US-China-Taiwan Relations
The Interests of Taiwan

A peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue also requires that Taiwan be a willing participant, else social disorder will likely characterize the island's political relationship with the mainland. Taiwan is a democracy, so any agreement between Taipei and Beijing -- if it is to be based on mutual benefit and not coercion -- must be accepted by both the people of Taiwan and its government.

Minimal requirements for this acceptance would seem to include: Taiwan must be under its own democratic government, Taiwan must be a recognized member of the international community, and Taiwan's security must be guaranteed.

None of these conditions are insurmountable; however, most observers of the Taiwan issue agree that now is not the time for the resolution of cross-Strait political relations. The principal obstacles are (1) Beijing's insistence that the government of the People's Republic of China be accepted as the sole legal government of all of China, including Taiwan; and (2) Taiwanese reluctance to have their island linked politically to the mainland in any presently known formula.

These obstacles have resulted in a sustained status quo policy on Taiwan, described by President Ma Ying-jeou as "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" in cross-Strait relations. Ma, leader of the Kuomintang (or Nationalist political party) won re-election in January 2012 by a vote of about 52 percent versus 46 percent for the Democratic Progressive Party candidate. A third, strongly pro-unification, party candidate won a little less than 3 percent of the vote. 

Many factors influenced this vote, but it reflects a society deeply divided between those who favor eventual unification with China under favorable conditions and those who oppose such unification under any condition. Taiwan's deeply divided politics is in large measure the result of a lack of common self-identification as a nation. Residents of Taiwan view themselves as being "Chinese," "Taiwanese," or both. Personal history has cemented these perceptions; they are not easily changed save by time; and they tend to fix the limits of Taipei's flexibility in its policies toward Beijing.

February 8, 2012