«* Cross-Strait Relations Shu Keng, Lu-huei Chen, and Kuan-bo Huang * This article has been previously publsihed in Issues & Studies, (December 2006) ...»
Sense, Sensitivity, and
Shaping the Future of
Shu Keng, Lu-huei Chen, and Kuan-bo Huang
This article has been previously publsihed in Issues & Studies, (December 2006) Volume
42, No. 4, 23-66. It is reprinted with the permission of the Institute of International
Sense, Sensitivity, and Sophistication 215
The current phase of cross-Strait relations is fundamentally one of
“political confrontation with economic integration.” 356 Because 357 contemporary domestic public opinion in Taiwan is entrenched and the external environment is dominated by trilateral relations among the island, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the United States,358 most signs point to continued stability. Regardless of whether the Blue or Green camp is in power, the current political confrontation across the Taiwan Strait seems likely to continue for a long time.359 Hence any changes in relations between mainland China and Taiwan in the future are most likely to occur very gradually and as a result of economic integration.
Conventional wisdom suggests that economic interaction should eventually reach a level where it begins to “spill over” into the political arena.360 Deepening economic ties between the two sides, in this view, are likely to lead gradually toward political unification.361 In preparing for this possibility, governments on both sides of the Strait will continue to take measures to forestall political change and to actively promote their own goals through policies such as those advocating “patience over haste” ( 362, jieji yongren) or “fiscal sacrifice” (, butie rangli). No matter what the current policy is, however, the expansion of economic ties between the two sides appears to be inevitable, 363 raising the question: Does economic integration imply eventual political unification?
Despite this question’s importance, there is no convincing answer to this central issue in cross-Strait relations. Most of the current literature features analysis based on Western theories and makes unjustifiably bold predictions.
364 A few scholars have attempted to draw lessons from examples that appear similar to the current cross-Strait situation, but overall, this research is comparatively weak, and there is no consensus among observers about the future of cross-Strait relations. Our own view is that the key to making progress on this problem is to relax the assumption that the state is a unitary actor. Previous research has tended to use dyadic models to analyze cross- Strait relations365 and as a consequence it inevitably neglects factors within 216 Institute of International Relations English Series No.53_________________
or separate from “the state,” such as trends in domestic public opinion, the internal policymaking process, or cross-border exchanges. Furthermore, this assumption leads cross-Strait research to focus on governmental policy and elite interaction, and “to focus only on contemporary, day-to-day developments instead of developing an interest and expertise in examining cross-Strait relations in depth and over the long term.” 366 As democratization and globalization sweep across the world, it is necessary to revisit old methods and assumptions. By providing a stronger theoretical foundation and by focusing on long-term trends on the two sides, we hope ultimately to offer a more general account of cross-Strait relations.
However one views the deepening and consolidation of Taiwan’s democratic system, it is clear that “state” control and shaping of “society” has gradually become a thing of the past.367 It appears that the “state” is no longer able to avoid relaxing its grip on cross-Strait exchanges; consequently, relations between Taiwan and the mainland are no longer best thought of as those between sovereign, antagonistic powers. Fresh consideration of this observation is critical to future dialogue about relations between the island and the mainland—research on cross-Strait issues needs to return to a practical focus on popular society.368 As the two sides march into the era of globalization, as individual identifications with the “ancestral homeland” weaken, and as social links increase rapidly across the Strait, individuals and non-governmental organizations are likely to become more able to influence cross-Strait relations. 369 Taiwan has a choice between “balancing” (, kangheng) and “bandwagoning” (, hucong) in its approach to relations with the mainland. Next to the gap in levels of economic development between the island and the mainland and the degree of support for Taiwan from the United States,370 Taiwan’s domestic “public attitudes” are likely in the future to be the most important variable influencing which of these policies is favored, however. Cross-Strait interaction in the end will determine the future of cross-Strait relations, but governments’ tightening or loosening of exchanges will still in fact be tied closely to public opinion— the authority of the Taiwan government ultimately rests on its selection through regular, democratic elections, and in suggesting and determining Sense, Sensitivity, and Sophistication 217 government policies, leaders of democratic countries must always ultimately accede to the wishes expressed by public opinion.
However, is the continued liberalization of cross-Strait trade and popular exchanges inevitable, and will it eventually build up to the point where it has unavoidable effects on domestic politics? Even if government interaction across the Strait is limited, non-governmental exchanges continue to expand, regularly disturbing the status quo. These kinds of exchanges, especially trade, although undertaken by non-governmental actors, are subject to limits on their scope and method imposed by the two governments. Of course, Taiwan’s most important policies governing cross-Strait relations are still decided with an eye toward public opinion. However, where do people in Taiwan stand on cross-Strait issues, and what factors affect their views?
Academics have not examined these questions systematically enough. The purpose of this essay is to remedy this shortcoming.
