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Taiwan Map


Population: 22.7 million (February 2005)
Language(s): Mandarin Chinese (official); Taiwanese, Hakka.
Religion(s): Buddhist, Taoist 93%; Christian 4.5%; other 2.5%
Currency: New Taiwan Dollar (NTD)
Major political parties: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party (KMT), People First Party (PFP), Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), New Party (NP).
Government: Multiparty democracy with directly-elected President.
Head of State: Chen Shui-bian
Prime Minister/Premier: Frank Hsieh
Foreign Minister: Chen Tan-sun
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), World Trade Organisation (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): Observer status in OECD Committee, Member of the International Association of Judges.


The island of Taiwan is found 100 miles across the Taiwan straits from mainland China. It is 250 miles long and 88 miles across at the widest point. A high and rugged mountain range runs north to south along the island's entire length. This range covers more than half the area of the island, and is the second highest in Asia after the Himalayas. About one quarter of the land area, mainly on the western plain, can be cultivated. The climate is sub-tropical, except for the extreme south, which is tropical. It is affected by the monsoon cycle and rainfall is extremely high, averaging 100 inches per year, falling mostly between late October and March. Summers are hot. The typhoon season lasts from May to November.


Longer Historical Perspective

Taiwan's aboriginal inhabitants arrived in around 1500BC, apparently from the Pacific islands. Chinese settlement began in the 12th century but not in any numbers until the 17th. Many of the Chinese immigrants were from Fujian province, which is just across the straits from Taiwan and whose Min-Nan dialect became what is known as Taiwanese (a dialect of spoken Chinese). The first Europeans to visit were the Portuguese, in 1517, who called Taiwan 'Formosa' (beautiful island). Later, the Spanish and Dutch contested control of the island until the Dutch expelled the Spanish in 1641. The Ming Dynasty loyalist, Cheng Cheng-kung (also known as Koxinga) expelled the Dutch in 1662. Koxinga went to Taiwan to escape the Manchu forces on the mainland which had established the Qing dynasty. Koxinga's forces hoped to use Taiwan as a base from which to re-capture the mainland. Instead, the Manchus defeated Koxinga in 1682.

Taiwan was a prefecture of Fujian province until the late 19th century when, in response to fears over Japanese encroachment, it gained provincial status. Following defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan and Penghu (Pescadores) Islands were ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. They remained under Japanese rule until 1945 when the Japanese surrendered and the islands were occupied by Chinese Nationalist (KMT) forces. In December 1949, following the Nationalists' defeat on the mainland, the government of the then 'Republic of China' under President Chiang Kai-shek moved to Taiwan, together with approximately two million supporters. The Nationalist (KMT) administration on Taiwan maintained its claim to be the legitimate government of the whole of China and set up a national central government on the island. Chiang Kai-shek held the office of 'President' until his death in 1975. Under his rule, the political system remained virtually frozen for almost 30 years.

Recent History

Following Chiang Kai-shek’s death Taiwan embarked on a process of reform and gradual democratisation under his son, President Chiang Ching-kuo. In 1986, the main opposition groups came together to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and were allowed to contest parliamentary elections. They were formally legalised in 1989. Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1987, shortly after Martial Law was lifted. Lee Teng-hui succeeded him as President. Lee was the first Taiwan-born leader of the KMT and was symbolic of evolving 'Taiwanisation' of the KMT. Lee introduced a range of democratic reforms, including lifting restrictions of the press and introducing proper elections to the National Assembly. The first direct elections for the office of President were held in 1996. Lee Teng-hui won and continued as 'President'.
This is an external link BBC Monitoring Timeline


In March 2000 the DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian, a former Mayor of Taipei, narrowly defeated James Soong, a former member of the KMT running as an independent to become Taiwan's first non-KMT President. Opposition leaders, Lien and Soong fought a joint KMT-PFP campaign as Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates respectively in the Presidential election of 20 March 2004. Chen Shui-bian defeated Lien Chan by just under 30,000 votes. On 4 November 2004, the Taiwan High Court rejected a request from the Opposition to invalidate Chen Shui-bian's re-election.
In his second inaugural speech on 20 May 2004, Chen Shui-bian said that reconciliation and pragmatic steps were needed to improve ties between China and Taiwan. He encouraged the ruling and opposition parties to work together for the future of Taiwan. He also pledged that planned constitutional reforms would not touch on issues of sovereignty, territory or national title.

The next Presidential elections in Taiwan are scheduled for March 2008.

Members of the Legislative Yuan (Parliament) are elected for a three year term. Despite losing the Presidential election, the Opposition KMT/PFP retained its outright majority of seats following the Legislative Yuan elections held on 11 December 2004. However, the Government DPP remains the largest single Party with just under 40% of the 225 seats. Stalemate in the Legislature has often prevented the Chen administration from implementing many of its planned reforms. Accepting responsibility for the election outcome Chen resigned from the DPP chairmanship.

On 25 January 2005 Chen announced that Kaohsiung (second largest city in Taiwan) Mayor Frank Hsieh, a senior member of the DPP, would be appointed as the new Premier. He took office on 1 February when the new Legislature convened and appointed a new Cabinet.


Over the last three decades, Taiwan has averaged around 8% annual GDP growth while in the process of turning itself into a dynamic capitalist economy becoming one of the Asian 'tigers'. Agriculture, although employing 12% of the workforce, now accounts for only 3% of GDP, compared to 35% in 1952. Taiwan's economic success was initially based on the manufacture of low technology goods. These labour-intensive industries are increasingly re-locating to lower cost bases, primarily in mainland China. Taiwan has successfully moved into higher value added manufacturing and exports, mainly in electronics and computers, which have continued to drive growth. High-tech products account for about 35% of Taiwan's exports (up from 18% in 1991), a higher proportion than that of its competitors (the equivalent figure for Japan is 20% and for South Korea 29%).

Taiwan weathered the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis much better than most of its neighbours. This reflected its lower dependence on external borrowing, and the strength and flexibility of the economy. Small and medium sized companies still make up a significant proportion of the economy. They are able to adapt quickly to changing conditions.

Taiwan fared less well in the world economic downturn in 2001. The slowdown in the US and a worldwide slump in demand for electronics products, hit Taiwan badly in 2001. Real GDP growth in 2001 was minus 2%, the first full-year decline in half a century. Exports declined by 17% and imports by 23%. Recovery was slow with growth of just 3.5% in 2002 and 3.3% in 2003. However growth for 2004 reached 5.9% and exports were up by 20.7% over 2003. Enjoying substantial trade surpluses (US$6.14bn in 2004), Taiwan's foreign reserves are the fourth largest in the world (amounting, excluding gold, to US$251.1 in March 2005). Taiwan has become a major regional investor, particularly in mainland China. In 2002 Hong Kong and mainland China, overtook the United States as Taiwan's main export market.

Basic Economic Facts
GDP: 310bn (2004 est)
GNP per capita: US$ 14,300 (2004/4)
Annual Growth: 3.24% (2003)
Inflation: f1.7% (CPI, 2004/5 - forecast)
Unemployment: 4.09% (December 2004)
Major Industries: electronics, petroleum refining, chemicals, textiles, iron and steel, machinery, cement, food processing.
Major trading partners: China, Hong Kong, Japan, US, Singapore, Germany.
Foreign Trade: (2004, visibles) exports US$174bn, imports US$168bn.
Exchange rate: 1 US$ = NT$31.35 (February 2005); £1= NT$58.93 (February 2005)
This is an external link UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Taiwan

Cross-Straits relations

Despite the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Nationalists, though confined to Taiwan and a few smaller islands, still claimed to be the legitimate government of China, as the 'Republic of China'. Both sides considered the civil war not to have ended and continued an exchange of fire and later propaganda leaflets between the mainland and the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu into the 1970s. In 1991, the Taiwan authorities declared that the 'Period of Communist Rebellion' had come to an end, signalling that they considered the civil war to be over.

From 1979, the PRC developed the concept of 'one country, two systems' and put forward a series of proposals for reunification which would allow broad autonomy for Taiwan in return for it giving up claims of statehood. Taiwan refused to respond to these overtures, but in the 1980s began to relax restrictions on contacts with the mainland. In 1986, the first direct talks between the two sides were held in Hong Kong, to discuss how to deal with the hijacking to the mainland of a China Airlines (the Taiwanese 'national' carrier) flight. Taiwan allowed family visits to the mainland in 1987.

