July 29, 2021

China and Taiwan Could Be Headed Towards a Showdown. What Should America Do?

“Independence Support Spikes,” blared a headline this week in the Taipei Times, one of my favorite erstwhile publishing haunts. And blare it should. A Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation poll indicated that a striking 54 percent of respondents favor early independence from China, 23.4 percent back the cross-strait status quo, 12.5 percent favor early unification with China, and the remainder made no response or were unsure. Breaking down the numbers among those who prefer the status quo—who in effect are content to postpone settling the question indefinitely—the pollsters found that 64.4 percent of respondents support independence, now or later, while just 17.8 percent endorse unification across the Taiwan Strait.

The poll shattered longstanding patterns in popular opinion. Declared foundation chairman Michael You: “In my research on public surveys on these issues over the past 30 years, this is the highest rate of support among Taiwanese for independence,” not to mention “the lowest figure for people supporting unification with China.”

And indeed the breakdown is stunning. For many years opinion on the island was steady and predictable. Some small percentage, generally under 10 percent of the electorate, generally favored either immediate independence or immediate unification. The middle 80 percent or so were content to kick the can down the road in hopes of getting their wish sometime in the indefinite future, whether that wish was for unification or for independence. And why not? I used to spend a fair amount of time on Taiwan and found the status quo there pretty darned pleasant. Some large share of that 80 percent backed eventual independence while the remainder backed eventual unification. The proportions sidled gradually toward independence as demographics shifted. Youthful islanders defined themselves as Taiwanese while the elder generation, many of mainland origins, went to their reward. Events seem to have accelerated that trend—as You notes.

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