Chinese (re)unification, more specifically Cross-strait (re)unification, is the irredentist concept of Greater China that expresses the goal of unifying the People's Republic of China and Taiwan into a single sovereign state. The term was developed in the 1970s as part of the Chinese Communist Party's strategy to address the "Taiwan Issue," as PRC started to normalize foreign relations with a number of countries including the United States and Japan. In 1979, the People's Congress of China published “An Open Letter to Taiwan Compatriots” (告台湾同胞书) which included the term "Chinese unification" as an ideal for Cross-Strait relations. In 1981, the Chairman of the People's Congress Standing Committee Ye Jianying announced the "Nine Policies" for the PRC's stance on the Cross-Strait relations, with "Chinese Peaceful Unification" (祖国和平统一) as the first policy. Ever since then, "One Country, Two Systems; Chinese Unification" has been emphasized at every National Congress of the Communist Party as the principles to deal with Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan; "One Country, Two Systems" specifically about PRC's policy towards post-colonial Hong Kong and Macao, and "Chinese Unification" specifically towards Taiwan.
The Republic of China was founded in 1912 to govern Mainland China, which the PRC now governs, after defeating the Manchu-led Qing government. At the time, Taiwan was part of the Empire of Japan. In 1945, Japanese forces in Taiwan surrendered to Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of ROC, who was on behalf of the World War II allies. During the last years of the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949), the ROC lost mainland China to the Communist Party of China (CPC), and relocated its government to Taiwan. The CCP established the People's Republic of China on the lost Mainland territory in 1949.
The PRC government claimed that Taiwan is a "rebel province" of the PRC and that recovering the island is a high priority. It established the One-China policy to clarify its intent. The PRC threatened to invade Taiwan should it consider peaceful incorporation not possible.
Most Taiwanese people oppose joining the PRC for various reasons, including fears of the loss of Taiwan's democracy, human rights, Taiwanese nationalism, and enduring pro-Japan sentiment. Opponents either favour maintaining the status quo of Republic of China administrating Taiwan or the pursuit of Taiwanese independence. The ROC Constitution states that its territory includes the mainland, but the official policy of the ROC government is dependent on which coalition is currently in power. The position of the Pan-blue coalition, which comprises the Kuomintang (KMT), the People First Party and the New Party is to eventually incorporate the mainland into the ROC, while the position of Pan-Green Coalition, composed of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, is to pursue Taiwan independence.
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Taiwan has a complicated history of being administered by larger foreign powers including the Dutch East India Company, the Manchurian Qing dynasty and The Empire of Japan. Taiwan first fell under Chinese control when it was invaded by the Manchu-led Qing dynasty in 1683.
The island remained under Qing rule until 1895 when it came under the control of the Empire of Japan. Following the Axis power’s defeat in World War II in 1945, the Kuomintang-led Republic of China gained control of Taiwan. Some Taiwanese resisted ROC rule in the years following World War II. The ROC violently suppressed this resistance which culminated in the 228 Massacre of 1947. With the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950, Taiwan and China were separated from each other with governments on both sides aiming for a military takeover of the other.
The irredentist narrative emphasizing the importance of a united Greater China Area, which purportedly include Taiwan, arose in both the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party in the years during and after the civil war. For the PRC, the claim of the Greater China Area was part of a nationalist argument for territorial integrity. In the civil war years it set the communist movement apart from the ROC, which had lost Manchuria, the homeland of the Qing Emperors, to Japan in 1932.
From the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950 until the mid-1970s the concept of unification was not the main subject of discourse between the governments of the PRC and the ROC. The Kuomintang (KMT) believed that they would, probably with American help, one day retake China, while Mao Zedong's communist regime would collapse in a popular uprising and the Kuomintang forces would be welcomed.
By the 1970s, the Kuomintang's authoritarian military dictatorship in Taiwan (led by the Chiang family) was becoming increasingly untenable due to the popularity of the Tangwai movement and Taiwanese nationalists. In 1970, then-Vice Premier (and future President) Chiang Ching-kuo survived an assassination attempt in New York City by Cheng Tzu-tsai and Peter Huang, both members of the World United Formosans for Independence. In 1976, Wang Sing-nan sent a mail bomb to then-Governor of Taiwan Province Hsieh Tung-min, who suffered serious injuries to both hands as a result. The Kuomintang's heavy-handed oppression in the Kaohsiung Incident, alleged involvement in the Lin family massacre and the murders of Chen Wen-chen and Henry Liu, and the self-immolation of Cheng Nan-jung galvanized the Taiwanese community into political actions and eventually led to majority rule and democracy in Taiwan.
