Monday, January 07, 2013

Will Taiwan Independence Rock the World in 2013?

Love getting out in the morning to see what bugs are hanging. Alas, he spun just as I hit the shutter.

Michael Mazza, longtime commentator and observer on things Taiwan, argues in Foreign Policy that in 2013 Taiwan independence could be an issue that rocks the world, with three other similar "surprise" issues:
Taiwan Independence

.......But while Taiwan's businesspeople enjoy closer ties with China, the average Taiwanese voter continues to move toward independence. Over the last 20 years, the portion of citizens of Taiwan identifying as "Taiwanese" has increased from 17.6 percent of those polled in 1992 to a whopping 53.7 percent today; those identifying as "Chinese" has declined over the same period from 25.5 percent to just 3.1 percent today. Support for independence has nearly doubled over the last two decades, from 11.1 percent to 19.6 percent. Support for immediate or eventual unification, meanwhile, has more than halved, from 20 percent in 1992 to 9.8 percent in 2012.

Economic integration is apparently failing to halt what Beijing sees as a troubling trend. With a cross-strait trade agreement and a slew of other, easier deals already on the books, Beijing now expects Ma to discuss political issues. But Ma doesn't have the domestic political support to pursue political talks -- in March 2012, two months after his reelection, 45 percent of those polled said the pace of cross-strait exchanges was "just right," but the share of respondents answering "too fast" had increased to 32.6 percent, from 25.7 percent before the election. Any Chinese shift toward a more strident Taiwan policy could portend a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait sooner than many expect, as a lack of progress on these issues may buttress hawks in the new Xi Jinping administration. And America would surely be dragged in: Even low-level coercive measures against Taiwan -- a top 10 U.S. trading partner and security ally -- could throw U.S.-China relations into a tailspin.

Taiwan independence makes a sexy title component, but the real issue is that Beijing wants to annex Taiwan. Mazza here correctly if subtly identifies the problem: Beijing may well get impatient with the lack of progress toward annexation under the Ma government, and take some kind of more militant position.

Mazza's numbers for support of Taiwan independence are too low. Other polls show it at 70% or more (for example).

The interesting thing for me here is the Ma Ying-jeou factor. During the Chen Shui-bian Administration Beijing pursued the tactic of declaring Chen "provocative" and accusing him of disturbing Taiwan-China relations. One purpose of this was to discredit Chen internationally. Sadly, the international media gleefully piled on. But another purpose of that tactic was to transfer the tension in the Beijing-Taipei relationship to the Washington-Taipei relationship, enabling Beijing to manage Washington using the policy of "anger". can't do that with Ma Ying-jeou. Because Ma is ostensibly Beijing's ally and chosen one, they can't attack him the way they attacked Chen Shui-bian. Ma actually constrains Beijing's freedom of action on Taiwan even when he is cooperating with it (though as we have seen, he permits Beijing to ramp up tensions elsewhere since it has Taiwan well in hand). Ma also highlights the continuing problem Taiwan's democracy poses for the CCP: he has little public support, let alone public support for political talks. Moreover, the flow of opinion polls and other data is open and public, meaning that no one can fool themselves or others as to the extent of Ma's weakness.

Taiwan's democratic politics thus restrains Ma in two key ways. First, it prevents him from taking public action to annex Taiwan to China. Second, Beijing no doubt hoped that Ma would do something about Taiwan's democracy. Suppressing Taiwan's democracy, a daily reminder that people in the Chinese cultural sphere are as capable of democracy as any people, is surely a key policy goal. If Taiwan were taken into the Chinese empire, Beijing would have to make all kinds of tough decisions. Two systems? Then its other territorial holdings would clamor for democracy (why should Taiwan be different?). Yet, as the experience of Ma for the last few years has shown, Taiwan's democracy, however imperfect, is often robust and capable of defending itself. Ma is thus limited internationally and domestically.

Be careful what you wish for...
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...


thank-you for this informative post. I suspect that Taiwan will not declare independence, however, because if one remembers the law that the Politburo passed in 2005, the "anti-secession law", the PRC reserves the option to raze all of Taiwan to the ground via SRBM and LACM assaults should it ever decide to become more than just a thorn in the side of the CPC's attempt to control the very minds of the Chinese people.

Michael Turton said...

You're very welcome. The irony is that declared independence will only become possible if Taiwan has the support of the Powers, and that will only occur when Beijing launches its war on japan and the US.


Grant said...

You think China will launch a war against those two? They'd have to be insane.
Well, then again, wars are never started by sane people.

grg1951 said...

I believe the next 3 years are crucial. Xi just took over in China. He has 10 years. Ma has 3 more years. For the sake of argument, assume that the DPP wins the next election. And holds office for 8 years. Xi definitely does not want to go 10 years without sucking up Taiwan. So if Xi can't finish the job in 3 years, then that leaves 8 more years with no luck----11 total years.

Second point, is in the East China Sea. China can not lose it those islands--period. To do so would look real bad on the home front and give Taiwan some breathing room. Get the islands, and Taiwan is surrounded. Game over.

Readin said...

"You think China will launch a war against those two? They'd have to be insane."

What is the negative side for China?

Trade sanctions? Remember how many countries opposed the US invasions of invasions and Afghanistan and imposed trade sanctions to show their displeasure? A much smaller country like Iran threatens genocide against a neighbor and how difficult is it to get sanctions that are actually followed (it has taken a very long time). China is a major trading partner for many countries around the world. How many will be willing to see their own economy suffer for the sake of Taiwan?

Will America get involved? Perhaps, but not for long. If the last 50 years have taught us anything its that you can wait America out. Eventually the Democrats get elected and surrender everything America was fighting for. If you want you can gamble by supporting America. If you're lucky you get a free trip to America at the end of the war. Otherwise you get a trip to prison and perhaps a meeting with a firing squad or headhunter.

Readin said...

Oops, on re-reading my comment I realize I quoted a statement about attacking Japan and America, but my comment was about the costs of invading Taiwan.

It will be a long time before China attacks Japan and America. Instead, if we keep governing ourselves like we are now, we'll simply become not very relevant and hardly worth even a successful low-cost invasion.

Anonymous said...


Franklin Roosevelt was a democrat, and under him the U.S fought and never backed down.

Thoth Harris said...

I don't think it's likely that China will wage war against Taiwan. The invasion is and will be economic. It's already happening. Chinese own a lot of property here now. A lot of Chinese university students are coming to study at the universities here. (Actually, some of them are pretty nice - the possibilities of incremental changes result from such cultural exchanges is another interesting topic).

The only thing that will make Taiwan and China more mutually hawkish and generally warlike is the likelihood of conflict with the United States or with Russia.

If China goes to war with Russia, that's really bad news for Taiwan. The United States will become China's ally, for money and because it the US and the rest of the West is already much much closer to China than it is to Russia, with whom it has an awful lot of antagonism regarding all sorts of foreign policy matters and much else besides.

The idea of China and the US being in conflict is more distant, despite the male-dominated, testosterone-fueled rage of Chinese netizens and trolls of many stripes. It will be a different story, however, if China and Japan get pissed off at each other. USA will side with Japan. That will also probably let Taiwan get lost in the chaos. These two conflicts, with Russia or with Japan, will make the West ignore Taiwan. China will physically be able to do anything it wants then.

Chung Yang said...

I am not sure if Taiwanese Independence will rocks the world in 2013.

HOWEVER, Taiwan upcoming legislation on same-sex marriage will.

Internationally, I don't really see many people that concerned (nor cares about) the topic of Taiwanese Independence. But Taiwanese same-sex marriage legislation has been getting plenty TV coverage and closely watched by some here in the United States.