This piece is part of the Taiwan-U.S. Quarterly Analysis series, which features the original writings of experts from the United States and Taiwan, with the goal of providing a range of perspectives on developments relating to Taiwan .
The Economist recently published an article claiming Taiwan as the most dangerous place on Earth. The great attention The Economist has given to China, now Taiwan as a part of China 'problem', does reflect a few things. One, the Economist has always been able to focus on important world issues and magnify their appearances with its research and fine penmanship. Two, the magazine has been lately taking a position on China issue by reporting in more alarming and negative tone about China, including U.S.-China conflicts, Hong Kong civil protests, Xinjiang Uighur genocide, China's economy and now Taiwan. It is no surprise that China and most Chinese people have noticed 'the British manner' and shifted their opinion about The Economist from respectable to a biased publication especially on China issues. Why? No one can tell a full story but a correlation with UK's foreign policy – joining EU to Brexit, embracing China to hugging the U.S. ever so tightly and desperately keeping to avoiding to lose her voice on the world stage – may shed some light.
Since 'the most dangerous place' is published, it certainly has caught many foreign affairs researchers, analysts and think tank staffs' attention. Notably Brookings Institute has published a piece of survey work in its series: Taiwan-U.S. Quarterly Analysis (Brookings 1-16-2019) which was authored by Shelly Rigger, Brown Professor and Assistant Dean of Education Policy – political science department, Davidson College, Lev Nachman, post-doctoral research fellow, Harvard Fairbank Center, Chit Wai John Mok, PhD candidate in sociology at UC Irvine, and Nathan Kar Ming Chan, PhD candidate of political science at UC Irvine. They followed up The Economists article and a recent survey showing Americans being worried about the threat to Taiwan by actually conducted a survey of 1000 Taiwan residents querying whether or not people on Taiwan share those concerns about imminent military conflict? They felt that the strategic discussion on the potential for conflict should not leave out the crucial voices of Taiwan people in the matter. A noble thought may be, but in reality, the Taiwan people have little to influence the matter, since the threat seems to be created by the new U.S. anti-China policy and Mainland China's response. Taiwan's influence is certainly not from the people but from a pro-US Taiwan government.
However, the survey still may be valuable not so much for Taiwan people but more for Americans. First, the survey questions seem to be designed to find the truth of 'fear or not' for American policy makers. (understandable if the survey is funded through government) In my opinion, the survey may be valuable for American citizens. If Americans do understand the real reason for Taiwan's security threat, why Taiwan people are aware but not concerned about the threat and truly believe Americans can influence their government's foreign policy, then the survey result could add information for Americans to urge any policy change by their government, of course, through media and democratic voices. The survey was done on 1000 Taiwan people across a full spectrrum of adults. The questions were simple hence the data can be easily interpreted and understood.
We net out the survey conclusions as follows: 1. 57.6% of surveyed do worry war is a distinct possibility, majority of both KMT and DPP (KMT a little higher) party members do worry. 2. Breaking down by age, 55% of younge than 49 and 60% of older than 50 say yes to worry and 26% younger than 39 and 17.5% older than 40 say no. 3. On notice of increasing military activity, 79% see increased, 20% see no change and 1% see decreased military activities. 4. Compared to 5 months ago (December 2020), only 30% say yes to more worried and 5. on the question whether Xi is more likely to take military action to unite Taiwan, 46% say more likely and 45% say probability has not changed. These results show that Taiwan residents are aware of, but do not necessarily worry about immediate military conflict with the PRC. This confirms with the observation that lives in Taiwan are largely unhindered by the looming threat of war. This survey also implied that The Economist article, 'Taiwan is the most dangerous place on Earth' may be an exaggeration.
This author do agree with some of the common-sense statements made by Rigger et. al. Firstly, the perilous condition in Taiwan is due to two factors: A. PRC is determined to reunify with Taiwan and B. Taiwan people is unwilling to be reunified. However, this situation has lasted more than 70 years under the peaceful reunification principle that PRC has adhered to without placing any time table. Hence the Taiwan Strait situation is not perilous unless Taiwan government pursues independence (which is equivalent to secession, would the U.S. permit Texas or California to secedes?) In fact, the Taiwan people is far from wanting to secede even though the DPP party has been increasing its effort to gain independence. The U.S. signed the three declarations honoring one China is fully aware of the legal and moral ramification of endorsing any Taiwan independence movement. The current U.S. China policy moving away from that commitment is actually the real fundmental reason for creating a perilous condition for Taiwan.
Secondly, Rigger et. al. correctly state that some U.S. officials think the Taiwan people are too nonchalant about the Taiwan issue for two reasons: A. The military threat has been over 70 years thus becoming so routine and unnoticeable. B. Taiwan people believe that attacking Taiwan is irrational thus unlikely to happen. In my opinion, these sentiments are reflected in Rigger et. al.'s survey. The perilous condition comes from external influence such as the new U.S. anti-China policy believing that poking China's sore spot Taiwan can pressure China to yield to U.S. demands in trade etc. and from the media such as the Economists, the Wall Street Journal and the like. In fact, Taiwan's media was quite vibrant and was fully aware of the external influence on Taiwan government. Since DPP took power, it began to put an iron clamp on Taiwan media, for example by taking the license away from a TV broadcaster, Zhong Tian, simply because the station was too vocal in exposing the government corruption and irregularities. But to this day, Zhong Tian and many small independent media outfits are still vigorously broadcast their opinions through Internet channels. It is true DPP has a solid group of followers but so did KMT and other openly pro-reunification parties.
The American citizens must realize that Taiwan follows the U.S. style democracy where two or more parties can have their solid followers (Just like republicans and Democrats). The U.S. should never interfere or support another regime's political parties just like we don't want the Russians or any other country to influence our political parties. The Taiwan Strait issue is a domestic issue for China, let her solve her own problem whether it would take 75 years or 100 that is not our problem. In the U.S. we do have political scholars advocating leaving Taiwan alone for real U.S. interest. (not for the interest of weapons manufacturers who wants to sell war gears to Taiwan.) I believe that there is another reason why Taiwan people are not so worried about the war; that is, they believe the U.S. will not wage war against China on Taiwan's behalf or on her own behalf. They believe, the two countries have too much to lose in war. Eventually, a competition-Cooperation model is ultimately for the best interest of both countries. Wise man like Kissinger also seem to believe so.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.