GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Shaped like a sweet potato, Taiwan is a large island southeast of China, separated by about a hundred miles of the Taiwan Straits. Together with the islands of Kinmen, Matsu and the Pescadores, the total area is about 14,000 square miles, the same size as the Netherlands, or roughly the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Situated between Japan and the Philippines, Taiwan is located on the rim of the Eastern Asian Continental Shelf.
At almost the same latitude as Hawaii, Taiwan is on the Tropic of Cancer. The subtropical climate produces a temperature of 20+ degrees C on the average. Rainfall is abundant with a summer monsoon season. The growing season lasts all year round. Species of wildlife are countless in variety. Many high mountains with active volcanoes dot the relatively young geological stratum. Resorts built on hot springs have turned into major tourist attractions throughout Taiwan.
Malay-Polynesian tribes settled in Taiwan centuries ago. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoklo-speaking and Hakka-speaking people from the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guandong began arriving on the island from China in substantial numbers.
Today, the Hoklo account for about 70% of the island's population, and their language is often referred to as "Taiwanese". Descendants of the Hakka settlers account for another 15% of the populace. Many of the Hoklo and Hakka settlers intermarried with the non-Chinese aborigines; only about 2% of the population are considered "pure aborigines".
The rest of the population (12-15%) are post-1945 refugees from China and their Taiwan-born descendants. People in this group are still commonly called "mainlanders", while the rest of the population is referred to as "native Taiwanese". More than 90% of the 21 million people living in Taiwan were born on the island. Intermarriage among the various groups are commonplace.
Despite the Ming Empire's restrictions on emigration, the Chinese pioneers came to settle in Taiwan in large numbers in the 17th century. Their objective was to acquire land beyond the reach of the Ming Emperor's tax collectors and soldiers, similar to early European settlers to North America.
In the 16th-17th centuries, the Spanish, Dutch, and Japanese vied for control of Taiwan. Portuguese sailors were so taken by the natural beauty of the island as they sailed passed by it, that they called it "Ilha Formosa", the Beautiful Island, and this became the most commonly known name to the western world.
In 1642, the Dutch expelled the Spaniards and controlled much of the west and south (the then-civilized areas) of the island. In 1662, a Ming general named Koxinga (Cheng Chen-Gong, in Chinese), drove the Dutch from the island. He formed a pirate kingdom base at the former Dutch headquarters, against the Manchurian conquerors (who established the Ch¡¦ing Dynasty after the Ming).
Ch¡¦ing¡¦s control of the island was always tenuous at best, as the independent-minded settlers and aborigines frequently rebelled against the Ch¡¦ing¡¦s imperial authority. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, China ceded Taiwan with the Pescadores to Japan "in perpetuity", after China was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War.
During the next half century, the Japanese ruled the island as a colony. However, they had to cope with a decade of Taiwanese guerrilla resistance and a Taiwanese independence movement led by intellectuals.
When the Second World War ended, Japan was defeated by the Allies, and renounced its claim to Taiwan in the San Francisco Peace treaty of 1951. Taiwan's international status became unclear, for the Treaty deliberately did not specify a beneficiary. The Kuomintang (KMT) government in China had occupied the island in 1945 and proclaimed it a "recovered province of China".
However, in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) drove the KMT out of China and proclaimed it the People's Republic of China (PRC). Chiang Kai-Shiek fled to Taiwan, from where he vowed to "recover the mainland". The KMT regime insisted that it remained the legitimate government of all China, including Mongolia. Both the KMT and CCP claimed Taiwan as their territory.
In May 1949, the KMT began a reign of terror by placing Taiwan under Martial Law. It remained in effect until July 1987. Martial Law was then replaced by the National Security Law, which continues to impose restrictions on many civil and political rights.
In keeping with the KMT¡¦s claim that it is the ruler of all China, the political institutions it established in China are kept alive in suspended animation on Taiwan. Until 1992, over 80% of the parliamentary seats were filled by representatives elected on the "mainland" in 1947.
This "parliament pickled in formaldehyde" not only bolstered the KMT¡¦s claim to rule Taiwan, but insulated the party's political power from institutional checks and balances, and made it impossible for Taiwanese to change the government through democratic processes.
Taiwan has progressed slowly toward democratization and is undertaking constitutional reform. The KMT still controls most of the island's resources and monopolizes the military, police, press and media and nongovernmental organizations. A vast web of personnel enforces the KMT¡¦s power on a day-to-day basis. The network remained in effect even after Martial Law was lifted.
In 1986, opposition Taiwanese politicians defied martial law and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In the December 1986 elections, the DPP gained 22% of the votes for a limited number of parliamentary seats representing the "Taiwan Area". One-party KMT rule was thus brought to an end.
Thousands of people took to the streets demonstrating and rallying against martial law. By the end of 1991, the KMT regime finally retired all legislative representatives elected on the "mainland". For the first time in history, all seats of the legislature were elected on Taiwan in December 1992. The DPP won 31% of the popular vote, which translated into 50 of the total 181 seats. It subsequently garnered 40% of the vote in the 1994 elections. DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian won the important position of Mayor of Taipei.
The KMT machine began to crack in 1993, when pro-unification hard-liners spilt to form the Chinese New Party (CNP). There are now three political parties in Taiwan -- KMT, DPP and CNP -- vying for political power. In bowing to the people's pressure, the KMT began to indigenize itself, begin reform programs, and pursue membership to the United Nations.
The first-ever democratic presidential election in Taiwan was held in March 1996.
The hard-liners of the PRC staged missile tests and military exercises in the Taiwan Strait to intimidate voters. However, Taiwanese people rallied behind the island-born native Lee Tenghui. By presenting himself as a "Taiwanese President¡¨, Lee won 54% of the vote and became the first directly elected president in Taiwan's history.
