Our MonkeyCage article again


The Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwanese, not as Chinese

January 2

In Dec. 2, President-elect Donald Trump startled observers when, departing from protocol, he took a phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Trump has suggested that under his administration, the United States may break from the pointedly ambiguous “One China policy.”

According to that policy, the U.S. government takes no official stance on the relationship between Taiwan and China. In the U.S.-China Normalization Communiqué of 1978, the backbone of the policy, the United States “acknowledges” that there is one China and that Taiwan is part of China. But the United States has never officially “recognized” Taiwan as part of China. This strategic ambiguity leaves the United States room for a de facto relationship with Taiwan and leaves the Taiwan-China relation an open-ended question.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that self-governed Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is part of its territory. For the PRC, that’s what “One China” means. Trump’s call therefore alarmed China.

And so, during his final news briefing of the year, President Obama reiterated the nation’s long-term commitment to the One China policy. He said that there is consensus on both sides of the Taiwan Strait on maintaining the “status quo,” and that “the Taiwanese have agreed that, as long as they can function with ‘some degree of autonomy,’ they won’t charge forward and declare independence.”

But is he right?

The “status quo” between Taiwan and China is often discussed as if everyone involved agreed and attitudes toward the relationship were static. But that’s not so.

Here’s what we find when we examine Taiwanese attitudes toward China.

1. Taiwan is de facto independent. The Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwanese, not as Chinese.

The official stance of Taiwan was that Taiwan is part of China. But the China that this stance refers to is the Republic of China (based in Taipei) instead of the communist People’s Republic of China (based in Beijing). (One interesting fact is that the special institution National Unification Council, which defined the official stance in 1992, was “ceased” in 2006 along with theGuidelines for National Unification.)

Since the 1970s, PRC became diplomatically acknowledged as China by most nation-states, including the United States. That is, ROC no longer asks to be seen as representing all of mainland China. Its constitution, which claims sovereignty over the whole mainland, does differentiate between the “free area,” or the island of Taiwan, and the “mainland area,” after a series of amendments that have been added since the 1990s.

But the ROC has never been part of the PRC in its history.

The majority of Taiwanese believe that Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China. As the figure below shows, more than 70 percent of Taiwanese agree with this statement.

What’s more, ROC residents increasingly identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. That identity has changed significantly since the island became a democracy in the 1990s. In 1991, ROC and PRC representatives met with one another for the first time since the 1949 civil war. At that point, about one-fourth of Taiwan’s residents identified themselves exclusively as “Chinese”; 17.6 percent as exclusively “Taiwanese”; and nearly half said both Chinese and Taiwanese.

But by 2014, only 3 percent still identified exclusively as Chinese — and more than 60 percent Taiwanese, hovering around there ever since. Today, only one-third of Taiwan’s residents think of themselves as both Chinese and Taiwanese. Among those who are 29 or younger, born after martial law ended in 1987, 78 percent hold an exclusively Taiwanese identity — as do nearly 70 percent of people younger than 40. If this trend continues, a solely Taiwanese identity will prevail as residents’ consensus.

2. However, de jure independence will only be “charged forward” when some conditions are met

For the past decades, Emerson Niou, a political scientist at Duke University, has administered a series of questionnaires to Taiwanese citizens by randomized telephone interview (conducted by the Election Study Center of the National Chengchi University). These surveys revealed that about three-quarters of the respondents would support Taiwanese independence if it would not cause the PRC to attack Taiwan. Put differently, survey evidence shows that most Taiwanese may see formal independence as their ultimate goal, not simply the ability to “function with some degree of autonomy,” as Obama stated.

For Taiwanese younger than 40, pro-independence support reaches 84 percent. Perhaps most startling, 43 percent of the under-40 generation would support independence even if it meant China would attack Taiwan under the risk of war.

On the flip side, unification with China has become unpopular. Even under the most favorable scenario — in which there would be little political, economic or social disparities between mainland China and Taiwan — only one-third of Taiwanese citizens say they support unification. That’s a significant drop from the 60 percent who supported unification in 2003.

