U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Taiwan, November 1997
Released by the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs
Area: 14,000 sq. mi.; about the size of West Virginia.
Cities (1997): Capital--Taipei (pop. 2.6 million). Other Cities--
(Kaohsiung 1.4 million), Taichung (892,000).
Terrain: Largely mountainous.
Climate: Maritime subtropical.
Population (1997): 21.5 million.
Annual growth rate (1997): 0.8%.
Languages: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese, Hakka.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance (1996)--99.9%. Literacy
Health: Infant mortality rate(1996)--0.6%. Life expectancy(1996)--male
72 yrs.; female 78 yrs.
Work force (1997): 9.4 million.
Type: Multi-party democracy. With the popular election of President Lee
Teng-Hui in March 1996, Taiwan completed its transition from a one-
party, authoritarian state to an open, vigorous democracy with 3 major
parties and more than 70 registered parties.
Constitution: December 25, 1947, last amended 1997.
Branches: Five Yuan--Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Control,
Examination. A separate National Assembly, which now stands for popular
election every 4 years, confirms certain presidential appointments,
amends the constitution, and has the power to recall or impeach the
President and the Vice President.
Administrative subdivisions: Taiwan Province, Fujian Province (for
Kinmen and Matsu islands), Taipei and Kaohsiung Special Municipalities.
Major political parties: Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT);
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); Chinese New Party (CNP).
Suffrage: Universal over 20 years of age.
GDP (1996): $275.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1996): 5.7%; (1991-95 average 6.6%).
Per capita GDP (1996): $12,872.
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 (36.3% of GDP): Major sectors--electronics and computer
products, chemicals and petrochemicals, basic metals, textiles,
transport equipment, plastics, machinery.
Trade (1996): Exports--$119.1 billion: electronics and computer
products, textile products, basic metals, plastic and rubber products.
Major markets--U.S. $29.6 billion, Hong Kong (including indirect trade
with the P.R.C.) $26.1 billion, Japan $13.2 billion. Imports--$106.2
billion: electronics and computer products, machinery and electrical
products, chemicals, iron and steel, transport equipment, crude oil.
Major suppliers--Japan $30.3 billion, U.S. $18 billion, Europe $18.7
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, cultural,
and other interaction with the people on Taiwan is conducted through the
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private non-profit corporation.
AIT headquarters is in the Washington, DC area, and AIT has offices in
Taipei and Kaohsiung. AIT is authorized to issue visas, accept
passport applications, provide assistance to U.S. citizens, and help
American commercial and business interests on Taiwan. A counterpart
organization, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
(TECRO), has been established by the authorities on Taiwan. It has
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 5 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 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. In 1991, Taiwan, under the name Chinese
Taipei, became a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
forum. The U.S. and 16 other economies are also members.
The United States is Taiwan's largest trading partner, absorbing 23% of
Taiwan's exports and supplying 20% of its imports. Taiwan was the
eighth-largest trading partner of the U.S. and seventh-largest export
market. In 1996, Taiwan's two-way trade with the U.S. was about $48
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 23% in 1996. Taiwan's 1996 total trade surplus with
the United States was $11.5 billion, down from a high of $17 billion in
1987. The U.S. trade deficit with Taiwan expanded during early 1997
compared to the corresponding period in 1996. Taiwan's dependence on
the U.S. market should continue to decrease as its exports to the P.R.C.
and elsewhere in Asia grow and its efforts to develop markets in Europe
and other areas produce results. Exports to Southeast Asia will,
however, be hit hard in 1997 and 1998.
In December 1949 -- following a civil war between the Chinese 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 regime, fled to the island of Taiwan which had been returned
to Chinese control after World War II. He 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 that had
existed on the mainland. In recent years, 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,
the Penghus (Pescadores), Kinmen, and Matsu. Taiwan's two major
metropolises, Taipei and Kaohsiung, are centrally administered
municipalities. The rest of Taiwan Island and the Penghu Islands are
administered together as the Province of Taiwan. Kinmen and Matsu are
administered by Taiwan authorities as counties of Fujian Province.
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 reestablished on Taiwan when the KMT fled mainland China 2
years later. The National Assembly's main functions were to elect the
President and Vice President and to amend the Constitution. The second
National Assembly, elected in 1991, passed amendments in July 1994 that
paved the way for the direct presidential elections that were held in
March 1996. The third National Assembly, also elected in March 1996,
comprises 334 members serving 4-year terms. The National Assembly's
powers now are to amend the constitution, recall or impeach the
President and the Vice President, and ratify certain senior-level
President. The President is leader of Taiwan and Commander-in-chief of
its armed forces. 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 is comprised of the premier
and the cabinet and is responsible for policy and administration.
Legislative Yuan. The main lawmaking body, the Legislative Yuan (LY),
dates from the late 1940s and currently has 162 members serving 3-year
terms. Once viewed as a rubber-stamp institution, the LY has greatly
enhanced its standing in relation to the Executive Yuan and has
established itself as an important player on the central level. The LY
has begun to reflect the recently liberalized political system; in the
1992 and 1995 elections, the main opposition party--the Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP)--challenged the KMT monopoly on control of the
legislature. The DPP has won a significant share of the LY seats, and
the KMT now holds only half the seats in the LY.
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; they serve 6-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 16-member Council of Grand Justices that interprets the
Constitution. Grand Justices are appointed by the President--with the
consent of the National Assembly--to 9-year terms.
Examination Yuan. The Examination Yuan functions as a civil service
commission. The President appoints its head.
Military. Taiwan maintains a large military establishment. Its primary
mission is defense of Taiwan, predominately from the P.R.C. The P.R.C.
has refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan should Taiwan
declare independence or in case of foreign interference.
Vice President--Lien Chan
Premier--Vincent Siew (Hsiao Wan-chang)
Vice Premier--John Chang (Chang Hsiao-yen)
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 6-year
term in 1990, marking the final time a President was elected by the
National Assembly. Starting in 1996, the President and Vice-President
were directly elected to 4-year terms by Taiwan's voters. Lee Teng-hui
was the first popularly elected President with Lien Chan elected as his
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 provided the basis for nearly 4
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.
Most restrictions on the press and on personal freedoms have ended, and
the prohibition against organizing new political parties has been
Taiwan's political system has been dominated by the KMT; Taiwan's
President has also held the position of KMT Chairman. 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, however, opposition parties have began to challenge the
KMT's dominance. Before then, candidates opposing the KMT ran in
elections as independents or nonpartisans. In 1986, many nonpartisans
grouped together illegally to create Taiwan's first new political party
in more than 4 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 generally maintains that Taiwan is an entity separate from mainland
China, in contrast to the KMT's position that Taiwan and the mainland
are both part of one China. A number of ranking DPP members, in
sharp contrast to tenets of both KMT and P.R.C. policy, have openly
advocated independence for Taiwan. However, DPP leaders in 1996 began
to position the party for increased electoral success by emphasizing
practical issues and cooperating with the KMT on reform policies. This
led to independence fundamentalists cutting their ties with the DPP
and establishing the small Taiwan Independence Party.
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. CNP membership remains modest.
From 1993-95, Taiwan and the P.R.C. established a dialogue channel and
held a series of meetings to discuss practical issues such as returning
illegal entrants and hijackers and resolving fishing disputes. The two
sides were represented by unofficial organizations--Taiwan's Straits
Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the P.R.C.'s Association for Relations
Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS). However, Beijing took exception to
a visit to Cornell University by Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and
suspended these talks in 1995. U.S. policy has been to encourage the
two sides to return to some form of cross-Strait dialogue as a method of
preventing misunderstandings and improving communication.
United States Representative Offices
American Institute in Taiwan, Washington Headquarters.
Suite 1700, 1700 North Moore Street, Arlington, VA. 22209. tel: 703-
525-8474; fax 703-841-1385.
American Institute in Taiwan, Taipei Office.
No. 7, Lane 134, Hsin Yi Road, Section 3, Taipei, Taiwan. tel: 011-886-
2-709-2000; fax 011-886-2-702-7675
American Institute in Taiwan, Kaohsiung Office.
5F, No. 2, Chung Cheng 3rd Road; Kaohsiung, Taiwan 800. Tel: 011-886-7-
224-0154; fax 011-886-7-223-8237
Taiwan Representative Office
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO)
4201 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016-2137. tel: 202-895-1800;
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 country.
Public Announcements are issued as a means to
disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other
relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant
risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this
information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000.
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available
on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program
to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation
to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required).
The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau
of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning
a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling
abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services
at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays,
Passport Services information can be obtained
by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per
minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday
($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778).
Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-
8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
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-95-8280) is available from the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency
and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest
to travelers also may be obtained before your departure
from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this
country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing
in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling
in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy
upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy
Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family
members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
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
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country
Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published
on a semi-annual 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. Contact the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat- usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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