A recent survey jointly conducted by the Chinese-language China Times and the Global Times claims that a majority of Taiwanese and Chinese support cooperation between Taiwan and China to resolve the dispute with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — which Tokyo calls the Senkaku Islands.
Before Taiwan sets sail for the contested islets and claims its rightful property, let’s take a closer look at the numbers and what they really say. And prior to that, it would be useful to pause for a second and restate a few caveats: The China Times is owned by the Want Want China Times Group, whose chairman — Taiwan’s wealthiest person — Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), made his fortune in China and is a known supporter of Beijing.
For its part, the Global Times is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party and has a long tradition of publishing highly nationalistic, and oftentimes militaristic, propaganda. It cannot be trusted to honestly handle an opinion poll.
So here it goes: According to the poll, 85.3 percent of the 1,502 people interviewed in China are in favor of cooperation with Taiwan on the Diaoyutais, while 8.8 percent are against it. In Taiwan, 51.1 percent of the 1,500 people polled said they approved of cooperating with China, while 27.5 percent opposed it.
Of course, it would have been helpful if a definition of “cooperation” had been provided, which it was not. This is not unimportant, as Chinese claims to the Diaoyutais stem from strong nationalistic sentiment and historical grievances vis-a-vis the Japanese, emotions that for the most part do not apply to Taiwanese, who continue to regard Japanese as friends and a source of cultural and artistic emulation. Moreover, with the exception of a small clique of ardent and self-appointed Diaoyutai nationalists, the great majority of Taiwanese could not care less about the fate of the islets in the East China Sea.
Hence, resolving the conflict could very well mean different things for Taiwanese and Chinese respondents. For the Chinese, resolution probably means taking over the Diaoyutais and their surrounding waters; for Taiwanese, it likely means some form of accommodation between all the parties involved.
The same survey then tells us that up to 90.8 percent of Chinese respondents support military action against Japan over the Diaoyutais, if necessary, to resolve the conflict, and that 41.2 percent of Taiwanese also support use of force. While it is very likely that more than nine in 10 Chinese would support military action to defend their country’s claims to the islands, it is difficult to see how more than four in 10 Taiwanese would favor force of arms to resolve the matter.
As with the previous question, it boils down to differences in one’s definition of “force,” or it is sheer misrepresentation on the pollsters’ part, perhaps stemming from a skewed selection of respondents. Taiwanese simply do not care enough about the sovereignty of the Diaoyutais to risk going to war — a war they know they would certainly lose — against their longstanding ally Japan.
The timing of the release of the poll is itself suspicious, coming as it does amid calls by Beijing for Taiwan to cooperate with it in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. More than once in recent weeks, official Chinese media have alleged that “Taiwanese compatriots” were working with China on territorial claims, using isolated incidents involving a handful of Taiwanese to justify such claims.
The Taiwanese government has repeatedly said it would not cooperate with China on the disputes. Could it be that pro-China media are using public opinion polls to pressure Taipei into changing its position?
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