And yet the Taiwanese are not willing to pursue independence at all costs. Many are concerned with the economy. When asked to choose between formal independence or maintaining economic ties with China, 83 percent chose bread over romance. Moreover, 64 percent worry that China will force Taiwan to accept political concessions via economic connections. That has increased from less than a quarter since the two sides lifted the official trade ban in 2008, as you can see in the figure below.

3. Taiwan is a fully functioning democracy

Taiwan is a well-functioning democratic society that recently elected its first female president and has achieved its third democratic turnover of power. By any measure of democratization, such as the “two turnover test” or indicators measured by the Freedom House and other institutes, Taiwan is a fully consolidated democracy — according to some, the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world. With a marriage equality bill moving through the legislature, Taiwan has a chance to become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2017.

Mainland China is not. There, a new Overseas NGO Management Law took effect as of Jan. 1, tightening government controls over domestic civil society. Even international democracy activists have been targeted, as when the state forced Swedish activist Peter Dahlin to confess to crimes against China on state television.


The “status quo” between China and Taiwan is never static. How Taiwanese people perceive the relationship necessarily constrains the political position of Taiwan’s democratically elected leader. As a result, understanding Taiwanese perceptions is essential in navigating the delicate relationship among Taiwan, China and the United States.

Fang-Yu Chen is a PhD candidate in political science at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Wei-ting Yen is a PhD candidate in political science at Ohio State University.  Austin Horng-en Wang is a PhD candidate in political science at Duke University. Together Chen, Yen and Wang are the founding editors of Who Governs TW. Brian Hioe is one of the founding editors of New Bloom, an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific.

Radical Candidate Anchoring the Moderate: Experimental Evidence of the Extremeness Aversion

Wang, Austin Horng-En, and Chen, Fang- Yu. 2016. “Radical Candidate Anchoring the Moderate: Experimental Evidence of the Extremeness Aversion” Paper presented at the 2016 Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 7th-10th, Chicago, IL.


The emergence of radical wing candidates has become a global phenomenon. Previous studies on the radical candidates or parties focus on their life cycle, supporters, or the interaction with mainstream parties. How does the entrance of the radical candidate influence the election result? Contrast to conventional wisdom that the extreme splits the votes, we argue that the entrance of the extreme candidate makes perception on the moderate candidate on the same side as more moderate. Based on the extremeness aversion theory in consumer psychology, we hypothesize that the entrance of extreme candidate reframes the endpoint of ideological spectrum among available candidates, which makes the moderate one on the same side perceived as an intermediate option, and therefore enhances his or her attractiveness especially among the moderate voters. Through survey experiment concerning the unification-independence issue dominating in Taiwan’s elections, we provide empirical support for the extremeness aversion effect. This result challenges the assumption widely accepted in spatial models that the perceived policy positions of each candidate is independent to each other. The theory also predicts how the mainstream parties may strategically foster or repress their radical counterparts. When the number of moderate voters in a district reaches certain level, the mainstream party can manipulate the election result by allowing the entry of radical wing candidates and even without really changing their own manifesto.



Monkey Cage article: How Taiwanese view the future of the Cross-strait

Here is my article on the Monkey Cage today: “Taiwan and mainland China in talks? Here are the 5 things you need to know about what Taiwanese people are thinking.”

By Austin Wang November 6 at 3:34 PM

On Saturday, the two Chinas will have a historic encounter: The top leaders of China and Taiwan, Xi Jingping and Ma Ying-jeou respectively, will meet. That hasn’t happened since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took over the mainland, and Chang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government evacuated to Taiwan.

The timing is sensitive and interesting. Last week, the United States sent a naval destroyer to the South China Sea to make clear that it rejects mainland China’s expanding claims in the area. In just two months, Taiwan will be holding presidential and legislative elections.

This meeting is a surprise to both Taiwan and the world. The Ma administration planned the meeting in secret, revealing it only on Tuesday evening.

