Mainland China and Taiwan used to be under one government. However, after the Second World War, especially at the height of the initial years of Chinese communism and the early reigns of the Chinese Communist Party, leaders and adherents of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang moved to Taiwan in 1949 to establish an independent government. This marked the beginning of the longstanding China-Taiwan Conflict
In History: Understanding the Causes of the China-Taiwan Conflict
Emergence of Communism in China
Communism in China began gaining ground as early as the 1920s and after the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party or CPP in 1921. Revolutionary socialists Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao founded the party with the help of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Far Eastern Secretariat of the Communist International.
The CPP initially aligned itself with the Kuomintang or KMT. It positioned itself as the left-wing faction of the greater nationalist movement in China. Both the CPP and KMT had strong sentiments against foreign influences. They wanted to revive and promote Sinocentrism or the notion that the Chinese people are at the center of the world.
Note that the Soviets provided political and organizational support for both the CPP and KMT. CPP only had around 300 members in 1922 and it increased a bit to 1500 by 2025. It was a relatively small political party. On the other hand, KMT was the dominant ruling political party under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen with over 50000 members as of 1923.
The KMT and some members of the CPP also launched armed assaults against regional warlords and other separatist factions. However, Sun died in 1925. His death followed the division of KMT between the left-wing and right-wing movements. Chiang Kai-Shek became an emerging figurehead of the right-wing KMT faction.
It is also important to note that Mao Zedong was an emerging political actor who was initially affiliated with KMT. He was elected to the KMT Party Committee in 1923 and an alternate member of the KMT Central Executive Committee in 1924. He harbored a strong socialist stance and even supported some of the ideals of Chiang.
However, some members of the KMT believed that the Soviets were using the CPP to destroy their party from the inside. Chiang went on a display of power when he launched the Northern Expedition in 1926 through the National Revolutionary Army or NRA of KMT. This expedition was a military campaign aimed toward dissenters and regional warlords.
The CPP passed a resolution against the Northern Expedition. The left-wing faction of the KMT also passed resolutions in March 1927 with the help of the Soviet Union aimed at condemning the ongoing Northern Expedition and limiting the power of Chiang. This effectively and completely divided the Kuomintang between two different factions.
CPP and KMT Conflict and the Chinese Civil War
Both the left-wing faction of KMT and the CPP moved the seat of government from Guangzhou to Wuhan in 1927. The Province of Wuhan was an ideal choice because of its strong communist influence. The right-wing faction of KMT moved to the Province of Jiangxi. Chiang also began going after Chinese communists and communist sympathizers.
Specifically, after the success of the Northern Expedition, Chiang declared that the activities of the communists were socially and economically disruptive. He decided to march to Shanghai and ignored the request from the left-wing KMT faction based in Wuhan. His campaign on 12 April 1927 resulted in thousands of deaths and was called the Shanghai Massacre.
The massacre widened the gap and worsened the conflict between the right-wing and left-wing factions of KMT. Chiang had also branded members of the left-wing KMT faction as traitors. But these developments did not result in their inclusion in CPP. The left-wing faction even expelled several CPP members from the Wuhan government.
Chiang managed to overpower the Wuhan-based left-wing KMT. He effectively controlled the entire party and the central government. Furthermore, he also succeeded in defeating the warlords in numerous regions in China. The party followed the Three States of Revolution that was formulated by Sun: unification, tutelage, and constitutional democracy.
The central government under the KMT received international recognition as the sole legitimate government of the country. However, beginning on 1 August 1997, the CPP launched an uprising against the government in Wuhan. There were also attempts to capture and control the cities of Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou.
Some of the members of the Red Army of the CPP were former soldiers of the NRA of KMT. The rest consists of armed peasants. The CPP lost Wuhan but they eventually took control of several areas in the southern regions of China. Mao headed several uprisings. These were the Autumn Harvest Uprising and Guangzhou Uprising in September 1927.
Both the Autumn Harvest Uprising and Guangzhou Uprising were unsuccessful. These armed movements were still part of the beginning of the Chinese Civil War that officially started in 1927. There was a full-blown communist insurgency transpiring across China from 1927 to 1937. This period has been referred to as the 10-Year Civil War.
However, the entire war was not continuous. Hostilities were put on hold from 1937 to 1945 to deal with the invading Japanese forces during the Second World War. The Japanese were eventually defeated with the help of allied Western forces. However, after the global conflict, the Chinese Civil War resumed and it lasted from 1945 to 1949.
