In 1949, communists led by Mao Zedong came to power in China, causing
the leaders of the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT) to flee
to Taiwan. From 1949 to 1987, the KMT ruled Taiwan under the longest
period of martial law in modern times. Taiwan was led first by
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and then by his son Chiang Ching-kuo.
Chiang Ching-kuo finally initiated democratic reforms, and his protégé,
Lee Teng-hui, became the first native-born president of Taiwan in
1988. Lee was later elected as the president in the first direct
elections held in 1996.
China has continued its efforts to isolate Taiwan, insisting that other
countries cannot have diplomatic relations with two Chinas. Taiwan
lost its UN seat to China in 1971, thanks in part to the US policy
change towards the communist nation. The US made an attempt to allow
Taiwan to maintain its General Assembly membership, but that resolution
was defeated. Currently, very few countries have diplomatic contacts
China has maintained that it would like to unify the two countries
under its “One China” policy, using force if necessary. That policy
has been softened to suggest that a peaceful resolution of the issue
was preferred. But the contentious issue of Taiwan has resulted in
hundreds of Chinese missiles allegedly aimed at the small island state.
Despite its strong diplomatic and economic ties with China, the US
continues to provide weapons to Taiwan.
Taiwan’s worldwide diplomatic isolation has not hindered the country’s
tremendous economic boom. Taiwan is one of the top producers of
computer technology in the world, and despite tensions between the
nations, Taiwan and China maintain trading relationships. Taiwan’s
largest export partner is China (29.2 percent of exports went to China
in 2008), and China is Taiwan’s second largest imports
supplier (13 percent in 2007).
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Form of Government:
Year of Independence:
Mixture of Buddhist and Taoist 93%, Christian 4.5%, other 2.5%
36,188 sq km (13,972 sq miles)
Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min), Hakka dialects
75 (men), 81 (women) (2009 est.)
1 New Taiwan dollar (NT$) = 100 cents
Computer equipment, textiles, basic metals, equipment, plastic and rubber products, vehicles and auto parts
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$31,900 (2008 est.)
International Dialing Code: