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Taiwan and China: The Diplomatic Strain Over Presidential Titles

China and Taiwan

Taiwan-China tensions flare as Taiwan congratulates India’s PM, Modi, highlighting diplomatic disputes and military maneuvers amid sovereignty and recognition issues.

A recent incident that has come to highlight the long-standing, complex geopolitics of the region is the recent diplomatic row between China and Taiwan. Something of this sort not only reflects the sensitivity of cross-strait relations but also gives a pointer to the broad international dynamics in which the two are implicated.

The Incident

On June 5, 2024, Taiwan’s President William Lai Ching-te congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi over X (previously Twitter) for the victory of the National Democratic Alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. In his message, Lai made it clear that he would like to develop closer relations with India in areas related to trade and technology. Modi also sent a reply message under the title ‘Congratulations’, in which he expressed his hope for closer relations in the economic and technology fields and took special care not to use the title of Lai in the message.

China’s Response

The Chinese government strongly protested this exchange. The Chinese Foreign Ministry as well as the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi asserted that Beijing’s position on Taiwan is clear and unambiguous, and there is no so-called office or position of “president” for Taiwan. For Beijing, Taiwan is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China, and this is a universal consensus in the international community, viewed as one of the foundational norms of international relations.

The statement of the Chinese Embassy on social media highlighted that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents the entirety of China, including Taiwan. This is in line with Beijing’s well-entrenched policy view, where it treats any form of recognition or engagement with the leaders of Taiwan as interference in its sovereignty and breaking of international diplomatic protocols.

Taiwan’s Rebuttal

Taiwan, for its part, brushed aside the Chinese protest, emphasizing that the Lai-Modi interaction was a standard diplomatic exchange between two democracies. The Foreign Ministry of Taiwan condemned China’s reaction as “utterly unjustified” and stressed that Taiwan pledges to foster partnerships based on mutual benefit and shared democratic values. This statement captures Taiwan’s continued insistence on asserting its sovereignty and reinforcing its international relationships amid Beijing’s diplomatic pressure.

International response

The United States also responded, as State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller described such well-wishes as part of normal diplomatic practice. This also mirrors a larger pattern of U.S. support for Taiwan, in which despite official adherence to the One-China policy, the United States maintains both informal relations and significant support for Taiwan’s exercise of democratic governance and its current level of de facto independence.

The Broader Geopolitical Context

This spat came on the back of an escalation in military tensions. The People’s Liberation Army of China held a major military drill near Taiwan in late May 2024, known as “Joint Li Chien-2024A,” deploying naval and air assets. The efforts to flex their muscles and intimidate were immediately denounced by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence, which reaffirmed its determination to protect sovereignty and national security.

This is a routine strategy used by China, engaging in military exercises that may deter any movement toward formal Taiwanese independence and indicate to Beijing that it is willing to use force. The resolute reaction taken by Taiwan against the exercise and its insistence on the right of self-defence only underlines the strong determination of the island to maintain de facto independence.

Conclusion

Diplomatic and military tensions between China and Taiwan are a reflection of a larger struggle over identity, sovereignty, and international recognition. Taiwan’s assertive engagement with other democracies and China’s unyielding claims over the island continue to impact the geopolitics of East Asia.

There, countries like India have to wade a thin line of acknowledging Beijing’s sensitivities while pursuing a mutually fruitful relationship with Taiwan. As the international order adapts to changing realities in the global balance of power, such changes fostered in the interactions between Taiwan and the rest of the world will be a key barometer of international diplomatic strategies and regional stability.