Taiwan: An Anti-Imperialist Resource

Qiao Collective, a diaspora Chinese media collective challenging US aggression against China, published in February of this year an “Anti-Imperialist Resource” on the topic of China’s Taiwan province, the island’s history and its place in contemporary and 20th-century geopolitics. The resource contains a useful introduction, which is reprinted below, alongside a detailed timeline, and links to contemporary “left pro-unification” articles, summaries of economic issues, statistical analysis of public opinion, and other resources to aid understanding. This resource is the latest in a series of reading lists on topics related to contemporary China, and particularly ‘hot button’ issues frequently weaponised against China in Western media. The full list can be accessed here.

Below, Friends of Socialist China reprints the resource’s introduction, and encourages readers to explore and utilise the extensive collection of materials to gain a full understanding of the complexities of cross-straits relations, and the winding road of China’s path of reunification, which is an essential element of its projects of national rejuvenation and overcoming the legacy of colonialist and imperialist interference.

The historical context provided here is particularly useful while the current administration of Taiwan province is engaging in various forms of historical obscurantism: whitewashing the crimes of the period of Japanese occupation, while at the same time hiding the reality of the period of the Nationalist KMT’s “white terror” and military dictatorship, with martial law lasting until 1987. The introduction notes that “proponents of Taiwan independence rely on an overlapping revisionist toolkit that elides the historical context of unresolved civil war.” The full resources also importantly highlight that pro-reunification voices and organisations continue to exist on Taiwan province (despite concerted violent suppression campaigns), and that when the population are surveyed, ‘independence’ is not the preferred option for the majority. 

The introduction stresses that a proper understanding of historical context, and awareness of arguments of contemporary pro-reunification activists, can help readers unpick the frequent use of “left” language, such as that of ‘settler-colonialism’, employed by liberal advocates of independence to obscure the reality of Taiwan’s position in the intrigues of imperialism. As the CPC has asserted on many occasions, reunification will be a benefit to Chinese on both sides of the straits, stating in a recent white paper on the topic: “The future of Taiwan lies in China’s reunification, and the wellbeing of the people in Taiwan hinges on the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, an endeavor that bears on the future and destiny of the people on both sides.” 

The collection of materials “serves as a starting point for understanding China’s aspirations for national reunification and Taiwan’s overdetermined status as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ for Western ideological, economic, and military power in Asia and the Pacific.”


In the Western imagination, Taiwan exists as little more than a staging ground for ideological war with the People’s Republic of China—a crossroads of democracy versus authoritarianism, Western values versus Chinese backwardness, and free market capitalism versus closed-door communism. Yet for centuries, the island of Taiwan has played a rich and pivotal role in broader Chinese history. Located just one hundred miles from the mainland’s southeastern coast, Taiwan was linked to the mainland through migration, trade, language and culture long before European and Japanese colonizers seized on its strategic location as a launchpad for economic and military forays against China at large. Today, this history continues as U.S. imperialism positions Taiwan as an ideological and military base for its new Cold War against China.

Taiwan’s separation from the Chinese mainland began in 1895, when the Qing government was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan after its defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. While Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II legally restored Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, the Chinese civil war and the global Cold War once again rendered Taiwan an instrument for imperial ambitions against China. For the ascendant postwar United States, the 1949 establishment of the PRC under the Communist Party of China marked the “loss of China”—a blow that was partially recouped by propping up the fleeing Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as “Free China.” In 1950, as the U.S. waged war to prevent the socialist unification of Korea, President Harry Truman dispatched the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to similarly foreclose the possibility of a unified socialist China. The legacy of that militarized division remains today, as the U.S. enforces the separation of Taiwan from the PRC through multibillion-dollar arms sales, menacing war games, and a concerted propaganda drive which together undermine the possibility of peaceful reunification. This bipartisan campaign of hybrid warfare has intensified over the last fifteen years, following China’s rise as a major power, the corresponding U.S. Pivot to Asia, and the era of “decoupling” pursued by both the Trump and Biden administrations. As the U.S. military declares the Pacific its primary theater of war, successive U.S. administrations have marshaled enormous economic, military, and ideological resources to build up Taiwan as a focal point for this new Cold War. This program violates the letter of the one-China principle and the spirit of the United States’ own “one-China policy,” which together have formed the basis for bilateral relations since 1979. Furthermore, they neglect the centuries-long shared history of Taiwan and its people with their neighbors across the strait.

