U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Taiwan, November 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Area: 14,000 sq. mi.; about the size of West Virginia.
Cities: Capital--Taipei (pop. 2.6 mil-lion). Other cities--Kaohsiung
(1.4 mil-lion), Taichung (832,654).
Terrain: Largely mountainous.
Climate: Maritime subtropical.
Population (1994): 21 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.9%.
Languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese, Hakka.
Education: Years compulsory--nine; Attendance--99.9%. Literacy (1994)--
Health: Infant mortality rate--0.5%. Life expectancy (1994)--male 72
yrs.; female 78 yrs.
Work force: 9.2 million.
Type: Multi-party democracy. With the direct presidential elections
scheduled for 1996, Taiwan will complete its transition from a one-
party, authoritarian state to an open, vigorous democracy with three
major parties and more than 70 registered parties.
Constitution: December 25, 1947.
Branches: Five Yuan--Executive, Legislative (parliament), Judicial,
Control, Examination. Separate National Assembly has certain powers
regarding appointment, impeachment, and constitutional amendment but has
no general legislative functions.
Administrative subdivisions: Taiwan Province, Fujian Province (for
Kinmen and Matsu islands), Taipei and Kaohsiung Special Municipalities.
Major political parties: Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT);
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); Chinese New Party (CNP).
Suffrage: Universal over 20 years of age.
GDP (1994): $244.2 billion.
Annual growth rate (1994): 6.5%.
Per capita GDP (1994): $11,600.
Natural resources: Small deposits of coal, natural gas, limestone,
marble, and asbestos.
Agriculture (3.6% of GDP): Major products--pork, rice, betel nut, sugar
cane, poultry, shrimp, eel.
Industry (37.4% of GDP): Major sectors--electronics and computer
products, chemicals and petrochemicals, basic metals, textiles,
transport items, plastics, machinery.
Trade (1994): Exports--$93 billion: electronics and computer products,
textile products, basic metals, plastic and rubber products. Major
markets--U.S. 26%, Hong Kong (including indirect trade with the P.R.C.)
23%, Japan 11%. Imports--$85.4 billion: electronics and computer
products machinery and electrical products, chemicals, iron and steel,
transport equipment, crude oil. Major suppliers--Japan 29%, U.S. 21%,
THE U.S. AND TAIWAN
On January 1, 1979, the United States changed its diplomatic recognition
from Taipei to Beijing. In the United States-People's Republic of China
Joint Communique that announced the change, the United States recognized
the Government of the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) as the sole
legal government of China and acknowledged the Chinese position that
there is but one China, and Taiwan is part of China. The Joint
Communique also stated that within this context, the people of the
United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial
relations with the people of Taiwan.
On April 10, 1979, President Carter signed into law the Taiwan Relations
Act (TRA), which created domestic legal authority for the conduct of
unofficial relations with Taiwan. U.S. commercial and cultural
interaction with the people of Taiwan is facilitated through the
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a nongovernmental entity. The
Institute has its headquarters in the Washington, DC, area and field
offices in Taipei and Kaohsiung. It is authorized to accept visa and
passport applications and to provide assistance to U.S. citizens in
Taiwan. A counterpart organization, the Taipei Economic and Cultural
Representative Office (TECRO), has been created by Taiwan. It has its
headquarters in Taipei and field offices in Washington, DC, 11 other
U.S. cities, and Guam.
Following derecognition, the United States terminated its Mutual Defense
Treaty with Taiwan but has continued the sale of defensive military
equipment to Taiwan in keeping both with the Taiwan Relations Act and
with the 1982 U.S.-P.R.C. Joint Communique. The Taiwan Relations Act
requires the United States to "make available to Taiwan such defense
articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to
enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability." In the
1982 Communique, the United States stated that "it does not seek to
carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan;" that U.S. arms
sales would "not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms,
the level of those supplied in recent years;" and that the U.S. intends
"gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan." The P.R.C., in the
1982 communique, reiterated its policy of striving for a peaceful
solution to the Taiwan question.
Maintaining diplomatic relations with the P.R.C. has been recognized to
be in the long-term interest of the United States by six consecutive
administrations; however, maintaining strong, unofficial relations with
Taiwan is also in the U.S. interest. The United States is committed to
these efforts because they are important for America's global position
and for peace and stability in Asia.