The White House seems to welcome this meeting, because it is in the United States’ interest for the two Chinas to have peaceful relations. But does the Taiwanese public feel the same way? What do they think about these talks? What are their attitudes toward the future relations with the mainland?

National Chengchi University in Taiwan has been surveying the Taiwanese public for more than a decade on national security questions (Details can be found here and here). Here are the five most important takeaways.

1.The Taiwanese people want talks with mainland China

In the 2014 survey, when asked whether Taiwan and mainland China should hold talks, 68.5 percent of our respondents said yes, while only 22.5 percent were opposed.

That’s true even though the survey was conducted right after the ruling Nationalist, or Kuomintang (KMT), government lost local elections disastrously in late November.

2. Everyone’s in favor of talks, regardless of party

Taiwanese politics is generally split between two points of view about relations with the mainland: reunify or remain independent. The KMT believes that both China and Taiwan should be in the same state called China, acknowledging the existence of the two governments with different regime types as the historical legacy of the 1949 Communist Revolution. On the other hand, the Democratic Progressive Party, the major opposition party, which held the presidency during 2000-2008, pushes Taiwan to be an independent country, based on the current de facto status of independent sovereignty.

But Taiwanese of all parties support talks. In the 2014 survey, that’s true of a large majority of supporters of Eric Chu, the KMT presidential candidate, or 82.9 percent. It’s true also for a substantial majority of Tsai Ing-wen supporters, the DPP presidential candidate, or fully 66.3 percent.

3. Supporting talks is not the same as supporting unification

Over the past 12 years, a majority of Taiwanese people support the status quo, which means to maintain the not-quite-official separate status.

However, the number seeking official independence is on the rise. In 2014, 34.5 percent of our respondents said they wanted to “maintain the status quo now and decide what to do later”, while 29.5 percent preferred “maintaining the status quo indefinitely”.

But 17.3 percent chose “maintaining the status quo now and seeking independence later,” which is twice as many as held that point of view in 2003.

Meanwhile, support for unification is dropping. Those who agreed with “seeking unification with China quickly” and “maintaining the status quo now and seeking unification later” now total only 7.3 percent of our respondents, a significant drop from 20 percent in 2003.

4. Taiwan is looking for a way out of the impasse

While Taiwanese may say they prefer the status quo to the alternative options, that does not imply that they are satisfied with the status quo.

A series of “conditionality of preference” questionnaires suggested by Duke Political Scientist Niou (2004) reveal how Taiwanese envision the future. For the past 12 years, consistently around 80 percent of respondents said they supported Taiwan’s independence if independence would not cause mainland China to attack Taiwan (the yellow line in the figure below).

Put differently, independence is clearly the ultimate goal for a supermajority of the Taiwanese. Seeking that goal is currently restrained by the military threat from China, as was driven home when Beijing promulgated an “Anti-Secession Law” in 2005. As a result, Taiwanese continue to choose the status quo.

The figure above reveals two trends that are especially worth discussing. In 2003, 60 percent of the respondents agreed to reunify with China “If only small political, economic, and social disparities exist between mainland China and Taiwan” (the purple line). By 2014, that percentage had dropped to 28 percent. In contrast, in 2003, 27 percent supported Taiwan independence even if it meant that China would attack Taiwan. By 2014, that number had climbed to 40 percent.

In other words, the effect of China’s military threat is waning, although it’s still significant. Moreover, China’s shining economic performance and political reforms over the years have not made unification more attractive; in fact, quite the opposite. More and more Taiwanese favor independence unconditionally.

So far, the “status quo” has been a rational, yet reluctant, choice.

5. The Taiwanese worry about economic dependence on China

In the 2012 and 2014 surveys, significant majorities — 68.1 percent and 62 percent — agreed with the following item: “Some people say that mainland China will use Taiwan’s overly economic dependence as leverage to political benefit. Do you agree or disagree?

The majority of Taiwanese are concerned about the potential problems in deeper economic integration with the mainland.

