Taiwan's Future National Identity: Attitudes and Geopolitical Constraints

By Marsh, Robert M. | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, August-November 2000 | Go to article overview

Taiwan's Future National Identity: Attitudes and Geopolitical Constraints


Marsh, Robert M., International Journal of Comparative Sociology


ROBERT M. MARSH [*]

ABSTRACT

People in Taiwan who favor the establishment of an independent Republic of Taiwan face the reality constraint that mainland China (the PRC) threatens to use force to prevent this. Those who hold the opposite view and favor the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China face a different reality constraint: the non-democratic, economically underdeveloped and, therefore, unappealing character of the PRC. These reality constraints were included in the way questions were phrased in several Taiwan surveys during the 1990s. Respondents were asked: (1) If after Taiwan announces its independence it could maintain peaceful relations with Communist China, should Taiwan become an independent country? (2) If mainland China and Taiwan were to become similar in economic, political, and social conditions, should the two sides of the Strait be unified into one country?

Depending on how a person answered both of these questions, s/he was categorized as having one of the following four types of national identification: Taiwan nationalist, China nationalist, Pragmatist, and Conservative. This paper first analyzes the distribution of these four types of respondents in surveys conducted before and after the 1996 PRC firing of missiles into the waters near Taiwan's two largest seaports. Next, I show the effect of objective ethnicity (pen-sheng jen vs. wai-sheng jen) and subjective ethnicity (self-identification as "Taiwanese" or "Chinese" or "both") on national identification preferences.

These survey findings are then examined within a geopolitical context. From Beijing's point of view, the Taiwan independence movement is a secessionist movement. A comparative analysis of the outcomes of secessionist movements around the world shows that attempts at secession are almost always unsuccessful, for the basic reason that states do not willingly give up what they consider their sovereign territory. And since even modem democratic states are unwilling to accept a loss of territory, even a future democratic PRC would be unlikely to accept Taiwan's independence.

AMONG THE POPULATION of Taiwan, those who favor the establishment of an independent Republic of Taiwan face the reality constraint that mainland China (the PRC) has not renounced the use of military force if Taiwan declares its independence. Supporters of the opposite type of national identity -- reunification of Taiwan with mainland China -- also face a reality constraint: the non-democratic, economically less developed character of the PRC. Surveys of attitudes in Taiwan toward future national identity made a significant advance in 1992 when they began annually to use Wu Naiteh's new formulation (Wu 1993) and to ask respondents: (1) "If after Taiwan announced its independence it could maintain peacful relations with the Chinese communist government, then Taiwan should become an independent country. Do you agree?" (2) "If mainland China and Taiwan were to become similar in economic, social and political conditions, then the two sides of the Strait should be united into one country. Do you agree?" The second view is basically the position of President Lee Teng-hui, who stated in an address to the National Unification Council on July 22, 1998, "China must be reunified. However, this reunification must be under a system of democracy, freedom and equitable prosperity... The nation should by no means be unified under the proven failure of comunism or the so-called 'one country, two systems' formula" (Taiwan Research Institute 1998b:5). Even the PRC regime is aware that China's present political institutions and economy are more alienating than appealing to Taiwan residents.

From answers to these two questions, Wu (1993, 1997) and Shen and Wu (1998) classified respondents into four types of national identification preferences: Taiwan nationalists, China nationalists, Pragmatists, and Conservatives (see Table 1).

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