The concept of unification replaced the concept of liberation by the PRC in 1979 as it embarked, after Mao's death, on economic reforms and pursued a more pragmatic foreign policy. In Taiwan, the possibility of retaking China became increasingly remote in the 1970s, particularly after Taiwan's expulsion from the United Nations in 1971, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the PRC and United States in 1979, and Chiang Kai-shek's death in 1975.
With the end of authoritarian rule in the 1980s, there was a shift in power within the KMT away from the faction who had accompanied Chiang to Taiwan. Taiwanese who grew up under Japanese rule, which account for more than 85% of the population, gained more influence and the KMT began to move away from its ideology of cross-strait unification. Martial law was finally lifted in Taiwan on July 15, 1987. Following the Wild Lily student movement, President Lee Teng-hui announced in 1991 that his government no longer disputed the rule of the Communists in China, leading to semi-official peace talks (leading to what would be termed as the "1992 consensus") between the two sides. The PRC broke off these talks in 1999 when President Lee described relations with the PRC as "special state-to-state".
Until the mid-1990s, unification supporters on Taiwan were bitterly opposed to the Communist Party. Since the mid-1990s a considerable warming of relations between the Communist Party and Taiwanese unification supporters, as both oppose the pro-Taiwan independence bloc. This brought about the accusation that unification supporters were attempting to sell out Taiwan. They responded saying that closer ties with mainland China, especially economic ties, are in Taiwan's interest.
After the ROC Presidential elections of 2000, which brought the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party's candidate President Chen Shui-bian to power, the Kuomintang, faced with defections to the People First Party, expelled Lee Teng-hui and his supporters and reoriented the party towards unification. At the same time, the People's Republic of China shifted its efforts at unification away from military threats (which it de-emphasized but did not renounce) towards economic incentives designed to encourage Taiwanese businesses to invest in China and aiming to create a pro-Beijing bloc within the Taiwanese electorate.
Within Taiwan, unification supporters tend to see "China" as a larger cultural entity divided by the Chinese Civil War into separate states or governments within the country. In addition, supporters see Taiwanese identity as one piece of a broader Chinese identity rather than as a separate cultural identity. However, supporters do oppose desinicization inherent in Communist ideology such as that seen during the Cultural Revolution, along with the effort to emphasize a Taiwanese identity as separate from a Chinese one. As of the 2008 election of President Ma Ying-Jeou, the KMT agreed to the One China principle, but defined it as led by the Republic of China rather than the People's Republic of China.
According to the 1995 proposal outlined by CPC General secretary and President Jiang Zemin, Taiwan would lose sovereignty and the right to self-determination, but would keep its armed forces and send a representative to be the "number two leader" in the PRC central government, in accord with the One China, Two Systems approach adopted for Hong Kong and Macau. Thus, under this proposal, the Republic of China would become fully defunct.
Few Taiwanese are in support of "One Country, Two Systems" while some unification supporters argued to uphold the status quo until mainland China democratized and industrialized to the same level as Taiwan. In the 2000 presidential election, independent candidate James Soong proposed a European Union-style relation with mainland China (this was echoed by Hsu Hsin-liang in 2004) along with a non-aggression pact. In the 2004 presidential election, Lien Chan proposed a confederation-style relationship. Beijing objected to the plan, claiming that Taiwan was already part of the China, and was not a state and therefore could not form a confederation with it.
Unification proposals were not actively floated in Taiwan and the issue remained moot under President Chen Shui-bian, who refused to accept talks under Beijing's pre-conditions. Under the PRC administration of Hu Jintao, incorporating Taiwan lost emphasis amid the reality that the DPP presidency in Taiwan would be held by pro-independence President Chen until 2008. Instead, the emphasis shifted to meetings with politicians who opposed independence.
A series of high-profile visits in 2005 to China by the leaders of the three pan-blue coalition parties was seen as an implicit recognition of the status quo by the PRC government. Notably, Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan's trip was marked by unedited coverage of his speeches and tours (and some added positive commentary) by government-controlled media and meetings with high level officials including Hu Jintao. Similar treatment (though marked with less historical significance and media attention) was given during subsequent visits by PFP chairman James Soong and New Party chairman Yok Mu-ming. The Communists and the Pan-Blue Coalition parties emphasized their common ground in renewed negotiations under the alleged 1992 consensus, opening the three links, and opposing Taiwan's formal independence.
