ROC Yearbook

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One of the most renowned bookstore chains in Taiwan, eslite Corp. opened its first mainland China store in the city of Suzhou in November 2015. (Courtesy of eslite Corp.) 


Evolving Relationship

At the time the Republic of China (ROC) was founded in mainland China in 1912, Taiwan was under Japanese rule as a result of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which Qing-dynasty 清朝 China (1644-1912) ceded the island province to Japan. At the end of World War II in 1945, the ROC government declared Taiwan a province of the Republic. Four years later, after fighting a civil war with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rebels, the ROC government led by the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT) 中國國民黨, relocated to the island. The CCP regime, meanwhile, declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).


Since then, the ROC government’s effective jurisdiction has been limited to Taiwan and the Penghu 澎湖, Kinmen 金門 and Matsu 馬祖 archipelagos, in addition to a number of smaller islands. Estrangement and military tension marked relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait until the early 1990s, when cross-strait talks were launched and later became institutionalized in mid-2008, moving on to a relationship of extensive economic and people-to-people exchanges.


1949-1987: From Mutual Denial to Initial Opening

During the Cold War, the Taipei-based, KMT-led government and the Beijing-based, CCP-led government denied each other’s legitimacy. Each claimed sovereignty over all of China inclusive of the mainland and Taiwan and attempted or threatened to use force to resolve the issue. In 1979, Beijing’s 北京 policy statements began to stress the use of “peaceful” means to achieve unification. Taipei 臺北 responded to this with a “three noes” policy—no contact, no negotiation and no compromise.


Beginning in the 1980s, the ROC underwent political democratization as well as economic liberalization. Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taipei has adopted progressively more open policies toward Beijing, spurring economic, cultural and educational exchanges.


1988-2000: Lee Teng-hui Administration

The administration of President Lee Teng-hui 李登輝 took steps to put the cross-strait relationship on a realistic footing. In 1990, an advisory panel called the National Unification Council 國家統一委員會 was established under the Office of the President 總統府. In February 1991, the council issued the Guidelines for National Unification 國家統一綱領, which affirmed a “one-China principle” and outlined a three-phase approach to unification. The first phase called for the mainland to democratize and carry out economic reform.


In May of the same year, President Lee announced the termination of the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion 動員戡亂時期, inferring that the ROC government no longer looked upon the CCP and its mainland government as seditious organizations that must be suppressed, and indirectly acknowledging the reality that the two were on an equal footing.


In 1991, the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) 行政院大陸委員會 was founded to serve as the official agency responsible for the nation’s cross-strait policies. At the same time, the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) 海峽交流基金會 was set up under the direction of the MAC with the mission of negotiating agreements and consulting on technical and practical matters with mainland authorities. In addition, laws and regulations were enacted or amended to facilitate economic and cultural interaction with the mainland.


The establishment of the SEF and, soon thereafter, its mainland Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) 海峽兩岸關係協會, signaled the realization in both Taipei and Beijing that, despite continuing mutual non-recognition of each other’s legitimacy, it was imperative to begin interacting on a basis of mutual respect. The semi-official nature of the SEF and ARATS allows the two governments to negotiate practical issues without affirming the sovereign status of the other side.


In October 1992, the SEF and ARATS held preparatory talks in Hong Kong—the first time authorized representatives of the Taipei and Beijing governments had done so. The understandings reached in 1992 served as the basis for the two sides to hold institutionalized talks in Singapore in 1993, turning a new page on cross-strait relations.


To protest the United States’ decision to allow President Lee to visit the country in June 1995, the mainland indefinitely postponed further SEF-ARATS negotiations that had been scheduled for July 1995 in Beijing. That same month, tensions escalated when mainland armed forces test-fired missiles into waters off the coast of Taiwan. In the run-up to the ROC’s first direct presidential election in March 1996, Beijing intensified military exercises in the Taiwan Strait region, once again shooting missiles into Taiwan’s coastal waters.


