Geography

Taiwan (sometimes called "Formosa") is a large island located on Asia’s Pacific rim, between Japan and the Philippines. The Taiwan Strait, an expense of ocean about 165 kilometer (100) miles wide, separates the island from the southern Chinese coastal province of Fukien. Taiwan’s peculiar shape has often been compared to a sweet potato. The island has a total area of 36,000 square kilometers (13,900 square miles), roughly the size of the Netherlands or the U.S. state of West Virginia. Taiwan is 377 kilometers (226 miles) long and 142 kilometers (85 miles) wide at its widest point.

Mountains dominate much of Taiwan with human settlements primarily along the western and southern coastal plains; only 25-30% of the land is suitable for agriculture. there are over 60 peaks with elevations of more than 10,000 feet, including Yu-Shan, which at 3950 meters (13,113 feet) is higher than Japan Mount Fuji. Volcanoes, all extinct or dormant, ring the island. Taiwan lies on a major earthquake fault, and tremors of varying magnitudes occur frequently. Forests cover 55% of the surface, but most are not suitable for commercial development. Acacia trees are found in the foothills, and bamboo flourishes all over the island. Numerous rivers traverse Taiwan, and the otherwise resource poor island has modest deposits of coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

The climate is subtropical, with heavy monsoon rains in the northern regions between October and March, and in the central and southern regions between May and September. Typhoons are common in July and August, but the center and south occasionally experience drought during the dry season. Since World War II, Taiwan has undergone rapid urbanization, with over 70% of the population of more than 20 million living in or near cities. The capital city of Taipei, just inland from the island’s northern tip, is home to 3.5 million people, and even more people live in suburban Taipei county. The second largest city is Kaohsiung, a port in the south of the island. Other important cities include Taichung, near the middle of the western coast and Taiwan, in the southwest. Population densities along the western coastal plain are among the highest in the world, and often exceed 2,700 people per square mile. The east coat and the center of the island, dominated by the Central Mountain Range, are sparsely populated.

The "Taiwan island group" includes fifteen smaller islands off Taiwan’s shores. The most important of these are Green Island, Orchid Island, and Shiao Liu Chiu. A chain of 64 small islands to the west, known as the Pescadores or Penghu, have a long historical association with Taiwan. Ownership of Tiao Yu Island, which lies between Taiwan and Okinawa, has been hotly contested by the governments of Taiwan, Japan and the PRC in recent years.