From one standpoint, Taiwan, an island just 180 kilometers off the China coast, is insignificant, recognized as a sovereign state by a mere 12 countries. Most of the 193 member states of the United Nations have diplomatic relations with China and respect its “One China" principle under which they can’t have official ties with Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China.

Yet this island of 23 million people is today a global hot spot capable of precipitating a military conflict between China and the United States, possibly even a nuclear war.

Why? Because Beijing insists on “unification” with the island, which it claims belongs to China. When Communist forces in 1949 defeated the ruling Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, in the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT leader, fled to Taiwan, the only province still held by the Republic of China.