The level of political contact between China and Taiwan was raised in 1993 when representatives of non-official liaison bodies - China's Association for Relations Across The Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) met in Singapore. This was the highest level contact between China and Taiwan since the end of the civil war and marked a significant new stage in the relationship. While the meetings did not result in a political breakthrough, they did show incremental progress in practical issues. Reports of a consensus on the One China Principle later proved difficult to sustain.

Talks broke off in June 1995 when Lee Teng-hui visited the United States. China believed that the United States had reneged on a promise not to let the visit go ahead. Tensions further increased when the PRC conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Straits and launched unarmed missiles off the coast of Taiwan in 1996 in advance of the island's first direct elections for President. Formal cross-straits dialogue between the heads of ARATS and the SEF resumed in October 1998. However, talks were again broken off in July 1999 following Lee’s statement that Taiwan-China relations were 'state to state' in nature.

From mid-2000 until mid-2002 there was a gradual lessening of tensions across the Taiwan Straits, but no new formal talks. In July and August 2002 Chen spoke of Taiwan 'going its own way' and of the existence of 'one country on each side of the Taiwan Straits'. This angered the Chinese who saw these remarks as a repetition of Lee Teng-hui's 'state to state' pronouncement.

China has been highly critical of Chen Shui-bian and his predecessor Lee Teng-hui because of their pro-independence leanings. China refuses to resume direct political contacts with Taiwan until it accepts a 'One China' formula as a precondition for negotiations. Taiwan's political parties have different positions on how to approach negotiations with the mainland, but all insist that the 'Republic of China' is a separate political entity from the PRC Government.

Although China has sought reunification through negotiation, the Chinese have not renounced the threat of military action against Taiwan. In December 2004 China published its white paper on 'China's National Defence 2004' which described the situation across the Taiwan Strait as "grim". However, this paper did not repeat an earlier line which set out a further condition beyond a declaration of independence that could precipitate an attack: indefinite delay by Taiwan in negotiating unification.

China enacted its anti-secession law on 14 March 2005 to, 'oppose and check' Taiwanese independence. The anti-secession law reiterates the 'one-China' policy and sets out certain measures to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and to promote cross-strait relations. But it also authorises the use of 'non-peaceful' means if peaceful reunification fails.

Despite the political stalemate, economic and people-to-people links continue to develop at an impressive rate. Some 450,000 Taiwanese business people and their families are said to be living in the Shanghai area alone. Although direct trade is still prohibited, Taiwanese investment in China is substantial: Taiwan's exports to China (excluding Hong Kong) amounted to US$ 45 bn in 2004, up 27.2% from the previous year’s level. Taiwan's imports from China totalled US$ 16.7 bn in 2004, up 52.2% from 2003.

Recent Developments

The first direct cross-Straits charter flights for 56 years were launched between 29 January – 20 February during the Chinese New Year festival. Taiwanese and Mainland media hailed the agreement as an historic breakthrough. Direct transport links had been suspended since 1949 following the Chinese civil war. The setting up of Ching Ming festival special charter and permanent direct cargo flights were mooted following the successful Chinese New Year flights but progress on cross-strait links has since stalled following China's adoption of its anti-secession law.

In a major step towards multiparty co-operation President Chen and People's First Party (PFP) Chairman, James Soong signed a 10-point consensus on cross-strait relations, national defence and ethnic reconciliation on 24 February 2005. It reiterated President Chen's earlier pledge of 'four noes plus one'. The 'four noes' are: no declaration of independence; no change of Taiwan's formal name from the Republic of China; no enshrining the description of cross-strait relations as 'state-to-state' in nature in the Constitution; and no holding of a referendum on formal independence. The 'plus one' is not to abolish the National Reunification Council or the National Reunification Guidelines.

