A declining number of Taiwanese fear a looming war with China, according to a new poll suggesting the rest of the world is far more concerned than those at the center of this potential geopolitical hotspot.
According to vote, published Thursday of Taiwan Commonwealth Magazine35.4% of respondents said they were concerned about a military conflict erupting across the Taiwan Strait within the next year, a drop of almost 15 percentage points compared to last year’s survey. The survey also showed that 59.7% of the population do not believe that Beijing will eventually use force to take Taiwan, while more than 35% thought it would.
Beijing considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province in China and has promised to take it by force if necessary. Some analysts see Xi Jinping’s promise of “reunification” as a key goal of his legacy, but the current democratically elected government in Taipei says the island is already a de-facto independent nation.
In the year between Commonwealth Magazine’s annual polls, China has significantly increased its rhetoric and actual intimidation of Taiwan, with a record number of air force flights – part of Beijing’s warfare-adjacent “gray zone” activity – into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
The survey results also showed a high degree of confidence that the United States will come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of hostilities, with 54% of respondents saying they believed the US military could effectively protect Taiwan. Separately, 58.8% said it was a possibility that the United States would send troops to help Taiwan in the event of war.
The United States sells billions of dollars in defensive weapons to Taiwan. Washington officials have also issued statements suggesting that Taiwan would likely come to the aid of the military in case of conflict. For decades, the United States has pursued a policy of strategic ambiguity, neither confirming nor rejecting commitments to help, to deter provocative action from both Beijing and Taipei.
Alexander Huang, director of the Kuomintang (KMT) opposition branch of international affairs, suggested that the results showed that Taiwanese denied reality. “China’s military threat is a fact that Taiwanese are not willing to face because it would incur real costs,” he told Commonwealth magazine.
Huang Kwei-bo, a professor of diplomacy at Chengchi National University and former KMT deputy director, told the Guardian that Taiwan may not be aware of the reality due to a lack of specific military knowledge and political messages that the United States would come to Taiwan’s aid. “I think they have an illusion about our ability and the United States’ commitment to help Taiwan,” he said.
Confidence in U.S. aid varied by age, Commonwealth Magazine reported, with those under 40 having a more favorable view of the United States. The elders believed that China was stronger than the United States and were therefore more concerned about the prospect of war.
Marcin Jerzewski, a researcher at Taiwan’s NextGen Foundation, said it was important to recognize that Taiwan had made “significant efforts to diversify its international relations”.
“As the Taiwanese public believes that the United States would come to its rescue if necessary, [it] also seeks to reduce the risks by putting all its eggs in one basket. “
Various polls in recent years have measured Taiwan’s level or lack of fear over an attack or invasion, and countless opinions have sought to explain the results. In May 2021, a survey of 1,000 residents found that more than 57% were concerned that war was a separate option, divided across party lines and age demographics.
Taipei-based law professor Margaret Lewis of Seton Hall University said polls depended on the wording of the question and particular local nuances and interpretations. “[But] a crucial issue for Taiwan is how to build preparedness and resilience, ”she said.
“How do you find the sweet spot to have people aware of threats and diligently preparing to be resilient in light of these threats should they actually occur? You want them to be prepared, but also to move on with their lives. “
As China’s military capabilities grow and its government becomes more isolated on the world stage, there is growing international concern about an attack or invasion attempt. Last year, Taiwan’s defense minister said he believed China’s military will be fully operational by 2025.
Other analysts are more cautious, suggesting that any potential attempt is much further away, but there is general consensus that the risk to Taiwan is now higher than in decades, especially with more gray zone military activity, which has the potential to escalate.
Huang Kwei-bo said he was “not as optimistic” as the 60% who did not fear imminent war but did not think there was a high risk. “The probability of [a] war, I think, is low except for the moments when our plane and PLA [People’s Liberation Army] planes are approaching each other, ”he said. “During the 10 or 15 minutes, the likelihood of war increases.”