In October 1998, the SEF and ARATS resumed talks in Shanghai 上海 but made no progress on substantive issues. In July 1999, Beijing once again suspended talks in protest against President Lee’s characterization of cross-strait ties as a “state-to-state relationship or at least a special state-to-state relationship” during an interview with Deutsche Welle, a German radio station. CCP leaders claimed that his assertion of the existence of “two Chinas” was tantamount to a declaration of “Taiwan independence.”


Despite the failure of cross-strait talks to build on the initial successes of 1992 and 1993, the ROC government gradually eased restrictions on the movement of people, goods, capital and technology from Taiwan to mainland China.


2000-2008: Chen Shui-bian  Administration

In 2000, Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 民主進步黨 was elected president and was re-elected in 2004. In his first inaugural address, President Chen pledged not to initiate any move—such as pushing to adopt a new official name for the nation—that might be interpreted as altering the status quo. On several occasions, he urged Beijing to cooperate in establishing a “peace and stability framework.”


The Chen administration took a number of further measures that demonstrated Taiwan’s good will:

  • Relaxed restrictions on imports from the mainland, mainland-bound investment, and the functions and scope of offshore shipping centers.
  • Permitted journalists from the mainland to visit Taiwan (although this privilege was later withdrawn).
  • Opened Taiwan to visits by people of the mainland who lived in, or first traveled to, a third country.
  • Negotiated cross-strait charter flights for ROC citizens during holidays and for humanitarian purposes.
  • Authorized Taiwan-based financial institutions to open liaison offices in the mainland.


At the time, cross-strait shipments and travelers from Taiwan to the mainland had to make inconvenient, expensive detours through Hong Kong or third countries. With booming growth in cross-strait trade and visits of Taiwanese businesspeople and tourists to the mainland, the Chen administration called for a resumption of cross-strait negotiations, with a priority on signing agreements to open up “three links” 三通—direct transportation of people and goods as well as direct postal service and commercial transactions. Beijing rejected this overture to resume the cross-strait dialogue, however, insisting that this would be possible only if the Chen administration affirmed that Taiwan and the mainland constitute a single China and must eventually be unified.


In the face of the impasse in negotiating the establishment of direct links, President Chen early in his first term unilaterally approved the opening of direct seaborne passenger transportation for ROC citizens on ROC-registered boats between the Kinmen and Matsu islands and a number of mainland seaports. With no objection forthcoming from Beijing, this arrangement—known as the “mini three links” 小三通 although it did not involve postal or commercial transactions—began on January 1, 2001.


The Beijing authorities continued to expand military deployments opposite Taiwan throughout the eight years of the Chen administration. Large-scale military exercises simulating attacks on Taiwan also continued to be held annually. Meanwhile, Beijing maneuvered to block Taipei’s participation in international forums and to hinder its diplomatic endeavors.


On March 14, 2005, the Beijing government enacted an “anti-secession law,” which authorizes the People’s Liberation Army to use “non-peaceful means” to achieve cross-strait unification should Taiwan’s people attempt to “secede” from the PRC. In response, President Chen issued a six-point statement, stressing that Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs only to its 23 million people, and that any law calling for violation of the basic rights and interests of others was a setback for human civilization.


A year later, in February 2006, President Chen declared that the Guidelines for National Unification had “ceased to apply” because they had been drawn up by an ad hoc presidential commission in the days before citizens had the right to elect their leader and make their voices effectively heard. Moreover, the framers of the guidelines had premised them on a “one-China principle” and the presumption of eventual unification without consulting the people of Taiwan.


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2008-2016: Ma Ying-jeou Administration  

Relations between Taiwan and mainland China have warmed since President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 of the KMT took office in May 2008. In his first inaugural address, Ma enunciated the imperative of maintaining the status quo during his term of office under the framework of the ROC Constitution. This means no unification talks with the mainland, no pursuit of Taiwan independence and no use of force to settle sovereignty issues. He also called upon the two governments to “face reality, pioneer a new future, shelve disputes and pursue win-win solutions.”


Immediately after taking office, the Ma administration moved to reactivate SEF-ARATS negotiations that had been in hiatus for a decade. The historic first round of talks, held in June 2008 in Beijing, produced the first cross-strait agreements in 15 years. The second round, held five months later in Taipei, marked the first time a mainland Chinese negotiating team had come to Taiwan.


As of July 2016, 11 rounds of talks had been held, producing 23 formal agreements and two consensuses (see table “SEF-ARATS Talks and Agreement Topics”). The agreements address the economic interests and general welfare of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait without touching on sovereignty issues.


Meanwhile, in 2010, Taiwan and mainland China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region established the Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Cooperation Council 臺港經濟文化合作策進會 and the Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Cooperation and Promotion Council 港台經濟文化合作協進會 as platforms for fostering closer economic and cultural ties. Under the two platforms, one memorandum and one agreement had been inked and more than 20 exchange and cooperative projects had been promoted as of March 2016.


In 2011, the ROC representative office in Hong Kong, formerly called the Chung Hwa Travel Service 中華旅行社, was renamed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong, reflecting an enhancement of its functional status and its ROC personnel’s diplomatic privileges. The name of the ROC representative office in Macau was changed from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Macau. Later that year, the governments of Hong Kong and Macau also established representative offices in Taipei. As of March 2016, Taiwan and Macau had signed two agreements through their respective representative offices.


Cross-strait ties turned a new page in February 2014 when MAC Minister Wang Yu-chi 王郁琦 led a delegation to Nanjing 南京 and met with his mainland counterpart Zhang Zhijun 張志軍, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) 國務院臺灣事務辦公室, marking the highest-level government-to-government talks between Taiwan and mainland China since they came under separate rule in 1949. The TAO director reciprocated by leading a mainland delegation to Taiwan in June 2014.


As of July 2016, MAC and TAO heads had met four times, discussing issues regarding expanding economic cooperation, establishing reciprocal offices, extraditing economic criminals, and participation in regional economic integration initiatives. They had also reached agreements on granting customs clearance privileges to related personnel, institutionalizing cross-strait negotiations, and reinforcing exchanges in culture and education.


On November 7, 2015, President Ma met with his mainland Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping 習近平 in Singapore. The landmark meeting was the first between the top leaders of the two sides since 1949.


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SEF-ARATS Talks and Agreement Topics


2016-Present: Tsai Ing-wen Administration

In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 of the DPP was elected president. In her inaugural address, she vowed to safeguard the ROC’s sovereignty and territory by promoting peace and stability in cross-strait relations and maintaining the existing mechanisms for dialogue and communication across the Taiwan Strait.


President Tsai said the stable and peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship must be continuously promoted based on existing realities and political foundations, which contain four main elements: the historic fact of the 1992 cross-strait talks, where both sides sought common ground despite their political differences and arrived at a number of understandings; the ROC constitutional order; the fruits of more than two decades of cross-strait consultations and exchanges; and Taiwan’s democratic principles and popular opinion.


She also emphasized that the two governing parties across the Taiwan Strait must set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue for the benefit of the people on both sides.


Expanding Exchanges

In addition to the negotiation of agreements, since May 2008 central and local governments have implemented a number of measures to expand private, commercial and semi-official exchanges across the strait and promote people-to-people interactions, all with an aim to enhance mutual understanding and facilitate regional peace and prosperity.


Economic Cooperation

On the economic front, the regulatory cap on Taiwan-based companies’ investments in mainland China has been raised from 40 percent to 60 percent of their net worth. Further, a number of new regulations have been promulgated in line with the April 2009 joint statement on allowing mainland investment in Taiwan.


On August 31, 2012, Taiwan and mainland China signed the Memorandum on Cross-strait Currency Clearing Cooperation 海峽兩岸貨幣清算合作備忘錄 to pave the way for collaboration on a currency swap mechanism while allowing Taiwanese institutions to offer yuan-denominated settlement services.


