Taiwanese must be
free to choose their future
By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎
What do Taiwanese want for their future?
This is a simple question that is being discussed increasingly in Taiwan itself,
and it is also the topic of many a seminar in Washington and elsewhere.
The question is generally framed as a choice between maintaining the present
“status quo,” going in the direction of a free and independent Taiwan or
unification with China.
As I wrote in December last year (“The ‘status quo’ is not good enough,” Dec. 7,
2012, page 8), while the present “status quo” represents a measure of stability
at the current time, it is unsatisfactory for two reasons: it continues to
relegate Taiwan to a state of diplomatic isolation, while at the same time China
is changing the dynamics of the region — and thereby the “status quo” — by its
aggressive military expansion.
So, aside from the non-answer that they favor a nondescript “status quo,” what
do Taiwanese really want for their future?
An interesting insight was recently presented by Emerson Niou (牛銘實), a professor
at Duke University, who analyzed data collected by the Election Study Center of
National Chengchi University in October last year.
At a panel discussion on US-Taiwan-China relations organized by the Center for
Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution in Washington,
Niou confirmed earlier polls indicating that during the past few years, support
for independence has actually gained popularity in Taiwan and support for
unification with China has fallen.
The data showed that, provided there was no gun pointed at the head of
Taiwanese, support for independence grew from 65.5 percent in 2008 to 70.3
percent last year. If a move toward independence might lead to an attack by
China, then the appetite for independence dropped to a lower, but still
significant level of 28.7 percent.
On the other hand, support for unification with China dropped from 11.5 percent
in 2008 to 9.1 percent last year.
These figures reflect the views of those who favor unification, even if
political, economic and social conditions are significantly different on each
side of the Taiwan Strait.
The main conclusion from this presentation was that a sizable majority of
Taiwanese prefer independence over unification and that this sentiment is
growing, in spite of the more China-friendly policies of President Ma Ying-jeou
However, the matter becomes even more interesting in a follow-up question
presented by Niou. In the survey, respondents were also asked whether they
expected that Taiwan and China would move toward unification or independence.
The surprising answer was that 52.7 percent expected unification, while 31.6
percent expected independence.
This discrepancy between preference (“what we want”) and expectation (“what we
expect is going to happen”) is an issue that requires more in-depth analysis.
Do Taiwanese see a rising China that will eventually overwhelm the nation and
absorb it into its fold? Do they feel they can do little about it because China
is so big and important, and Taiwan is so small and insignificant, and the US is
far away and does not care enough?
The answers to these questions are important, as they go to the heart of US
policy toward Taiwan, which has always emphasized that a decision on Taiwan’s
future needs to be made peacefully and in accordance with the democratic wishes
The US needs to make it clear to Taiwanese that they can make a decision on
their future freely and in a democratic fashion, without a Chinese gun pointed
at their heads.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a
special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article
are his own.