In early August, in response to the high-profile visit of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China conducted a new series of live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan strait. In a further demonstration of its displeasure, the PRC announced it was terminating high-level talks with representatives of the United States on a range of important issues.
As cross-strait relations have continued to deteriorate, the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in Taiwan looks at how the Taiwanese public identify themselves, view the security situation with China, and feel about the relationship with the United States.
On questions of identity, majorities believe that Taiwan is culturally distinct from China (77%) and personally identify as Taiwanese (69%). Relatively few Taiwanese citizens polled (3%) identify themselves as exclusively Chinese.
A preference for Taiwan declaring independence from China, meanwhile, which was at 39% in our last poll of Taiwan in November 2021, has increased by seven percentage points to 46%, but there continues to be a majority preference for maintaining the status quo regarding Taiwan’s system of government (58%). Again, relatively few respondents to our polling (7%) would most prefer unification with the People’s Republic of China.
President Tsai Ing-wen has a positive net approval rating of +2, a marginal improvement of three percentage points on her approval rating in our last poll in November 2021 (-1). Her government has strong approval ratings for its performance on the coronavirus pandemic, on healthcare, and on relations with the United States.
Her government attracts negative ratings, however, for its performance on housing, foreign policy and defence, and relations with the People’s Republic of China. Notably, respondents rank defence and security (48%) and relations with the PRC (43%) as the two most important issues facing Taiwan.
Attitudes towards the PRC are a major focus of our latest poll. While pluralities support closer economic ties with the PRC (40%) and believe Taiwan’s economic prosperity depends on close economic relations with it (45%), only 17% believe Taiwan’s long-term strategic interest lies in pursuing closer ties with the PRC over the United States. A majority of 54% have an unfavourable opinion of the PRC Government, compared to just 13% who have a favourable opinion.
Pessimism about the PRC’s intentions towards Taiwan have grown, with 33% in our latest poll saying an invasion in the next year is likely, compared to 26% who said the same in November 2021. A plurality (38%) also believes that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes it more likely that the PRC will attempt to invade Taiwan this year. Whether or not an invasion takes place this year, 46% believe there is likely to be a military conflict with the PRC in the next decade, with a plurality (35%) expressing a lack of confidence in Taiwan’s ability to defend itself in such a conflict.
Pessimism about the possibility of a future invasion by the PRC makes maintaining strong relations with the United States appear all the more vital. In the wake of Speaker Pelosi’s visit—and after President Biden publicly committed in May that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defence—attitudes towards the United States have warmed considerably.
Asked their view of the United States, 44% of respondents say they view the country favourably, a marked improvement from December 2020 when 34% viewed the USA favourably.
Majorities favour closer political (58%), economic (64%), and military (60%) ties with the United States. While 49% believe that Taiwan’s purchases of American military equipment make an invasion more likely, a majority of 51% still support those arms purchases. There is further support for the US-led military exercises in the South China Sea.
Above all, trust in the United States to defend Taiwan has also increased to 49% from 37% last November when the United States’ withdrawal had been the highest profile foreign recent policy event.