Between 2011 and 2013, Taiwan and mainland China set up three financial supervisory platforms based on three memoranda of understanding signed in November 2009. Under the Cross-strait Banking Supervisory Cooperation Platform 兩岸銀行監理合作平臺, the Cross-strait Securities and Futures Supervisory Cooperation Platform 兩岸證券期貨監理合作平臺 and the Cross-strait Insurance Supervisory Cooperation Platform 兩岸保險監理合作平臺, the two sides meet regularly to conduct institutionalized consultations on market access, flow of capital, supervisory regulations, maintenance of financial stability and deeper bilateral cooperation.


Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement


Cross-strait Movement of People  

Cross-strait movement of people has increased rapidly since the ROC government began allowing private visits to mainland China in 1987. Group tourists from the mainland were also allowed to travel directly to Taiwan beginning 2008. In 2015 alone, ROC citizens made 5.49 million visits to the mainland (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) while mainland Chinese made 4.14 million visits to Taiwan.


The ROC’s semi-official Taiwan Strait Tourism Association (TSTA) 臺灣海峽兩岸觀光旅遊協會 opened an office in Beijing in May 2010 to expand channels of communication and cooperation with government agencies, private companies, media organizations and Taiwanese business associations on the mainland. That same month, the TSTA’s mainland Chinese counterpart, the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association 海峽兩岸旅遊交流協會, opened an office in Taipei. The two openings marked the first exchange of semi-official offices between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait since they became separately governed more than six decades ago.


In June 2011, Taiwan opened its doors to independent tourists from three mainland cities—Shanghai, Beijing and Xiamen 廈門—for maximum stays of 15 days per visit. As of March 2016, the total number of eligible cities had been increased to 47, and the daily arrival quota had also increased to 5,000 in 2015. During 2015, solo tourists from the mainland made around 1.33 million visits.


Starting January 1, 2015, mainland Chinese visitors to Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu no longer have to apply for travel permits in advance. They will be given landing visa privileges that allow stays of up to 15 days on these islands.


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Other Liberalization Measures

ROC government prohibitions on visits of its high-level officials to the mainland have been relaxed, while central- and local-government agencies are now permitted to invite mainland officials to visit Taiwan. And amendments to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area 臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例 have bolstered the employment and inheritance rights of mainland spouses, and have reduced the waiting period for acquiring ROC identity cards to six years.


Ten mainland Chinese media outlets, including Xinhua News Agency 新華社, People’s Daily 人民日報 and China Central Television 中央電視台, are currently allowed to post correspondents in Taiwan. Mainland reporters are allowed to visit for up to three months at a time, extendable for a further three months if necessary, and the number of visiting reporters permitted per media organization has increased to five.


Restrictions on students from mainland China wishing to pursue higher education in Taiwan have been relaxed and their diplomas are now recognized. The first batch of mainland students—numbering 928 persons—began studying at universities in Taiwan in September 2011. In the 2015-2016 school year, 7,813 mainland students attended degree programs at Taiwan’s universities, including 3,019 newly enrolled students. Meanwhile, 34,114 exchange students from mainland China came to Taiwan in 2015 for short-term studies.


Looking Forward

Following the will and consensus of the Taiwanese people, the government will work to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and continue friendly relations with mainland China through a low-key and surprise-free approach.


Cross-strait exchanges will also be a priority in bringing the greatest benefits and well-being to the people. Only through interactions can the two sides bridge differing perspectives, enhance mutual understanding, and build mutual trust, all of which are important foundations for cross-strait relations.


Taiwan looks forward to a reciprocity of goodwill from Beijing and hopes the mainland authorities can conduct cross-strait relations in a way that respects Taiwan’s democratic system, national identity and international space. This will benefit the people on both sides while promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.


Related websites

• Mainland Affairs Council:

• Straits Exchange Foundation:

• Office of the President:

• Taiwan Strait Tourism Association:

• Financial Supervisory Commission: