Perceptions of Taiwan from the Mainland

As the Hong Kong protests continue to swarm Western media coverage, it is easy to forget that to China’s east lies another island with a contentious relationship with the mainland: Taiwan. Taiwan has historically been the center of gravity for calls from democracy emanating from China, notwithstanding the recent outcry from Hong Kong. A distinguished delegation from Xiamen University’s Graduate Institute for Taiwan Studies came to CSCC on Oct. 8 to discuss issues of cross-strait relations and perceptions of Taiwan from mainland China.

Discussion began with Xi Jinping’s speech on the 40thanniversary of China’s reforms, in which many in the West believed he was pressing for a tougher stance on Taiwanese reunification with the mainland. The delegation contended that Xi’s push for “One Country, Two Systems” represented the same wish as those on Taiwan, believing that the cultural link between the people of the mainland and the island of Taiwan transcended political boundaries. However, this debate of political identity took center stage shortly after: how likely is it that people on Taiwan are okay with “two systems,” but not “one country?”

The “Taiwan question” has interesting and important implications today regarding China’s increasingly militant position with respect to Hong Kong. Since the election of current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, it seemed like the mainland was getting tougher about imposing reunification on Beijing’s terms. However, with the eruption of protests in Hong Kong calling for democracy and rejecting the same principle of One Country, Two Systems, the delegation observed that Tsai seemed to be in a better strategic position. If she is reelected in the 2020 election, this may reinforce a more pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan, the delegation noted. Finally, discussion turned to the role of the United States vis-à-vis China: it has become apparent that the general consensus in American policymaking is a tougher stance on China that predates the election of Donald Trump. Should a new president take office in 2020, however, it is predicted that American focus with respect to China policy will shift toward human rights issues, as well as encourage a return to using multilateral institutions.

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