Trade and Investment
Over four decades, Taiwan transformed itself from an underdeveloped,
agricultural island to an economic power that is a leading producer of
high-technology goods. Taiwan has moved from being a recipient of U.S.
aid in the 1950s and early 1960s to an aid donor and major foreign
investor, especially in Asia.
U.S. commercial ties with Taiwan have been maintained and expanded since
derecognition. Taiwan continues to enjoy Export-Import Bank financing,
Overseas Private Investment Corporation guarantees, most-favored-nation
(MFN) status, and ready access to U.S. markets.
In recent years, U.S. economic dealings with Taiwan have focused on
expanded market access for American goods and services. AIT has been
engaged in a series of trade negotiations which have focused on
protection of intellectual property rights, and issues relating to
Taiwan's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as
other market access issues. Taiwan's bid to join the WTO and its desire
to become an Asia-Pacific "regional operations center" are spurring
economic liberalization moves. In 1991 Taiwan, under the name "Chinese
Taipei," became a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
forum, of which the U.S. is also a member.
The United States is Taiwan's largest trading partner, taking 26% of
Taiwan's exports and supplying 21% of its imports. Taiwan is the U.S.'
seventh-largest trading partner and seventh-largest export market. In
1994, Taiwan's two-way trade with the U.S. was about $43 billion.
Imports from the U.S. consisted mostly of agricultural and industrial
raw materials. Exports to the U.S. were mainly electronics and consumer
goods. Electronics is Taiwan's most important industrial export sector
and is the largest recipient of U.S. investment.
As Taiwan's income level has risen, demand for imported, high-quality
consumer goods has increased. In recent years, Taiwan has successfully
diversified its trade markets, cutting its share of exports to the U.S.
from 49% in 1984 to 26% in 1994. Taiwan's 1994 total trade surplus with
the United States was some $9 billion, a significant amount, but a
decline from a high of $17 billion in 1987. Taiwan's dependence on the
U.S. market should continue to decrease as its exports to Southeast Asia
and the P.R.C. grow and its efforts to develop European markets produce
In December 1949--and following a civil war between the Communists and
the ruling Nationalists--the P.R.C. was founded on the mainland by the
victorious communists. Chiang Kai-shek--the leader of the Nationalist
Chinese regime--fled to the island of Taiwan, which the Nationalists
already administered, and established a "provisional" capital in Taipei.
From 1949 until 1991, the authorities on Taiwan claimed to be the sole
legitimate government of all of China, including the mainland. In
keeping with that claim, when the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949,
they re-established the full array of central political bodies they had
originally established on the mainland. Taiwan Province and, later, the
Special Municipalities of Taipei and Kaohsiung were local bodies
governed separately from the central administration. While this
structure remains largely the same, the authorities on Taiwan have
abandoned the claim of governing mainland China, stating that they do
not "dispute the fact that the P.R.C. controls mainland China."
The authorities in Taipei exercise control over the islands of Taiwan,
Kinmen, Matsu, and the Penghu Islands (Pescadores). Taiwan's two major
cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung, are administered as provincial-level
municipalities. The rest of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands are
administered together as the Province of Taiwan. Kinmen and Matsu are
administered by Taiwan authorities but they are considered in principle
to be part of the mainland province of Fujian.
National Assembly. Under the constitution adopted by the KMT in 1947,
the sovereignty of the people was to be exercised by the National
Assembly. The first National Assembly was elected on the mainland in
1947 and was re-established on Taiwan when the KMT fled mainland China.
The second National Assembly, elected in 1991, is composed of 325
members serving four-year terms.
The National Assembly's main functions prior to August 1994 were to
elect the president and vice president and to amend the constitution.
Amendments passed by the National Assembly in July 1994 paved the way
for direct election of the president and vice president; Taiwan's first
presidential election is scheduled for March 1996. The National
Assembly's powers now are to amend the constitution, recall the
president, impeach the president, and ratify certain presidential
appointments in other branches of the government.
President. The president is leader of Taiwan and commander-in-chief of
its armed forces. With the consent of the Legislative Yuan, the
president appoints the premier, who is the head of the Executive Yuan.
Executive Yuan. The Executive Yuan is roughly analogous to the U.S.
executive branch of government in that it constitutes the cabinet and is
responsible for policy and administration.
Legislative Yuan. The main lawmaking body is the Legislative Yuan (LY).
It dates from the late 1940's and originally was viewed as a "rubber
stamp" institution. The LY has greatly enhanced its standing in relation
to the executive branch and has established itself as an important
player on the central level.
The LY elected in 1992 has 161 members serving three-year terms, all of
whom are up for election in December 1995. The LY has begun to reflect
the recently liberalized political system; in the 1992 elections, the
main opposition party--the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)--
challenged the KMT monopoly on control of the legislature. In 1994, the
LY passed legislation to allow for the direct election of certain local
Control Yuan. The Control Yuan monitors the efficiency of the public
service and investigates instances of corruption. The 29 Control Yuan
members are appointed by the president and approved by the National
Assembly, and they serve six-year terms. Recently, the Control Yuan has
become more activist and has conducted several major investigations and
Judicial Yuan. The Judicial Yuan administers Taiwan's court system. It
includes a 17-member Council of Grand Justices that interprets the
constitution. Grand justices are appointed by the president--with the
consent of the National Assembly--to nine-year terms.
Examination Yuan. The Examination Yuan functions as a civil service
Military. Taiwan maintains a large military establishment. Its primary
mission is defense of Taiwan, predominately from the P.R.C., which has
refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan should Taiwan
declare independence or in case of involvement by a foreign military
Vice President--Li Yuan-Zu
Lee Teng-hui succeeded Chiang Ching-kuo as President when Chiang died on
January 13, 1988. Lee was elected by the National Assembly to a six-
year term in 1990, marking the final time a president was elected by the
National Assembly. As noted, starting in 1996, the president and vice
president will be directly elected to four-year terms by Taiwan's
This change in the political process is the result of the liberalizing
trend that began in the late 1980s when President Chiang Ching-kuo
lifted the emergency decree which had been in place since 1948. This
decree had granted virtually unlimited powers to the president for use
in the anti-communist campaign, and it provided the basis for nearly
four decades of martial law. Until martial law was ended in 1987,
individuals and groups expressing dissenting views were treated harshly.
Since ending martial law, Taiwan has dramatically improved respect for
human rights and has worked to create a democratic political system.
Restrictions on the press have greatly diminished, restrictions on
personal freedoms have been relaxed, and the prohibition against
organizing new political parties has been lifted.
Taiwan's political system has been dominated by the KMT; until 1986, the
party's chairman was also Taiwan's president. Many top political
officials are members of the party's Central Standing Committee, which
is the chief policy-making organ within the party. As the ruling party,
the KMT has been able to fill appointed positions with its members and
maintain control of the island.
Since 1986, emerging political parties have challenged the KMT's
dominance. Before then, candidates opposing the KMT ran in elections as
independents or "nonpartisans." Many "nonpartisans" grouped together
illegally to create Taiwan's first new political party in over four
decades, the DPP. Despite the official ban on forming new political
parties, Taiwan authorities did not prohibit the DPP from operating. In
1989, the DPP and other new political parties were legalized, and the
DPP's support and influence increased.
The DPP's voice has been an important factor in legislative decisions
since 1992, and winning the Taipei mayoral election in December 1994
significantly enhanced the DPP's image. Its platform includes outspoken
positions on some of the most sensitive issues in Taiwan politics. The
DPP maintains that Taiwan is an entity separate from mainland China, in
contrast to the KMT position that Taiwan and the mainland are both part
of "one China." A number of ranking DPP officials, in sharp contrast to
tenets of both KMT and P.R.C. policy, openly advocate independence for
The second major opposition party, the Chinese New Party (CNP)
established in 1993, has a conservative platform. The CNP emphasizes
"clean government" and the original KMT focus on reunification with the
mainland. Although CNP membership remains small, its influence is
considerable, especially in its ability to draw support away from the
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT):
AIT-Washington: Room 1700, 1700 North Moore Street, Arlington, VA 22209;
tel. 703-525-8474; fax 703-841-1385.
AIT-Taipei: 7, Lane 134, Hsin Yi Road, Section 3 Taipei, Taiwan; tel.
886-2-709-2000; fax 886-2-702-7675.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO):
TECRO-Washington: 4201 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016-2137;
tel. 202-895-1800; fax 202-363-0999.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at (202) 647-5225
or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs Bulletin
Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip aboard are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-94-8280, price
$7.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20420, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers going to Taiwan also may be obtained before your departure
from the relevant office in the U.S. (see "Representative Offices"
listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in Taiwan, U.S. citizens are encouraged to register
with the relevant office there (see "Representative Offices" listing in
this publication). This may help family members contact you en route in
case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department of
State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication --
This information is in the public domain and may be reproduced without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated.
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