Taiwan has been an Asian trouble spot since the end of the civil war in China in 1949.
After the Kuomintang or Chinese nationalist troops fled to the island, the communist leadership in the People's Republic has seen Taiwan as a secessionist province.
In the event of a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan, Beijing has threatened to take the island by force.
Portuguese seafarers named the island Ilha Formosa or beautiful island. With a population of 23 million people, it is now formally known as the Republic of China.
Due to pressure from Beijing, Taiwan is recognized only by a few small states who as a result cannot have diplomatic relations with the People's Republic.
Until 1987 the island was under martial law, and democratization began in the 1990s.
In the election in 2000 there was the first change of government from the Kuomintang to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The independence push of the DPP's Chen Shui-bian, president of the island from 2000 to 2008, put Taiwan on a collision course with Beijing.
From 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang followed a policy of rapprochement with Beijing, but his party was dumped out of power in Saturday's election and the DPP is set to take the reins again.
China is Taiwan's largest trading partner and Taiwan is one of the largest investors in China.
A framework agreement in 2010 formed the basis for economic cooperation and the cutting of customs duties.
There have been direct flights for several years.