In 2000, presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian and running mate Annette Lu from the Democratic Progressive Patty won the election and assumed office on May 20. The KMT's oneparty rule finally came to an end and Taiwan entered a new era of full democracy, one of the finest in the world.
Since the KMT's arrival in Taiwan in 1945, the regime has committed grave human rights abuses on the island. The KMT imposed martial law and suspended most political and civil rights guaranteed in constitution.
When martial law was officially lifted in 1987, after 38 years of the longest period of uninterrupted martial law in modern history, the process of democratization slowly began, pushed forward by democracy and human rights activists in Taiwan and abroad. However, the KMT was very reluctant to relinquish control, and incidents of repression continued for many years.
In the years immediate following the lifting of martial law, freedoms of expression, association, and assembly were still greatly restricted. Many overseas Taiwanese dissidents were "blacklisted" and denied visas to return to Taiwan. There continued to be laws prohibiting congregation and demonstration, which were considered a "threat to national security, social order or public welfare¡¨. Laws also existed to ban new associations advocating for Taiwan independence.
In addition, the independence of the judiciary remained in doubt for many years. The annual report by the U.S. State Department on World Hunan Rights in Taiwan continued to raise issues about the impartiality of judiciary procedures in Taiwan. Violations against personal freedom - such as arrest and search without warrant, torture in prison, and death in police custody - were common.
Restrictions on academic freedom and labor union activities, discrimination against women and minority groups (especially indigenous people), child labor, prostitution, and other human rights violations continued to be rampant.
In the 1990s, the human rights situation in Taiwan finally began to really improve, as the island democratized and gained greater international visibility. As native Taiwanese and former dissidents began to gain political power by winning electoral office, freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly finally began to be put into practice.
Prior to World War Two, Taiwan's economy was mainly agricultural, with pineapples, sugar and camphor oil among the major products. Between 1895 and 1945, the Japanese began to transform Taiwan by establishing modern medical, educational and transportation infrastructures. After the war, Taiwan's economy evolved from agriculture to industry-based,
with growth rates averaging about 9% annually, thanks to infrastructure left behind by the Japanese, U.S. economic aid, an educated and industrious population, and thriving exports.
Taiwan's major industries today include construction, utilities, textiles, refining, petrochemicals, ship building, food processing, metallurgy, chemicals, machinery, and now most notably, high-tech industries such as electronics, microchips, and personal computers.
In 1994, the gross national product (GNP) reached US$ 245 billion (20th in the world); per capita GNP reached US$ 11,600 (25th); and international trade reached US$ 180 billion (16th). Consistent trade surpluses have swelled Taiwan's foreign exchange reserves to more than US$ 100 billion, the second highest in the world in 1995. The size of Taiwan's economy is now approximately half that of the People's Republic of China, which has a population some 60 times that of Taiwan.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, Taiwan pursued industrial restructuring on a large scale. Many labor-intensive industries moved to China, Southeast Asia, and other developing countries. In 2000, Taiwanese companies invested US$ 90 billion in these labor-intensive industries elsewhere.
In 1987, about 48 percent of Taiwan's total exports were low-tech products, and only 18 percent of export production was considered high-tech. By 1999, the proportion of low and high-tech products had reversed, with 41 percent considered high-tech and 17 percent low-tech.
Most Asian nations suffered extensively from the financial crises in 1997. While Taiwan's economic growth rate slowed, it still achieved a commendable 3?percent growth rate, the highest among Asian nations that year.
The goal of the new government is to completely integrate Taiwan with the economics of developed nations and enter the market economy of the global system.
PRC in Beijing consider Taiwan an integral part of China. This claim is dismissed by most countries of the world. While most nations recognize the PRC regime as the sole legitimate government of all China, few accept the PRC's claim over Taiwan as its territory. In establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC, most countries such as the U.S. and Canada, acknowledge or take note of, but do not accept the claim over Taiwan.
The thorny issue of Taiwan's international status is not a two-party struggle over which party is China's legitimate government. Rather, it is a triangular contest between the two "regimes of China¡¨, each of which has a competing plan for "reunification¡¨, and advocates of self-determination on Taiwan. Advocates of self-determination insist that the people of Taiwan must have the choice of creating an independent nation.
Internationally, most public and many private international organizations have severed ties with the ROC and maintained relations with the PRC instead. Only 26 nations, mostly minor ones, maintain diplomatic relation with Taiwan. Taiwan's diplomatic isolation contrasts sharply with its dynamic role in the world economy. Taiwan maintains substantial trade relations with more than 100 countries around the world.
Taiwan also has been making efforts to join international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. Taiwan runs into problems with the name(s) it uses to participate in these institutions, as well as diplomatic blockage by the PRC. Taiwan was admitted to WTO in 2002.
In June 1995, Taiwan drew much international attention and fire from Beijing when its President, Lee Teng-hui, was allowed to visit the United States to attend a reunion at his alma matter, Cornell University. Taiwan's peaceful democratic transition, which led to its first-ever direct election for president in March 1996, drew widespread support. Despite the PRC's military maneuvers and threats, the Taiwanese people are determined to defend their homeland, preserve Taiwan's de facto independence, and continue seeking greater international recognition.
In the context of globalization, conventional diplomatic ties between nations defined by state sovereignty and boundaries do not serve the current needs of Taiwan. The administration is actively seeking nontraditional diplomatic channels, such as in the areas of humanitarian aid, relations with civic groups, and non-governmental organizations, and other trade, commercial and cultural contacts, in order to firmly and visibly establish Taiwan's position on the global stage in the new 21st century.