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Taiwan's Future National Identity: Attitudes and Geopolitical Constraints

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
For more content, see Comparative Sociology.

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 modern democratic states are unwilling to accept a loss of territory, even a future democratic PRC would be unlikely to accept Taiwan's independence.


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