Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

External Threats and Political Tolerance in Taiwan

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

External Threats and Political Tolerance in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Political tolerance is a significant issue for democracies under external threats. When imposed dangers are felt by citizens of the polity, competitors for political power are likely to believe that they are engaging in political battles of a zero-sum nature, having a life or death consequence. Because Taiwan is under constant military pressure from China, it is an excellent case for an analysis of political tolerance in a democracy that is threatened by external forces. Employing recently collected survey data, this study finds that the majority of Taiwanese residents show a willingness to extend rights of citizenship to others in the polity on the most salient issue that divides them. However, the perceived threats from Beijing's claims to the island and from the Taiwan independence movement have had negative impacts on the citizens' level of tolerance. The finding of this study will have important policy implications for Taiwan's young democracy and will also hold significant theoretical implications for the study of political tolerance under threats.

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

When scholarly research on political tolerance began half a decade ago, there was a deep belief in the relevance of tolerance for democracy. After experiencing a world war characterized by Nazi Germany's racial genocide in the West and Imperial Japans military suppression in the East, both showing extreme prejudice, political tolerance was deemed to be a prerequisite for the survival of the democratic systems that replaced the authoritarian regimes. Viewing political tolerance as the key for the successful maintenance of pluralistic principles, scholars have argued that democratic polities can maintain stability only if their citizens are willing to extend democratic rights to others even though their views may be considered as objectionable. The importance of political tolerance to democracy can be easily seen by the voluminous research generated during the past 50 years.1

The issue of political tolerance seems to be even more significant for democratic polities under external threats. When imposed dangers are felt by citizens of the polity, competitors for political power are likely to believe that they are engaging in zero-sum political battles with a nature having a life or death consequence. Only two contemporary democracies fall into this category: Israel and Taiwan. The former has been in a constant state of war with its Arab neighbors, with five major wars since its founding in 1948. The latter is under direct military threats from China as the Beijing government refuses to renounce the use of military force against the island and has deployed more than 700 missiles on the coast facing Taiwan. For both countries, external threats set the context for domestic politics and for the political behaviors of individual citizens. While Israeli political tolerance in a threatening environment has been carefully examined (Shamir and Sullivan 1983; Shamir 1991; Sullivan et al. 1993), there is no published study on Taiwan citizens' level of political tolerance in English even though it is a perfect case to assess the effect of threat perception on political tolerance.

Indeed, political tolerance appears to be a problem for Taiwan at the elite level lately. The island country, also formerly known as the Republic of China (ROC), has completed its transition to become a genuine democracy in 2000. Recent political events on the island, however, suggest that the country's political elites seem to be less willing to put up with different ideas and groups, particularly over the issue on Taiwan's future relations with China. Those who support or would like to keep Taiwan's unification with China as an option are suspected of "betraying Taiwan" and/or "selling out Taiwan," while those who back Taiwan independence are believed to bring disasters for the island.2 The net consequences of this lack of tolerance is political polarization as demonstrated by the repeated political gridlocks in the legislative body since 2000 (Wu 2001; 2002; Rigger 2003, 2004), the mudslinging during the 2004 Presidential campaign and the ongoing disputes and confrontations between the ruling and opposition elites in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election (Associated Press 2004; Bradsher 2004). …

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