Several recent visits by Taiwanese opposition political parties to the Mainland have signalled a new development in party-to-party cross-Straits negotiations. In March a 30 member KMT delegation met with the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee in Beijing. It was the first visit to the Mainland since the KMT fled to Taiwan after suffering military defeat at the hands of the CPC in 1949. KMT Chairman, Lien Chan, subsequently visited the Mainland in April and met with President Hu Jintao. Following the meeting, a joint 5-point communiqué issued. The 5 points agreed on were: resumption of cross-Straits negotiations based on the '1992 consensus'; establishment of a 'military mutual trust mechanism'; establishment of cross-Straits common market; promote consultations on Taiwan’s participation in international activities; and establishment of periodic party-to-party contact and other exchanges. On 5 May, PFP Chairman, James Soong arrived in China for similar talks. The Chinese media has widely covered these visits and hailed them as an historic success. Taiwanese public reaction to them has generally been positive.

Role of the United States

In 1979, after the US switched its recognition from Taiwan to the PRC, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. It states that the US decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China rested upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means and the US would view any effort to resolve Taiwan’s future by any other means with grave concern. It also states that the US will provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive nature.

During the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to the US in December 2003, President Bush said: 'We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo, and the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally, to change the status quo, which we oppose.'

Recent Developments

On 19 February 2005 the US and Japan jointly issued a statement which listed Taiwan as a common security concern. It said that in the region one of its common strategic objectives was to encourage the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue.

Relations with the International Community

Following the communist victory in 1949 most countries recognised the PRC. However a significant number, including the United States continued to recognise the 'Republic of China' authorities on Taiwan as the lawful Government of China. The balance shifted significantly in the early 1970s as China's relations with the US and other Western countries began to improve. The United Kingdom established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1950 but maintained a consulate in Taiwan, accredited to the Provincial rather than central authorities, until 1972 when relations with the PRC were upgraded to full ambassador level. The PRC took over China's seat at the UN in 1971.

The number of countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations now numbers 26 (12 in Latin America, 7 in Africa, 6 in the Pacific and one in Europe - The Holy See). Taiwan has representative offices in 62 countries, without diplomatic status. China has also opposed Taiwan's participation in international organisations in which statehood is a prerequisite. It has sought to limit Taiwan's participation in other international organisations, insisting it do so under a name other than the 'Republic of China'. Taiwan is a member of APEC and the ADB under the titles 'Chinese Taipei' and 'Taipei, China' respectively, and joined the WTO in 2002 under the title 'The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu', or Chinese Taipei for short.

Human Rights

Taiwan has undergone a remarkably smooth transition from an authoritarian one-party system to a fully-fledged democracy in the last fifteen years or so. It now has a fully functioning parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and movement and freedom of the press. There are no political prisoners or exiles. Serious human rights concerns are limited to the use of the death penalty and occasional reports of police or military brutality.

Advance Fee Frauds

People and companies in the UK (and elsewhere) often receive letters, faxes and e-mails, offering them large sums of money provided they send various 'advance fees' to Taiwanese bank accounts. The fraudsters have obtained the details from telephone or commercial directories, so recipients are not being specifically targeted.

We recommend that people do not reply to these communications. People have lost thousands of pounds in these frauds.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service investigates advance fee frauds in the United Kingdom. For more information on this type of fraud, access their website at:

Political Situation

You should avoid large-scale political gatherings.

Local Travel

There is a risk of road blockages and landslides following typhoons, especially in central and southern Taiwan. You should check the Central Weather Bureau ( and the Directorate General of Highways ( before travelling to these areas.

Road Safety

Be alert crossing roads, even on protected crossings.

If you intend to drive in Taiwan, you will need an International Driver's Permit (IDP). Once in Taiwan, you will need to take your passport, IDP and a passport photograph to the nearest Vehicle Registration Dept and apply for a driver's licence visa which will then be secured in your IDP.


If found guilty of smuggling, trafficking, possession or use of illegal narcotics you can expect to receive a severe jail sentence or, in some cases, the death penalty.


Taiwan is subject to typhoons and tropical storms, typically from May to November, sometimes resulting in local flooding and landslides.

Earthquakes and tremors also occur although most are minor. Survival tips for both earthquakes and tropical storms can be found on the British Trade and Cultural Office's website.

Last reviewed - 10 May 2005


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