Prelude to the Ongoing China-Taiwan Conflict
The United States rolled out terms for the unconditional surrender of Japan. The Japanese troops in China were ordered to surrender to KMT troops. This was an indicator that the American government recognized the political authority of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang. However, in areas with no KMT forces, the Japanese surrendered to the Soviets.
Note that Chiang and Mao participated in the first post-war peace negotiation held from 28 August to 10 October 1945. Both the KMT and CPP signed the Double Tenth Agreement. The two parties also recognized the need for them to work together to prioritize reconstruction. However, the dialogue did not actually produce concrete results.
Armed conflict between the KMT and CPP continued even during the peace negotiations. The occupation of Manchuria by the Soviet Union eventually resulted in the CPP taking control of the area. Chiang and KMT made attempts to prevent this but their armed forces were not enough. The Soviets also refused to allow KMT troops to enter areas under its control.
Furthermore, under the order of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union troops under the command of Marshall Rodion Malinovsky transferred military hardware sequestered from the Japanese troops to the CPP. The acquisition of weapons and military equipment allowed the communist faction to further gain in strength in terms of military capabilities.
Chiang launched a large-scale military campaign on communist territories in the northern parts of China on 20 July 1946. The KMT remained military superior but the CPP followed a passive defense strategy that allowed it to quell invasion by KMT troops and maintain control of its territories. The CPP also launched counterattacks.
The CPP also gained military strength further in 1948 when it captured several military hardware from KMT troops. These include tanks, heavy artillery, and other assets. These capabilities allowed the communist faction to execute offensive military campaigns in the northern cities of Shenyang and Changchun, territories in Pingjin, and forts in Dagu and Beiping.
A series of successful military campaigns transpired from 1948 to 1949. The CPP capture the KMT capital in Nanjing on 23 April 1949. This forced the KMT government to retreat to Guangzhou from 15 October to 25 November 1949. The presence of KMT in the southern regions of China was effectively immaterial at this point.
China and Taiwan: From Civil War to the China-Taiwan Conflict
To understand the cause of the China-Taiwan Conflict, it is essential to see it as an extension of the historical conflict between the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party or CPP or between the nationalist faction and the communist faction that dominated the Chinese social and political scene in the 1920s until the 1940s.
Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China or PRC on 1 October 1949. The CPP has been the ruling political party of China since then. Chiang Kai-Shek and close two 2 million soldiers of the KMT armed forces retreated from mainland China to Formosa or the island of Taiwan in December 1949.
Taiwan has strong historical and cultural ties with mainland China. The earliest inhabitants of this island were farmers from southeast China who moved around 6000 years ago. Fisherfolks identified as Han Chinese also settled in the island beginning in the 13th century until they were outnumbered and shunned by the forces of the Ming Dynasty.
Historically, the history of the island closely followed the developments in the history of China. Furthermore, it was essentially up for grabs depending on the current situation in mainland China or the events in the wider global affairs. However, it became part of the Republic of China from 1912 and 1949 even when it was under Japanese control from 1912 to 1945.
Remember that Chiang and KMT moved to Taiwan in 1949 to escape from the communist forces. He effectively brought with him the entire government apparatus of the Republic of China. The government of mainland China before the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party fundamentally relocated to this island after losing the Chinese Civil War.
It would appear that the KMT-dominated Republic of China was the legitimate government not only of Taiwan but also of China. The relocation to Taiwan was temporary. The initial plan of Chiang and the KMT was to regroup on the island and rebuilt their military capabilities to reconquer mainland China. This plan was known as “Project National Glory.”
However, the Republic of China in Taiwan eventually realized that it is impossible to reclaim mainland China from the CPP and PRC. The CPP-led government has grown superior in terms of military capabilities, as well as local and global political and economic influence. Taiwan focused on economic development instead.
The PRC does not recognize the independence of Taiwan. The current administration under President Xi Jinping has reiterated numerous times that the territory is a breakaway province that will eventually be part of the mainland Chinese government. He also expressed plans for reunification a couple of times even if it means using military force.
Note that Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign country that has its own constitution and government that is spearheaded by democratically-elected government officials. 13 countries recognize its independence from the PRC and CPP. The Vatican City also recognizes it as a separate political entity from mainland China.
It is also important to highlight the fact that the political and legal status of Taiwan remains a contentious issue. For example, although it was one of the founding members of the United Nations, it is now neither an official member nor an observer of the supranational organization. The PRC banks on this absence of global recognition to support its claim.
Reunification is fundamentally at the core of the China-Taiwan Conflict. To reiterate, the Republic of China or Taiwan considers itself as an independent government. However, the People’s Republic of China still considers the island and the territories controlled by the ROC as part of the existing Chinese government in mainland China.