This concern was manifested in the Sunflower Movement in March 2014, in which students and activists occupied the Taiwanese parliament for 23 days with the goal of stopping the Cross-Strait Service Trade Pact (CSSTP). Even though the Ma administration promised that this agreement was purely economic and not political, more than 600 computer science and electrical engineering professors and experts warned that national security could be at risk if the trade pact opened up type II telecommunication services.

Such Trojan Horse-like services could create regulatory loopholes for China, enabling Internet monitoring that could come along with the influx of the “red capital.”


What have we learned from the survey results? In general, the Taiwanese support talks with the mainland that which can maintain the status quo and enhance economic prosperity without giving up sovereignty, no matter which party is in power. Unification is out of the question, and independence is a difficult dream.

Which is not the same as saying that the Taiwanese trust either their own leadership or that of mainland China. In two recent surveys conducted by Taiwan’s Election and Democratization Study in March and June 2015, 74.1 percent and 67.5 percent of Taiwanese respondents said they distrusted Ma. In March 2015, 89.5 percent of Taiwanese respondents distrusted the mainland China government.

With such low level of trust, it is almost impossible for Xi Jingping and Ma Ying-jeou to take these talks far. Any sudden changes will most certainly backfire.

Austin H. Wang is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at Duke University. Wei-Ting Yen is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at Ohio State University. Jung-Feng Tsai earned a master’s degree in strategic studies and diplomacy at Australian National University. Greg Sheen is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at London School of Economics. Fang-Yu Chen is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at Michigan State University. Jaw-Nian Huang is a doctoral candidate in the department of political science at University of California at Riverside.


Clamping down on Growing National Identity?

Wang, Austin H. 2015. “Clamping down on Growing National Identity? Case of China’s Cross-strait Policies toward Taiwanese, 2004-2012 “Paper presented at 2015 American Association of Chinese Studies annual conference, Houston, October 11-12. Slides

Construction of identity is one of the most important issues during state-building process. To depress the growing exclusive national/regional identity, motherland countries apply economic incentive or military threat to clamp down on the trend; the logic of rational choice may reduce one’s utility of changing identification. This article focuses on the case of cross-strait interaction, in which Taiwan began its quest for exclusive Taiwanese identity since 1987, and China applied both economic benefit and military threat to Taiwanese people. I argue that the effect of the two China factors on repressing Taiwan identity would decrease over time because of generation replacement. Generation replacement suggests that young Taiwanese has never experienced wartime and poverty, so they tend to embrace post-materialism such as freedom and self-expression. Five cross-sectional Taiwan National Security Survey, conducted in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2012, are analyzed by pooled logit regression. The results show the effect, not perception, of the China factors negatively correlates with age of Taiwanese respondents, and support the argument of the declining effect of China factors on ETI over time.


Effect of Economic Benefit on Exclusive Taiwanese Identity declines over time


Effect of Military Threat on Exclusive Taiwanese Identity declines over time




Patience as the Rational Foundation of Sociotropic Voting

Draft can be found here.

Economic voting is one of the most important mechanism on explaining voting behavior and the establishing accountability of democratic system. However, people tend to use perceived national economic condition on evaluating the incumbent, which is known as sociotropic voting, instead of their pocketbook. Previous studies suggest both altruism and self-interested future expectation may help explain this seemingly irrational behavior, but empirical works have not yet distinguished between the two motivations. This article suggests that individual patience can serve as the rational foundation of the self-interest sociotropic voting. Patience makes people to discount less on the potential future influence from current change in national economy; if self-interest is the main driving force behind sociotropic voting, patient voters would be more sociotropic. In aggregate level, patience of electorates would influence how much the government is responsible for national economy. Consistent with the hypothesis, individual-level data from 2014 Comparative Congressional Election Survey shows that patient voters are more sociotropic, while country-level data including 45 countries shows the average patience  positively correlates with economic development and negatively correlates with level of clientelism. Implication of patience on democratization is finally discussed. patience1