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Why China is reasserting its right of control over Taiwan


China is reasserting its right of control over Taiwan in apparently starker terms than ever before. In a policy statement released a few days ago, China said it's committed to reunify Taiwan with the mainland and won't rule out the use of force if it's needed. To talk more about relations between China, the U.S. and Taiwan, we're joined by Jessica Drun. She's a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub. Welcome.

JESSICA DRUN: Thank you. It's great to be here today.

RASCOE: This is the first white paper China's issued on Taiwan in 22 years. What is the point of these white papers, and what is different about this latest one?

DRUN: So in my understanding, white papers are explanatory documents that are meant to better express the party's position and consolidate party policies on a specific topic. The positions laid out in this one are much more hardline than the previous one, released in the year 2000. But it's important to note that when compared to recent policy statements, the rhetoric in this white paper is fairly consistent with the tone from recent years.

RASCOE: So, OK, give us some history on this. Why does China claim the island as part of its territory?

DRUN: So in the 1940s, there was a civil war in China, and it was between the Kuomintang - one of the main political parties right now in Taiwan, shortened to the KMT - and the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP. The KMT escaped to Taiwan and set up their government, which had been the government of China, the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1949. And the CCP then set up a new government in China called the People's Republic of China. The claim for the PRC has always been that it would settle unfinished business between the two sides and bring Taiwan back into the fold.

RASCOE: The U.S. has had a One China policy since the 1970s. How does the U.S. come into this conflict between Taiwan and China?

DRUN: So the U.S. government's official position is that it does not take a position on Taiwan's status, and this is informed through our One China policy, which is based on the Taiwan Relations Act and as well as a series of policy statements made over the years.

RASCOE: The U.S. is so careful about the way this is discussed. Why is this so complex, and why is the U.S. so sensitive to this?

DRUN: So when you look back to the diplomatic language, the United States says that they recognize the People's Republic of China as the official government of China. And recognize here is important. There's a difference in diplomatic speech of recognize and acknowledge. So recognize means they agree. The statement regarding Taiwan in these documents is that the United States acknowledges the Chinese view that Taiwan is a part of China. And so acknowledges here means just merely takes note. We understand what they're saying. We do not take a position on whether we agree or not. But it has been our long-standing policy since the '70s to not take a position on the status of Taiwan.

RASCOE: What was the impact of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit earlier this month? Do you think that her visit helped to spur Beijing to issue this white paper and take a harder line?

DRUN: The narrative we are seeing coming out of the PRC is to say that they are reacting to the Pelosi trip. And I think it's very important for observers around the world to realize that this is more an excuse than anything else. One thing that China has been very good at is shaping the narrative and discourse on Taiwan over the past few decades. They will keep churning out this narrative to place the onus of the blame on the United States.

RASCOE: How do the residents of Taiwan feel? Do they view themselves as independent? Are they happy with that?

DRUN: So public opinion polls on identity in Taiwan show that most people in Taiwan identify as solely Taiwanese, and a lot of people on the ground are very proud of their uniquely Taiwanese identity and of Taiwan's system of government, Taiwan's democracy. It has open and free society. And what the Taiwanese people want is to preserve its autonomy and its way of life.

RASCOE: And for American citizens with family or, you know, friends in Taiwan, do you see concerns rising over here because of all of this talk from China?

DRUN: I think with how much Taiwan has been in the news lately, people outside of Taiwan have expressed more concern than people on the ground. It seems that life on the ground goes on, and people have been maintaining, you know, their day-to-day lives.

RASCOE: That's Jessica Drun. She's a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, where she specializes in Taiwanese politics and cross-strait relations. Thank you so much for joining us.

DRUN: Thank you again for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.