. The PRC is currently busy reasserting complete authority over the nominally “special administrative regions” of Macao and Hong Kong, and will probably turn its attentions fully on Taiwan at some point if they can find the advantage and isolate the ROC.


Yes and no - it’s true that official governmental policy isn’t pushing for it, but if “Taiwan” means the society, then yes there is a push for it. It also depends heavily on what “independent” means - as in, “keep the current status quo, in which we are de facto independent?” (which has overwhelming popular support) or, “go formally independent with a declaration, which could invite war?” (which has much less support.) Politicians have made a game out of dancing around with such verbiage for decades in Taiwan.

In a nutshell, because a formal declaration of independence would invite war, big-time.

And because China doesn’t want it, and would impose heavy sanctions on nations that gave Taiwan diplomatic recognition.

For a while, the ROC government was the internationally-recognized & UN-recognized “legitimate government” of China. Right now, the ROC government is in all but name independent and even has dealings with the PRC government. What neither side wants to do is declare that the territory controlled by the ROC government is independent of China.

Yeah, I know, and I started to go on a screed of why “Nixon going to China” was not the great diplomatic coup it is often presented as, but I tend to go on too long as it is, and the history of the realpolitik switch from recognizing the ROC to recognizing the PRC isn’t really salient to the contemporary situation, which is fundamentally that the PRC is powerful and has a lot of economic hooks in very nations, and Taiwan has neither. The UN recognizing the PRC government as the ‘legitimate China’ holding a permanent seat on the UN Security Council was all about the strategy of recognizing the PRC as a nuclear-armed nation, and not granting Taiwan status as a sovereign nation separate from the mainland was a bunch of political theater intended to avoid conflict that would really end up serving no one. It still stinks, but it’s less bad than yet another war in East Asia, or direct conflict between multiple nuclear-armed nations.


This is blatantly untrue. China bullies and bribes other nations into not recognizing Taiwan.

Also, for the vast majority of the history of China, Taiwan was an independent island.

The history of Native Taiwanese is not that different from Native Americans or Canadians.

China really has little legitimate claim on Taiwan.

I thought that was implicit in what I was saying actually. If China weren’t throwing its weight around, then “too big to piss off” would be irrelevant.

It’s complicated. Long story short, China is unwilling to give up the Taiwan territorial implications, especially the South China Sea and the Diaoyutai Islands. In the same vein, giving up on Taiwan would further call into question claims on Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang.

The Qing Dyanasty only had toeholds in Taiwan, and then the Japanese made it a colony ~1894. Ironically, the CCP has never had any kind of control over Taiwan. True, that after Generalissimo Cash My Check and the KMT fled to Taiwan, only US intervention prevented an invasion that probably would have succeeded at the time.

Taiwan also rues the day that Chiang Kai-Shek withdrew Taiwan from the UN in retaliation for China entering. As I understand it, Taiwan aka Republic of China could have remained in the UN. CKS played high stakes poker and lost.

Taiwan has de facto independence but not de jeure. No one knows how China would react if Taiwan declared formal independence. Most of the people in Taiwan would rather not find out.

True in itself, but the PRC is now the 800 pound gorilla and legitimacy can count for less than military force. China has no genuine claim to Tibet or any part of Mongolia, and only tenuous claims in the South China Sea dispute (where all the parties have tenuous claims to islands whose ownership is anything but clear). And Taiwan backs up the Chinese territorial claims because it still sees itself as the rightful government of all China. If it were to declare itself independent then it would have to give up these claims. It might well also open up a whole can of worms by provoking the PRC into military action. The current diplomatic facade would be more or less irrelevant if it were not for the fact that the PRC is becoming an increasingly large factor on the economic and military stage and could well challenge the USA at some stage, most likely over either Taiwan or the South China Sea issue.

shrug No worse than U.S. claims to Puerto Rico.

It was (somewhat incompletely) conquered in the late 17th century, slowly Sinicized and indifferently but stubbornly governed by the Qing for two hundred years, then taken by the Japanese for 50 years before being handed to the KMT after 1945. I’m not a huge fan of China’s historic roach motel approach to national sovereignty, but they did take it earlier than they took Dzungaria and way earlier than the U.S. grabbed Puerto Rico by force. “Legitimate” is such an enormously subjective concept it’s hard to ever get any consensus on it, witness those interminable Israel threads.

Sure, but - as Brayne-Ded points out - we live in a world where “legitimacy” is meaningless - or, rather, is defined by who can impose brute force upon whom.

Murderous tyrant he may have been, Mao Zedong was perfectly correct about one thing - “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

I just saw this thread so I’m jumping in late.

This is the first time I have heard this. My understanding is that Chiang was just as adamant about there only being one China as the communists were. Both sides were saying that you either recognized the Beijing government or the Taipei government; there was no option for recognizing both.

So from 1945 to 1971, the UN recognized the Taipei government as the sole legitimate government for all of China. And since 1971, the UN has recognized the Beijing government as the sole legitimate government for all of China. There has been no option for the UN to recognize both governments.

China is pretty clear about this. They have publicly stated that they would use military means to reunite Taiwan with China if Taiwan declared independence (or if Taiwan worked on developing nuclear weapons). I see no reason to doubt that China would follow through on this policy if the situation arose.

I think there’s a significant difference in that the United States actually has control of Puerto Rico.

CKS was Chinese, not Taiwanese. He conquered Taiwan as the involuntarily outgoing ruler of China. Not only was he fully Chinese, by today’s China’s standards, he was a Chinese communist. A deal where Taiwan becomes a normal country was not his interest.

Another forbidden democracy, deserving of recognized independence, is Somaliland.

Here’s the relevance of my last sentence to the thread:

Bucking China pressure, Taiwan, Somaliland establish ties