In the midst of Taiwan’s crucial presidential campaign for the upcoming January election, voters have been presented with a new poll whose findings further reveal the intricacies of cross-strait tensions and the island’s relations with major global powers. The poll shows that under 10% of Taiwanese trust China, a sentiment experts attribute to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s rigid approach to cross-strait relations.
Only 9.3% of Taiwanese believed China is credible, while 82.7% of respondents said that the threat from Beijing has intensified in recent years, according to the poll by the U.S.-based research center Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies (IEAS) on Monday.
Conversely, a comparatively larger 34% of respondents find the U.S. credible, even though it represented an 11-percentage point drop from two years ago. Still, a majority supports the regular presence of U.S. military forces in the Taiwan Strait, with 66.4% approving American military aircraft and warships there, and 65.4% believing in the U.S. president’s commitment to defend Taiwan.
Li Zhengxiu, an associate researcher at Taiwan’s National Policy Research Foundation, cited Xi’s personal image as the main reason that has led to a more negative view of China among Taiwanese people.
“This is because Xi Jinping’s coercive tactics and his insistence on going his own way, to the extent of his return to the Mao Zedong era’s way of doing things, are incompatible with modern people. In particular, Xi’s tough attitude in handling cross-strait relations, which does not allow for any compromise or negotiation, has further aroused the resentment of the Taiwanese people,” said Li.
As for the U.S.’s eroded credibility among Taiwanese people, Li believes it was a result of the U.S. not responding strongly to China’s military maneuvers around Taiwan after last year’s visit by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“It made Taiwanese worry about whether the U.S. would honor its promise to help Taiwan in the event of a cross-strait conflict,” Li added.
A Taiwanese university student, identified only as “Cheng,” told Radio Free Asia Cantonese he is all for supporting the current status, given the delicate situation between Taiwan and China. He reasoned that a pursuit of independence would inevitably lead to an armed conflict, while unification might drastically alter their current way of life.
Cheng might not be alone. The IEAS poll showed that 91.4% of respondents supported maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
And this widespread preference for the status quo is reflected in the current political climate, noted Rosie Levine, senior program analyst for China at the United States Institute of Peace.
“The key foreign policy issue in the race is how to best manage cross-Strait relations. For now, the political postures of all three leading candidates [for the presidential election] share a surprising amount of overlap. All are advocating for a version of the ‘status quo’ that rejects declarations of formal independence, rebuffs China’s creeping territorial claims, retains a relationship with the United States and rejects China’s proposal of ‘one country, two systems’ for bringing Taiwan more formally under Chinese control,” said Levine, as cited by the institute’s commentary on Nov. 8.
Meanwhile, 78.4% of respondents believed that Taiwan and China are not affiliated with each other, 36.5% believed that Taiwan is called the “Republic of China,” and 21.1% agreed with the “Republic of China, Taiwan” title, according to the poll.
Apart from that, the poll showed 62.5% of respondents considered themselves Taiwanese, only 2.3% thought they were Chinese, and 32.2% thought they were both.
In the survey conducted from Sept. 14 to Sept. 19, a total of 1,211 Taiwanese adults answered questions on U.S-Taiwan-China relations.
Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.