In a new analysis of polling data from Taiwan, Duke University political science professor Emerson Niou has concluded that while China’s threat deters independence, it also decreases the chances of unification.
Niou said a majority of Taiwanese would prefer not to unite with China. However, they expect that China and Taiwan will become united in the future.
In a presentation to the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, Niou said that over the past 10 years, the Chinese threat to Taiwan had been perceived as less credible and the US security commitment more credible. The conclusions were based on polls conducted by the Election Study Center of Taiwan’s National Chengchi University last year, with Niou as the principal investigator.
Polls showed that on average, Taiwanese feel warmest toward the US, then Japan and then China. Fifty-nine percent of respondents had never visited China, while 22 percent had been once or twice and 19 percent had been more than three times.
Sixteen percent said that someone in their family worked or did business in China. A clear majority — 67 percent — believed that if Taiwan’s economy was overly dependent on China, then Beijing might use its economic leverage to coerce Taipei into making political concessions. Nevertheless, 56 percent thought Taiwan should strengthen its economic and trade relations with China.
Asked if they would favor a declaration of independence if it caused China to attack Taiwan, nearly 30 percent said “yes,” while nearly 60 percent said “no.”
However, if a declaration of independence would not cause China to attack, 70 percent would favor it, while 20 percent would not.
“Bilateral relations between China and Taiwan are growing stronger, but most Taiwanese feel low affinity with China,” Niou said.
While there remains a significant difference between Taiwan and China’s political, economic and social conditions, 77 percent opposed unification and 14 percent were in favor.
However, if there were little difference in conditions between Taiwan and China, 33 percent would support unification, with 58 percent opposed.
No matter how things may change — or not change — 53 percent think unification is inevitable, while 32 percent think Taiwan will become independent.
In dealing with China’s military threat to Taiwan, 26 percent favored the nation building up its arms, while 74 percent thought Taipei should take a more moderate stance to avoid confrontation. If China withdraws its missiles from along the southeast coast, 64 percent favored a reduction in arms purchases from the US.
Asked if they thought the Taiwanese military was capable of defending Taiwan against an attack from China, 91 percent said “no.”
“A clear inference we can draw from these questions is that Taiwanese find the current relationship between China and Taiwan peaceful and they are very conciliatory and not confrontational on policies toward China,” Niou said.