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CHRONOLOGY: A review of the decades long U.S.-China face off over the island of
October 25, 1945Taiwan is returned to China.

Upon its defeat in World War II, Japan is forced to cede Taiwan back to China. Japan had governed the island since 1895 as a result of its victory in the Sino-Japanese War.

October 1, 1949 People's Republic of China is founded.

After nearly two decades of civil war, Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong declares victory over the U.S.-supported Nationalists (Kuomintang or KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek. Mao proclaims the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC), and institutes a new communist system, modeled after the U.S.S.R.

After his defeat by Mao, Chiang Kai-shek flees to the Chinese island of Taiwan, then called Formosa, along with two million Nationalist refugees. It is 100 miles off China's coast. There he establishes a "provisional" Nationalist capital in Taipei and declares martial law. The Nationalists claim to be the sole legitimate government of all of China, and set up the same political bodies on Taiwan which had ruled on the mainland.

Under Chiang's authoritarian leadership, the Nationalist government establishes a successful land reform program during the 1950s, which helps transform the country from an agricultural to a commercial, industrial economy.

June 1950 U.S. sends troops to Taiwan.

Taiwan gains strategic importance for the United States during the Cold War. At the beginning of the Korean War (1950-1953), U.S. President Harry Truman declares Taiwan neutral territory and sends the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. also begins supplying economic aid to Taiwan during the conflict. The U.S. naval blockade is withdrawn in 1953, after the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

December 1954 U.S. and Taiwan sign mutual defense treaty.

In 1954, fighting breaks out between China and Taiwan over the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu in what becomes known as the "first Taiwan Strait crisis." As a response to Chinese artillery attacks on the Nationalist-held territory, the U.S. and Taiwan sign a mutual defense treaty. The document is seen as a U.S. pledge to aid Taiwan if the island is attacked by China.

August 1958 Second Taiwan Strait Crisis begins.

On August 23, China again begins shelling the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. President Eisenhower responds by sending U.S. forces, including a large naval contingent, to the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. even explores the option of using nuclear weapons against China. The crisis is diffused when China suspends its bombing campaign after high-level talks with the U.S.

October 23, 1958 Taiwan and U.S. issue joint communiqué.

During his visit to Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Chiang Kai-shek issue a joint communiqué, which reaffirms the solidarity of the two nations. The document is significant because the Nationalists state that they will focus their efforts on taking back China through political, not military means.

April 1971 "Ping Pong Diplomacy"

While in Japan for the World Table Tennis Championship in Japan, the U.S. team receives a surprise invitation to visit China. Their visit receives extensive media coverage and is symbolic of thawing relations between the U.S. and China. The Chinese team makes a reciprocal visit to the United States in April of the following year.

October 1971 China joins the United Nations.

After a United Nations General Assembly vote, Taiwan is expelled from the organization and China's seat is given to the People's Republic of China.

February 1972 President Nixon visits China.

In a historic visit, President Richard Nixon meets with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in China in order to explore the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. On February 27, the two leaders sign what becomes known as the Shanghai Communiqué. Skirting the question of Taiwanese sovereignty, the document states that "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. ... [The U.S.] reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan."

December 1975 President Ford visits China.

U.S. President Gerald Ford travels to China for a five-day visit with Chinese leaders. Upon his return, he calls for the normalization of U.S. relations with China.

January 1, 1979 U.S. and China establish formal relations.

In the release of their second joint communiqué, the U.S. and China announce the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. They agree to exchange ambassadors and establish embassies. The U.S. reaffirms the one China principle, and recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. However it also acknowledges that "the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan." As a result of the normalization of U.S.-China relations, the U.S. terminates the 1954 mutual defense treaty it had signed with Taiwan in December.

April 10, 1979 President Carter signs the Taiwan Relations Act.

Fearing the normalization of U.S.-China relations may have alienated an important ally, the U.S. Congress passes the Taiwan Relations Act, which declares U.S. commitment to Taiwan's security. The act declares that U.S. policy is "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan."

[The web site of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York contains a chronology of major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan between 1979 and 1998.]

August 17, 1982 U.S. and China issue third joint communiqué.

Partly due to rising Sino-U.S. tensions resulting from the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. and China sign a third joint communiqué, in which the U.S. declares it will limit arms sales to Taiwan to "the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China." The U.S. also states that it plans to gradually reduce arms sales to Taiwan. The communiqué is sharply criticized both by members of Congress and by the Nationalist Government in Taiwan, which declares the statement "in contradiction of the letter and the spirit" of the Taiwan Relations Act.

July 1987 Taiwan lifts martial law.

Thirty-eight years after the founding of the Nationalist government President Chiang Ching-Kuo abolishes martial law in a step towards democratic reform in Taiwan. Under martial law, the government banned the formation of political parties other than the KMT, gave wide censorship powers to the military, and allowed for military courts to try and convict thousands of civilians. Within months, the Taiwanese government lifts the ban on visits to the mainland for family reunions, allows for the publication of mainland books and begins talk of trade and investment links to the mainland.

January 13, 1988 Native Taiwanese assumes presidency.

President Chiang Ching-Kuo, the son of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, dies of a heart attack at a Taipei hospital. He is succeeded by Vice President Lee Teng-hui, who becomes the first native Taiwanese to assume the country's presidency. As president, Lee Tung-hui accelerates the pace of democratic reform in Taiwan and lifts restrictions on visiting China. He is reelected in 1990 to a six-year term.

June 3-4, 1989 Chinese army crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

The student movement that results in the Chinese army's massacre of an unknown number of people in Tiananmen Square begins as a commemoration of the death of the reformist former party leader Hu Yaobang in April 1989. The students are joined by intellectuals and workers in vast demonstrations for a crackdown on political corruption, and a movement towards free press and democracy that eventually spreads to cities beyond Beijing. The Chinese leadership declares martial law May 20, but protests continue. On June 3rd and 4th, the Chinese military uses armed force to clear demonstrators from Tiananmen Square. While there are no official estimates of casualties, many observers number the victims in the hundreds. The incident strains U.S.-China relations and results in U.S.-imposed sanctions on trade and investment in China.

The harsh crackdown, coupled with the resurgence of the Chinese hard-liners, leads to a surge of support in Taiwan's parliamentary elections for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which advocated independence from the mainland.

Read a day-by-day chronology of the events leading up to June 3rd and 4th.
June 1995 Taiwan's president visits U.S.

Members of Congress pressure the Clinton administration into issuing a visa allowing Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui to make a four-day visit to Los Angeles and Ithaca, New York, where he gives a speech at his alma mater, Cornell University. Although President Lee's trip is billed as a "private" visit, angry Chinese officials recall their ambassador from Washington in protest.

In the months following President Lee's visit, the Chinese military begins conducting exercises in the Taiwan Strait. They fire short-range missiles and stage live-fire war games and air exercises between July and November.

March 1996 Tensions mount in the Taiwan Strait.

During the month of March, China conducts war games off the coast of Taiwan that involve missile tests and live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. responds by dispatching two carrier groups to the region.

March 23, 1996 Taiwan holds first direct presidential election.

In a strong vote of confidence for the Nationalist Party, Lee Teng-hui is reelected to the Taiwanese presidency with 54 percent of the vote. He beats a pro-independence candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). China claims the election proves Taiwanese voters reject the idea of separation from the mainland.

July 1, 1997 Hong Kong is returned to China.

Ending 156 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong is returned to Chinese sovereignty at midnight on July 1st. China promises to allow Hong Kong to maintain its capitalist system and high degree of autonomy under a principle known as "one country, two systems."

In December 1999, the Portuguese colony of Macao is returned to China after 442 years of colonial rule. China again promises to guarantee a high degree of autonomy for the territory under the "one country, two systems" principle. In a speech at the hand-over ceremony, Chinese President Jiang Zemin urges an "early settlement of the Taiwan question and the complete national reunification."

June 1998 President Clinton outlines "three no's" policy on Taiwan.

While visiting China for a summit meeting with President Jiang Zemin, President Bill Clinton articulates his adminstration's three-pronged Taiwan policy, which becomes known as the "three no's." The policy consists of: 1) no U.S. support for independence for Taiwan, 2) no support for a two-China or "one China, one Taiwan" policy, and 3) no support for Taiwan's admittance into any international organization that requires statehood for membership.

January 1999 Furor over allegations of Chinese espionage.

In January 1999, a special House Committee on U.S. National Security Concerns issues a classified report alleging China's acquisition of sensitive U.S. military technology, including nuclear secrets. An unclassified version of the report, which becomes known as the "Cox report," is released in May 1999. The report concludes that "The People's Republic of China (PRC) has stolen classified design information on the United States' most advanced thermonuclear weapons," and that "PRC penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades and almost certainly continues today."

May 7, 1999 NATO bombs hit Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Three Chinese reporters are killed when NATO bombs strike the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. U.S. officials call the incident an "intelligence failure" that derived from the CIA's use of an outdated map. Chinese public opinion is outraged at what it sees as American imperialism, and protestors respond by throwing rocks and plastic bottles at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

November 15, 1999 U.S. and China reach trade agreement.

After six days of negotiations, the U.S. and China reach an agreement that would open Chinese markets to foreign competitors and allow China to enter the World Trade Organization. China agrees to reduce import tariffs on various industrial and agricultural products. In September 2000, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passes a bill granting China permanent normal trade relations with the U.S. and ending yearly congressional debates over China's trade status.

March 18, 2000 Opposition candidate wins Taiwan's presidency.

Marking the Nationalist Party's first loss of power, Chen Shui-bien, a candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is elected president of Taiwan with 39 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Chen had long been an advocate for Taiwanese independence, but during the campaign he moderated his views, claiming that no declaration of independence was necessary because Taiwan is already sovereign. In his victory speech, President Chen makes reconciliatory overtures to Chinese leader, but in his first public statements after Chen's election, Chinese President Jiang Zemin reiterates demands that Taiwan recognize the "one China" principle as a precursor to any talks.

March 2001 Bush administration drops "three no's" policy on Taiwan.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indicates that the Bush administration intends to drop Clinton's "three no's" policy on Taiwan. During a press briefing, he announces "We adhere to a one-China policy and we'll stick with that." His statement leads to speculation that the Bush administration will take a tougher stance with China and a more favorable view of Taiwan.

April 1, 2001 U.S. Navy surveillance plane collides with Chinese fighter jet.

While gathering intelligence off the coast of China, a U.S. Navy EP-3 electronic spy plane, piloted by Lt. Shane Osborn, collides in mid-air with a Chinese F-8 and is forced to make an emergency landing at Hainan Island. The Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, is killed in the incident. China charges that the U.S. plane illegally entered Chinese airspace, and detains the 24 U.S. crew members for 11 days. It demands that the U.S. take full responsibility for the incident and issue a full apology. In the end, the United States offers a letter in which it says it is "very sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot and "very sorry" that the aircraft landed in China without permission. The damaged U.S. airplane is not returned for three months.

April 24, 2001 Bush approves arms sales to Taiwan.

U.S. President George W. Bush approves the sale of advanced weapons to Taiwan, including submarines, spy planes, helicopters, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. However, he delays the decision to allow Taiwan to purchase destroyers equipped with the Aegis radar system. This marks the first sale of U.S. submarines to Taiwan since 1974; past U.S. presidents had declined to sell submarines to Taiwan, fearing that China would consider them offensive weaponry.

In a television interview the next day, Bush says that the U.S. will do "whatever it took" for Taiwan defend itself. Administration officials insist that his remarks should not be interpreted as a change in policy.

May 2001 U.S. visits anger Chinese.

The Bush administration grants Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian permission to visit New York while en route to Latin America. China angrily accuses the U.S. of violating agreements to maintain relations solely with Beijing. It expresses fears that the U.S. is encouraging pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan by allowing the visit. Although not on an official trip, Chen meets with politicians including members of Congress, and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Chen had made a previous visit to the U.S. in 2000; however the Clinton administration discouraged lawmakers from meeting with him and asked Chen to remain in his hotel.

The same week as Chen's visit, President Bush holds a "private meeting" with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House. Chinese officials condemn the visit.

June-July 2001 Chinese war games simulate attack on Taiwan.

In the largest military exercises since it fired missiles off Taiwan's coast in 1996, China conducts joint military exercises with its navy, air force, army and artillery units that simulate an assault on Taiwan. The simulations were conducted in three stages: information warfare, followed by an invasion of the island and then a counter-attack against "an enemy fleet attempting to intervene in the war." Although representatives in Washington, Taipei and Beijing call the drills routine, Beijing publications imply that they are intended to send a warning to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian not to push for independence.

July 2001 China convicts scholars on espionage charges.

A Chinese court convicts two Chinese citizens with permanent residency in the United States on charges of spying for Taiwan and sentences them to ten years in prison. The two scholars, Gao Zhan, a sociologist at American University in Washington DC, and Qin Guangguang, who had been a visiting scholar at several universities in the United States, are released on medical parole after an appeal by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was preparing for an official visit to Beijing.

July 13, 2001 Beijing to host the 2008 Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee's decision to award the 2008 Summer Olympic Games lead to fireworks and celebrations in the streets of Beijing. The celebrations mark the largest public gathering in the streets since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.

September 2001 China and Taiwan cleared to join WTO.

After 15 years of talks, the World Trade Organization (WTO) approves China's entry into to the organization on September 17. Taiwan, which had completed the terms for joining the organization 18 months earlier, is approved the following day, because of a 1992 understanding which stipulated that China would join first. China had originally objected to Taiwan's joining the organization; however it relented because Taiwan has its own rules governing imports. Both Hong Kong and Macao, which were returned to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively, are separate members of the WTO.

China and Taiwan are expected to be formally approved for membership at a WTO meeting in November 2001 in Dota, Qatar. They will become full members once their own governments ratify the decision.

March 2003 Change in Chinese leadership.

President Jiang Zemin, National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng, and Premier Zhu Rongji all must retire from their posts in 2003. Jiang is expected to give up the post of party secretary general in 2002. Jiang's designated successor appears to be Vice President Hu Jintao, a member of the so-called "Fourth Generation" of leaders who came of age during the Cultural Revolution. He is not very well known outside of China, and it is unclear whether he will encourage the country to move forward on a reformist track.

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