After asking, “How is Taiwan’s mainland policy determined?” Wu YuShan ( ) describes two basic factors—“power distribution” and “votemaximization”—which he uses to discuss factors external and internal to Taiwan and to establish a theoretical framework for researching cross-Strait relations. 371 The first factor means that, because of the current power asymmetry between mainland China and Taiwan, along with the mainland’s desire to assert sovereignty over the island, policy toward the PRC is highly constrained by external factors, and the island must choose between two policy options: either “balancing” or “bandwagoning.” However, as the economic gap across the Strait narrows or otherwise changes in the future, the second factor will become more relevant. It focuses on Taiwan’s “internal factors” and is based on the assumption that the mainland policy position of each political party and faction will be increasingly determined by a strategy aimed at maximizing votes. Thus, policy positions will closely track public opinion,372 which in turn will provide the ultimate foundation for Taiwan’s mainland China policy. Caught between appealing to “interests” or “identity,” a desire on the part of every political party to maximize votes and win elections will lead them to abandon their previous strongly-held positions on mainland policy and instead move toward the 218 Institute of International Relations English Series No.53_________________
political center, while at the same time operating under ideological constraints that may be unique to each party and faction.
Echoing Wu’s argument, we view Taiwan’s approach to cross-Strait issues as in essence determined by domestic political calculations and ideological disputes. These in turn are driven by the underlying distribution of public opinion among the electorate, which raises the question: What determines this distribution? Does the expansion of trade and other forms of cross-Strait exchanges lead to adjustments in the “normal distribution” of opinion about whether “interests” or “identity” should decide the direction of cross-Strait policy? Those sections of the public that have interests in cross-Strait trade should be a growing voice in favor of unification, but in reality the current support for continued political separation will not be reduced any time soon—the strength of native Taiwanese identity continues to increase, and under the current mix of suspicions, resentments, and lack of national confidence, sober discussion of the benefits of cross-Strait relations is frequently drowned out by personal attacks on the national loyalty of the speaker.373 We find this contradiction between the pull of “interests” on the one hand and “identity” on the other to be deeply interesting.
In particular, the purpose of this paper is to explore one key cross-Strait issue: Will individual “rational interests” eventually overwhelm the pull of “affective identity”? And with the continued expansion of cross-Strait exchanges, will first-hand experience of the mainland imperceptibly change the strength of these forces? Our own view is that behind Taiwanese views about whether to increase trade ties with the mainland lies a dichotomy between “rationality” and “affection”: included in the former are ideas such as “competitiveness,” “personal benefits,” and “career benefits,” and in the latter are ideas such as “provincial identity,” “personal identity,” and “political identity.” Daily, up-close experience of cross-Strait interaction is bound to influence these perceptions.
Below, we first discuss cross-Strait trade relations and the contributions of the theoretical literature, describing the assumptions and data used in previous research. We then investigate the ties between the public’s “sense,” Sense, Sensitivity, and Sophistication 219 “sensitivity,” and “sophistication” and attitudes toward cross-Strait trade, followed by a discussion of our conclusions. In brief, this essay attempts to move away from traditional cross-Strait research on states, parties, and factions and instead focuses on more fundamental categories, drawing on the views of the general public to identify the root factors shaping crossStrait relations, and trying to create a more stable basis from which to describe what the future of cross-Strait relations may hold.
“Sense” and “Sensitivity” In recent years, scholarly interest in rational interest and affective identity theories—which we term “sense” and “sensitivity” aspects, respectively—has formed two distinct theoretical research orientations. In both the conduct of their private lives and in their actions in the public sphere (especially political actions), individuals are motivated to act by a combination of material interests and various emotions, making it difficult to disentangle the causes of a particular action.374 The goal of this article is to understand how these two very different sources of motivation combine to affect the structure of Taiwan-mainland China relations.
Because Taiwan and the mainland are characterized by “political, zhengzhi shuli, jingji distance but economic integration” (, ronghe), economics is the key factor to understanding cross-Strait relations.375 Since Taiwan and the mainland have different resource bases and are at different levels of economic development, each side has a comparative economic advantage and can reap gains from trade. 376 The pursuit of rational interest, then, is bound to lead an increasing number of individuals to voice support for expanding cross-Strait interaction. However, growing trade ties also mean that Taiwan’s economic reliance on the mainland increases day by day, which could eventually result in political unification—an outcome that the current authorities in Taiwan do not want.
Consequently, a fear of economic dependency motivates policymakers to attempt to strengthen the island’s ability to resist the mainland, and as Taiwan’s economic dependency increases, the scope of these kinds of 220 Institute of International Relations English Series No.53_________________
policies is also likely to expand.377 At the moment, the need to win support from an increasingly assertive public means that the incumbent government in Taiwan must heed popular opinion in deciding how loose or restrictive cross-Strait policies should be. If public opinion tends to favor economic interests, the government will find it more and more difficult to maintain restrictive policies, and the two sides could move gradually toward unification. On the other hand, the increasingly prevalent view that Taiwan should eliminate all things mainland (“Taiwanization”) has become an important force constantly pushing the two sides further apart. The longstanding antagonism across the Strait, especially visible in their different governing systems and ideological attitudes, has produced something close to two separate countries and contrasting national identities.378 Although the two sides clearly depend on each other, this rising Taiwanese consciousness is gradually leading to greater and greater psychological distance. If personal identity dominates personal interest as the main determinant of public opinion, then major changes in cross-Strait relations will be extremely difficult to implement, and the situation for the foreseeable future is likely to appear much as it does today.
In contemporary Taiwanese society, the voices of both those avidly promoting Taiwanese consciousness and those seeking to speed liberalization of cross-Strait exchanges grow louder by the day.