History and Politics

Modern-day Taiwan is often described as economically prosperous and politically vibrant. But that has not always been the case. As recently as 40 years ago, the island was an economic backwater, with the government fighting a battle to keep diplomatic allies from switching recognition to Beijing.

The Nationalist (or Kuomingtang, KMT) government had lost control of the Chinese mainland to the Communists some 20 years earlier and Taiwan was becoming more and more isolated internationally. In 1971, Taiwan lost its seat in the United Nations and in 1979, the United States cut off official ties with the island.

Although a member of the World Trade Organization and of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as of 2007, the nation of 23 million people, formally called the Republic of China, is recognized by only about two dozen countries, mainly in Central America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

In spite of diplomatic setbacks, Taiwan’s people and its government worked together to achieve what would later be called the Taiwan Economic Miracle, registering one of the longest sustained periods of double-digit growth in modern times.

As one of the world’s leading trading nations, Taiwan now holds the world’s fourth largest foreign exchange reserves-U.S.$270 billion as of November 2007, a record high-after China, Japan and Russia.

After martial law was lifted in 1987 under President Chiang Ching-kuo,the KMT’s uninterrupted autocratic rule gradually gave way to free and democratic elections, culminating in the first ever peaceful transition of power in a Chinese society in May 2000, when Chen Shui-bian of the pposition Democratic Progressive Party was sworn in as president.

The presidency is term-limited and Mr. Chen will step down in May 2008 after two 4-year terms. His successor will be chosen in the election to be held on March 22, 2008.

Useful links:
The Government Information Office
The Office of the President
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs