Taiwan has been historically inhabited by various indigenous peoples, probably originally from the Pacific Islands. Han Chinese settled on the island from the nearby province of Fujian from the 12th century, and over the centuries have become the dominant population group, with Taiwanese aboriginals (yuanzhumin) estimated to make up only around 2% of the population today.
In the 16th century, the island fell within the sphere of influence of the Portuguese, who named it 'Formosa'. In 1641 the Dutch East India Company expelled the Spaniards from their fort Santísima Trinidad on the north-west coast, which had been founded in 1626. Fort Zeelandia (on the south-western coast) subsequently became the trading and administrative centre of the island, until the Dutch were driven out in 1662 by Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong). In 1682, Koxinga in turn had to capitulate to the troops of the Qing Emperor, who thus gained effective control of the island.
Taiwan first became a prefecture of Fujian and then a separate province. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, Taiwan became a colony of Japan, and did not return to Chinese rule until after the end of the Second World War in 1945.
In 1949, around 2 million supporters of the Kuomintang (KMT), the nationalist party led by General Chiang Kai-shek, fled Mao Zedong's communist troops to Taiwan. In the same year, Mao proclaimed the People's Republic of China in Beijing. On Taiwan, however, Chiang Kai-shek maintained the -autocratic- institutions of the 'Republic of China' and, until his death in 1975, continued to work for the reconquest of what he considered to be the mainland's wastelands. His ambitions, however, were harmed by the rapprochement between the United States and China (culminating in President Nixon's visit to Beijing), the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic by an increasing number of countries and the fact that in 1971 the Chinese permanent seat on the UN Security Council was taken over by the People's Republic.
While the political status quo (KMT autocratic rule) continued during the presidency of Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo, Taiwan experienced strong (export-oriented) economic growth and commensurate wealth creation in the 1970s and 1980s. Domestic political changes accelerated with the lifting of martial law in 1986 and the first free presidential elections were held in 1996. Taiwan now has a democratically elected government, led since 2000 by the formerly opposition Democratic People's Party (DPP) rather than the KMT.
The presidential election of March 2000 marked the end of 55 years of KMT rule and elected the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian as President of Taiwan. On 20 May 2004, the re-elected Chen began his second term as President.
Chen Shui-bian did not have an easy time in his first term as president. The KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan (Parliament) thwarted his policy decisions and rendered the Government powerless. Despite seat gains for his DPP in the December 2001 parliamentary elections, the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) still held a slim majority in parliament. In the December 2004 elections, the opposition "pan-blue" alliance of KMT, PFP and some splinter groups again captured the majority in Parliament, again preventing the ruling "pan-green" alliance of DPP and TSU (Taiwan Solidarity Union) from passing legislation without opposition support. President Chen's DPP remained the largest party. In the autumn of 2005, President Chen came under increasing fire due to a series of corruption scandals. In June 2006, suspicions about his son-in-law led the opposition to request that the President be removed from office, but the required 2/3 majority in Parliament was not achieved. Nevertheless, President Chen's popularity and political position have now been significantly eroded. Prime Minister Su has taken over a number of the President's duties and is now seen as the most likely DPP candidate for the Presidency. On behalf of the KMT, Party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou is still the most likely candidate.
In January 2008, the KMT won the parliamentary elections. Chen resigned, disappointed, as chairman of the DPP.
In the 2008 presidential election, Ma Ying-jeou was elected president. In June 2008, the first formal talks with China took place since the dialogue was halted in 1999. In November 2008, Chen Yunlin, a senior Chinese negotiator, visited Taiwan. In April 2009, China allows Taiwan to join the World Health Organisation. In May 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Kuomintang Chairman Wu Po-hsiung agreed to begin talks on a trade agreement. The agreement was signed in June 2010. President Ma Ying-jeou is re-elected in January 2012. In June 2013, China and Taiwan signed a new trade agreement, but this was blocked by the opposition in Taiwan's parliament in October 2013. In 2014 and 2015, contacts between China and Taiwan are further formalised. In November 2015, the presidents of both countries hold historic talks in Singapore for the first time since the 1949 civil war. In January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen wins the presidential election and takes office in April 2016. In June 2017, Panama exchanges recognition of Taiwan for China, a major investor and user of the Panama Canal. In December 2017, the parliament decides to remove all symbols referring to its authoritarian past including the one to Chiang Kai-shek. In 2020 Tsai Ing-wen is re-elected. In 2021, tensions between China and Taiwan escalated.
CIA - World Factbook
BBC - Country Profiles
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