The PRC passed an Anti-Secession Law shortly before Lien's trip. While the Pan-Green Coalition held mass rallies to protest the codification of using military force to conquer Taiwan, the Pan-Blue Coalition was largely silent. The language of the Anti-Secession Law was clearly directed at the independence supporters in Taiwan (termed "'Taiwan independence' secessionist forces" in the law) and designed to be somewhat acceptable to the Pan-Blue Coalition. It did not explicitly declare Taiwan to be part of the People's Republic of China but instead used the term "China" on its own, allowing definitional flexibility. It made repeated emphasis of "promoting peaceful national unification" but left out the concept of "one country, two systems" and called for negotiations in "steps and phases and with flexible and varied modalities" in recognition of the concept of eventual rather than immediate incorporation of Taiwan.
Both under President Chen and President Ma Ying-jeou, the main political changes in cross-straits relationship involved closer economic ties and increased business and personal travel. Such initiatives was met by grassroots oppositions such as the Sunflower Student Movement, which successfully scuttled Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in 2014. President Ma Ying-Jeou advocated for the revitalization of Chinese culture, as in the re-introduction of Traditional Chinese in texts to mainland China used in Taiwan and historically in China. It expressed willingness to allow Simplified Chinese to be used for informal writing.
At the beginning of the millennium, polls consistently found 70% to 80% of all Taiwanese opposed to unification with the People's Republic of China. Public opinion on unification has not changed significantly since then. Also, unification is generally not the deciding issue in Taiwanese political campaigns and elections. A majority of the population is supporting the status quo of in order to avoid a military confrontation with China, but a sizable population supports a name rectification campaign.
Immediate unification is not endorsed by any of the major political parties. The People First Party officially advocates that Taiwan should maintain the status quo. The Kuomintang consistently defends Republic of China's sovereignty and that there is one China, but refer to ROC and not PRC. Although those two parties and the New Party, together forming the pan-blue coalition, are viewed as supporters, in most cases they do so in a traditional sense only. Their main difference with the pan-green coalition is that they believe Taiwan should identify itself culturally with China, and oppose any loss of national identity.
Opponents of "One country, two systems" cite its implementation in Hong Kong, where despite promises of high levels of autonomy, the PRC government has gradually increased its control of Hong Kong through influx of people from the mainland, manipulation of elections and control of the media and economy.
The Taiwanese pro-unification minority has at times been vocal in media and politics. For the 2004 presidential election the unification question gained some attention as different political parties were discussing the issue. A series of demonstrations, some of which organized by pro-unification minorities, gained significant attention.
Apart from the political agenda from the Party elites and policy experts, the PRC citizens' views are more multifaceted. Some commentators realize the economic realities that the progress made between China and Taiwan, including the Three Links initiatives opening up postal, transportation, and trade connections, has provided opportunities for and mutual benefits in economic development. The progress in cross-strait transportation methods such as railways and ferries has made some coastal residents (e.g. in Fujian) feel that Taiwan became less distant and less exclusive.
In terms of the political progress of Chinese unification, some have a rational view on PRC's motives as well as the current stagnation in peaceful negotiations or unification progress, pointing out the strategic geographical location of Taiwan: it can strengthen China's military defense line in the South China Sea, and with Taiwan backed up by the United States, mainland may feel threatened and pressured by the U.S.
However, many Chinese are concerned by the Taiwanese independent movement (“台独”), and generally are against it for various reasons. Some are purely ideological, saying that the independence movements are brainwashed radical separatists. Some think it is because of "face" that Taiwan would rather sacrifice development to preserve a tough "face". The negative sentiments towards Taiwanese independent were exacerbated with the recent election of Tsai Ing-wen, a candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party with a Taiwanese independence agenda. Specially, some noted that one of the ulterior motive of the "transitional justice" ideals proposed by Tsai to strengthen the outcomes of democratic reforms is to further the divide and separation from China, thereby worsening China-Taiwan relations. It's worth noting that there may be a voice minority about the topic of Taiwanese independence as the phrase "Taiwanese independence" is censored on the Internet in China, and people sometimes have to use the phonetic alphabet "duli" (独立) in order to express their opinions.
With regards to the future of Chinese unification, some have a positive view despite the recognition of deepening cultural and political differences, citing common ancient history, language, ethnicity, and the shared desire of peaceful development as drivers of unification. Some, on the other hand, are not as hopeful and see no progress in the future, as they see the problem as essentially a complex one about foreign relations, especially regarding the power dynamics between China and the U.S., can sustain the stagnation. Some also noted that with the rapid economic development and rising political status of China in the international arena, China is gaining more bargaining power and putting more pressure on Taiwan towards the unification, for example, through diplomatic isolation.