Just as Western colonialism was once justified as a “civilizing mission,” U.S. imperial designs on Taiwan and China at large march under the banner of promoting “democracy” and defending the international “rules-based order.” The U.S. claim to be acting in defense of Taiwan’s “vibrant democracy” from Chinese authoritarianism is particularly ahistorical, given that the United States is responsible for propping up the Kuomintang (KMT) military dictatorship under Chiang and his successors for almost forty years. Meanwhile, despite grandiose language about U.S. global leadership, the reality is that the majority of the world understands cross-strait relations to be an internal matter for China. Only eleven UN member states maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan (as the Republic of China), and no country recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation. This fact is unsurprising; UN recognition of the PRC as the legitimate representative of China came on the wings of overwhelming support from the Third World. Having experienced the genocidal violence and economic exploitation inherent to the Western imperial system, the Global South, like China itself, adheres to the tenets of sovereignty and non-interference. 

Though ideologically diverse, proponents of Taiwan independence rely on an overlapping revisionist toolkit that elides the historical context of unresolved civil war shaping the cross-strait relationship. Instead, China’s aspirations for national unity are cast in terms of imperialism and expansionism. The era of KMT martial law is counterfactually invoked as precedent for authoritarian Chinese encroachment, obscuring the historical KMT-CPC rivalry and the role of the U.S. in supporting the military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the history of Japanese colonialism has been systematically revised to present a relatively “benign” rule that forms the bedrock for a non-Chinese local identity. Claims that Taiwan’s democracy has “voted out” reunification as a political pathway omit the crucial context that the island’s most vocal left-wing supporters of unification were systematically purged, jailed, and murdered under Japanese colonialism and KMT rule. Efforts to co-opt Taiwan’s yuánzhùmín, or indigenous peoples, into the project of Taiwan independence rely on a similar level of obfuscation; despite the separatist camp’s appropriation of decolonial rhetoric, yuánzhùmín have historically been apathetic towards the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). And in spite of attempts to stake Taiwan separatism to a schema of ethnic difference, official demographics list 95% of Taiwan’s population as being Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group of the Chinese mainland.

While those on the left may be (rightfully) skeptical of elite rhetoric of freedom and democracy, this rhetoric of Chinese imperialism, settler colonialism, and ethnic chauvinism may be harder to parse for those unfamiliar with Taiwan’s history. Yet, whether it is couched in the moralizing language of classic Cold Warriors or self-styled leftists, Taiwan independence ultimately serves the material interests of Western imperialism. Like the European and Japanese imperialists that colonized Taiwan for access to Chinese trade from the 17th through the 20th century, the United States transparently envisions the island as an outpost for efforts to contain China militarily and decouple from it economically. More than 70 years since U.S. military leader Douglas MacArthur described Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the nation’s Cold War against China, Taiwan remains a crude asset for U.S. military realpolitik. It is the linchpin of the so-called first island chain that links the 400 U.S. military bases spread across Asia and the Pacific and, crucially, home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest advanced semiconductor chip manufacturer. Lofty narratives of Taiwan independence thus ultimately fuel consent for militarization, intervention, and war while marginalizing anti-imperialist voices for diplomacy and peace. They also disguise the true intent of retaining Taiwan as a neocolonial outpost of Western empire to undermine China’s sovereign economic development. There is no “independence” in becoming a U.S. client regime entrapped in a capitalist world order. It would set a precedent for any country, large or small, that challenges U.S. hegemony to be balkanized with impunity. For the left to support such an outcome would be self-sabotage on an epic scale, regardless of the titanic politico-economic shifts on both sides of the strait since the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

The modern-day context around cross-strait relations is complex and evolving, and the lives of Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan strait have been negatively affected by centuries of imperialism. We recognize that there is no perfect, clear-cut path to development after colonization and civil war, but insist on China’s right to defend its sovereign project of socialist construction. Cross-strait relations should be debated and resolved on Chinese terms and in Chinese dialogues only. They should not be used as crude ammunition in the U.S.-led geopolitical assault on China.

This syllabus includes a condensed timeline of Taiwan’s history to provide historical context to contemporary discussions about China, as well as a list of resources that highlight key aspects of cross-strait relations and history. It is not intended to be comprehensive in scope, for Taiwan’s place in Chinese history extends far beyond the recent centuries of Western and Japanese imperialism in Asia. Nor is it intended to offer simple answers to questions about mainland China and Taiwan. It aims only to be a starting point for critical inquiry, and we urge readers to seek a diversity of sources and form their own opinions. A more detailed understanding requires further study into Taiwan’s history, cross-strait relations, Chinese politics, and ongoing geopolitical developments.

The full resource can be accessed here.

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