Amid Taiwan’s Defensive Posturing Against China, Public Sentiment Remains Largely Unperturbed by Threat of Conflict

by Sophia Chen
Taiwan-China Relations

While Chinese People’s Liberation Army fighter jets sped toward Taiwan last Friday, daily life on the self-governing island remained largely undisturbed.

Andy Huang, an owner of a restaurant in Taipei, has grown indifferent to military provocations from mainland China.

“For three decades, talk of a Chinese invasion has been constant,” he stated.

In an attempt to bolster its defenses, Taiwan’s government has allocated nearly $19 billion for U.S. military equipment and has extended the duration of military conscription for men to one year starting in 2024. However, a significant portion of the populace does not share the government’s sense of urgency.

The nuanced perceptions many Taiwanese have towards China could partially account for this. Although surveys suggest that the majority of Taiwanese are opposed to reunification, a considerable number are drawn to China’s burgeoning economy, as well as its shared language and culture. Others have simply grown inured to the constant talk of an impending threat.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, and its increasingly aggressive posturing has led some to speculate that it might resort to military force to claim the island. The situation has drawn comparisons from American politicians and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to the case of Ukraine.

Taiwanese authorities have been vocal in expressing concern. “To maintain peace, we must fortify ourselves,” President Tsai stated during a recent memorial service marking past military conflicts between Taiwan and China.

For most of the public, however, this sense of emergency is not palpable.

Coco Wang, who identifies with Chinese culture without considering herself Chinese, recalls summers spent traveling in China. Her grandparents had fled mainland China during the Communist takeover in 1949, leading to the establishment of separate governments in Taiwan and mainland China.

Wang, who has previously worked in Shanghai, is contemplating a return due to the abundant opportunities in China. “There is a sense that earnest effort in China can lead to meaningful achievement,” she noted.

In 2022, 39% of Taiwan’s exports were directed to China, its largest trading partner, despite new trade barriers arising from escalating tensions.

Wang acknowledges that political undertones are inevitable when working in China, recalling instances when colleagues jokingly labeled her a “Taiwanese separatist.”

A prevailing sentiment among the Taiwanese populace since the 1990s has been to maintain the status quo—rejecting both reunification and a formal declaration of independence. However, polling conducted by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center has revealed a shift in identity among the Taiwanese public, with a growing majority identifying solely as Taiwanese.

Huang, for instance, once believed he was Chinese but now identifies solely as Taiwanese. His restaurant in Taipei features a “Lennon Wall” paying homage to the prohibited democracy movement in Hong Kong.

For some, like Chen Shih-wei, the cultural and emotional connections to China are deeply ingrained. Chen, whose family has been in Taiwan since the Ming dynasty, has no illusions of reunification occurring in his lifetime but is concerned about the potential for conflict.

Despite mounting tensions on the governmental level, Wang emphasizes that the discord is not reflected among the people. “The Taiwanese and mainland Chinese are largely amicable toward each other. Why must it be so contentious?” she questioned.

The path to resolving years of accumulated tension, whether military, diplomatic, or economic, appears elusive, but the dissonance seems to be between governments, not the people.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Taiwan-China Relations

What is the main focus of the article?

The main focus of the article is to explore the divergent levels of concern between Taiwan’s government and its public over the potential military threat from China. While the government is taking significant steps to bolster its defenses, the public largely remains indifferent to the prospect of conflict.

How is the Taiwanese government responding to the threat from China?

The Taiwanese government is taking proactive steps to strengthen its defenses against China. It has allocated nearly $19 billion for the purchase of U.S. military equipment and has extended the duration of military conscription for men to one year starting in 2024.

What is the general public sentiment in Taiwan towards China?

The public sentiment in Taiwan towards China is nuanced. While the majority are opposed to reunification, many have a favorable view of China’s dynamic economy, language, and culture. Others have grown indifferent to the constant talks of an impending threat.

How do Taiwanese identify themselves in relation to China?

Based on recent polling conducted by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center, a growing majority of Taiwanese identify solely as Taiwanese. However, there remains a subset of the population with deep-rooted cultural and emotional ties to China who identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese.

What percentage of Taiwan’s exports go to China?

In 2022, China was Taiwan’s largest trading partner, receiving 39% of the island’s exports, despite new trade barriers arising from escalating tensions between the two governments.

Are there examples of individual perspectives on Taiwan-China relations in the article?

Yes, the article includes individual perspectives, such as those of Andy Huang, a restaurateur in Taipei who has grown indifferent to the threat from China, and Coco Wang, who has worked in Shanghai and contemplates returning due to greater opportunities.

What does the article suggest about the relationship between governments and people in Taiwan and China?

The article suggests that while the governments may be in a state of escalating tension, this is not necessarily reflective of the relationships between the people of Taiwan and China, who are largely amicable towards each other.

Is the possibility of military conflict discussed in the article?

Yes, the article does discuss the possibility of military conflict, emphasizing that the Taiwanese government is preparing for such a scenario, although many in the public sphere do not feel a sense of immediate threat.

More about Taiwan-China Relations

  • Taiwan’s Defense Expenditure
  • U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deals
  • National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center Polling Data
  • Historical Overview of Taiwan-China Relations
  • Cross-Strait Relations: A Comprehensive Guide
  • Taiwan’s Public Opinion on China: Recent Surveys
  • Sunflower Movement in Taiwan: A Recap
  • The Hong Kong Democracy Movement: Context and Impact

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Sarah Williams September 2, 2023 - 10:45 am

Well written and informative. The individual stories really add depth to the topic. Would love to hear more from people like Coco Wang. Makes it real, not just stats and policies.

Alex Kim September 2, 2023 - 12:35 pm

So ppl in Taiwan dont seem to be that worried huh? Well, they’re the ones living there so they prob know better. Still, geopolitics is a tricky game. One wrong move and everything could go south.

Mike O'Donnell September 2, 2023 - 8:55 pm

good reporting but i think it’s missing some opinions from the government side, you know? Like what’s driving them to be this worried and spend all that money.

Emily Clark September 3, 2023 - 3:22 am

Great piece! Honestly, it’s a complicated issue. With family ties and economic interests, not surprised people are numb to the whole ‘threat from China’ thing.

John Smith September 3, 2023 - 4:17 am

Fascinating read. It’s really interesting to see the disconnect between government and public opinion in Taiwan. Makes you wonder, what would it take for the general public to start feeling the urgency?


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