Majority of Taiwanese See Island as Independent, Sovereign

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Highlighting a growing assertiveness and sense of national identity, a new opinion survey has found that a large majority of Taiwanese consider the island to be independent and sovereign.

Seventy percent of respondents in the poll conducted by a research firm for the privately-funded Taiwan Think Tank said Taiwan was sovereign, while more than 60 percent supported President Chen Shui-bian's controversial plan for a referendum on the island's status.

Just over 57 percent of those surveyed said they considered themselves "Taiwanese," 14 percent identified themselves as "Chinese," and 19 percent said they were both Taiwanese and Chinese.

Respondents were split over how the United States would respond in the event of a future conflict over Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

Forty percent said they believed the U.S. would support Taiwan in such a scenario, and 42 percent said the U.S. would side with China, to protect its political and economic interests.

Some 56 percent of respondents believed the U.S. would strengthen military cooperation with Taiwan following President Bush's re-election.

At a press conference announcing the survey, Hsu Yung-ming of the Academia Sinica institute said the results showed that "the idea that Taiwan is an independent sovereign state is a consensus conclusion."

Established at the end of 2001, the Taiwan Think Tank has close ties to the Chen government and comprises "political, academic and business heavyweights," according to Taiwanese media reports at the time.

Late last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed that Taiwan "is not independent" and "does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation."

He also suggested that Taiwan's peaceful reunification with China would be the desired outcome of the dispute between the two parties.

Powell's comments, made during a visit China, caused an uproar in Taiwan, prompting assurances from the State Department that U.S. policy on the cross-Strait situation remained unchanged - the need for dialogue aimed at a peaceful resolution.

The dispute has existed since 1949, when the then Republic of China's Nationalist government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to communist forces.

Based in Taipei, the autocratic Nationalist government continued to claim sovereignty over China, but as democratic reform coupled with economic development changed the nature of society on the island, its people began to see themselves increasingly as Taiwanese, rather than exiled Chinese.

Since he came to power and ended decades of Nationalist rule in 2000, Chen has angered Beijing with his plans to amend Taiwan's constitution, hold a referendum on the amended version in 2006, and enact the new document two years later.

China sees the plan as a timetable for formal independence.

The U.S. has diplomatic relations with mainland China, but is also obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to help Taiwan to defend itself against aggression.

In a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, Bush said his administration would continue to act in accordance with its "one China" policy, according to the White House.

The president said the U.S. did not support Taiwan independence and opposed any unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated that the U.S. would provide Taiwan with defensive weapons in accordance with the TRA.

U.S. officials point out that Washington's "one China" policy is purposefully and conveniently ambiguous.

Taiwan has strong support among U.S. lawmakers, and bipartisan Taiwan Caucuses exist in both the House and Senate.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow