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Country Profile : Taiwan

Country profile: Taiwan

Map of Taiwan

Taiwan is the island which has for all practical purposes been independent for half a century, but which China regards as a rebel region that must be reunited with the mainland - by force if necessary.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled to the island as the Communists, under Mao Zedong, swept to power.

Overview

Long-standing tension with the mainland has eased since the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in March 2008. In July 2009 the leaders of China and Taiwan exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years.

580-metre Taipei 101
The capital's Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world

Mr Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, had angered China with moves towards formal independence, and relations had been severely strained.

Despite the recent thaw, Taiwanese officials complain that Beijing has kept increasing the number of short-range missiles aimed at Taiwan.

In the past the military threat from the mainland has been partly offset by the pivotal relationship between Taipei and Washington, which is the main weapons supplier to the island - one of the world's biggest buyers of arms.

China insists that nations cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan, with the result that Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with only two dozen countries - Pacific, South American and African states in the main.

Taiwan has no seat at the United Nations, having lost it to China in 1971. Repeated attempts to regain representation at the UN have been blocked.

Despite its diplomatic isolation, Taiwan has become one of Asia's big traders. It is considered to have achieved an economic miracle, becoming one of the world's top producers of computer technology.

Taoism followers burn sticks to mark Year of the Pig, Feb 2007
Taoism followers see in the Lunar New Year in Taipei

And past tensions notwithstanding, Taiwan and China enjoy healthy trade links. China is Taipei's number one export market.

For decades, the island was an authoritarian one-party state ruled by the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT), which under President Chiang Kai-shek controlled much of China before the Communists' rise to power in 1949.

In the early 1990s, however, Taiwan made the transition to democracy and the KMT's monopoly on power ended completely in 2000, with the election of President Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Unlike the KMT, which seeks a united, non-Communist China, Mr Chen was a passionate supporter of complete secession, straining relations with Beijing.

Although he won a second term in 2004, persistent corruption allegations surrounding the president and his family undermined Mr Chen's popularity, and contributed to the DPP's loss to a resurgent KMT in the 2008 presidential election.

Facts

  • Formal name: Republic of China (ROC)
  • Population: 23 million (Tourism Bureau, Republic of China, 2009)
  • Capital: Taipei
  • Area: 36,188 sq km (13,972 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Min Nan Chinese (Taiwanese)
  • Major religions: Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 79 years (women) (government statistics)
  • Monetary unit: New Taiwan dollar (NT$)
  • Main exports: Computer equipment, textiles, basic metals, equipment, plastic and rubber products, vehicles
  • GNI per capita: US $17,230 (World Bank, 2006)
  • Internet domain: .tw
  • International dialling code: +886

Leaders

President Ma Ying-jeou

Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou
Ma Ying-jeou has cultivated an incorruptible image

Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) candidate Ma Ying-jeou beat the Democratic Progressive Party's Frank Hsieh in the March 2008 presidential election and was sworn in on 20 May, ending eight years of Democratic Progressive Party rule.

A lawyer by education, Mr Ma rose through the ranks of the Kuomintang to become the youngest ever cabinet minister in 1988.

As justice minister in 1993-1996 he acquired a reputation for combating corruption, and won back Taipei from the Democratic Progressive Party in the mayoral elections of 1998.

He led the Kuomintang in 2005-2007, scoring significant wins in the 2005 local elections. He stepped down from this and the mayoral post in order successfully to contest allegations of misuse of funds in 2007.

Mr Ma's conciliatory manner has won him respect among opponents in the rough-and-tumble world of Taiwanese politics.

His presidential campaign focused on improving relations with mainland China and helping Taiwan's financial services industry establish itself there.

In 2009, his policy of rapprochement with Beijing yielded its first fruits, with the two sides agreeing to facilitate investment in the island from the mainland, and to start talks on a far-ranging trade pact.

Media

The media environment in Taiwan is among the freest in Asia, and extremely competitive.

TV sets in Taiwanese store
Terrestrial TV networks compete with multichannel operators

There are hundreds of newspapers, all privately-owned and reflecting a wide range of views. Laws which prohibit the promotion of independence from China or communism are not generally enforced.

Taiwan's major terrestrial TV networks command the lion's share of viewing and tend to be politically partisan. The take-up of multichannel cable TV - about 85% - is the highest in the region.

More than 170 radio stations are on the air on the island, many of them carrying specific music formats. Phone-in programmes are particularly popular.

The government has taken steps to end government, military and political party ownership of the broadcast media.

More than 70% of households are connected to the internet.

The press

Television

Radio

News agency

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