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Most Taiwanese Question the Trustworthiness of the US, but Believe in its Security Commitment

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As tensions continue to escalate in the Taiwan Strait, a recent survey has revealed that a majority of Taiwanese do not consider the United States a “trustworthy” country. However, despite this skepticism, most respondents still express belief in Washington’s security commitment to the island. The survey, conducted by National Chengchi University in Taipei, sheds light on the complex perceptions and concerns of the Taiwanese people regarding the US and China.

Seven in 10 People in Taiwan Don’t Trust America

Lack of Trust in the US

According to the survey, only 34% of Taiwanese adults agreed that the US is trustworthy. This figure has remained consistent over the past year, with a decline from 43.4% in 2021. While American credibility has remained stable, more than 50% of respondents do not deem the US trustworthy.

One possible explanation for this lack of trust is the unfolding events in Ukraine and the US government’s response to Russia’s invasion. Hsin-Hsin Pan, a member of the survey team at Taipei’s Soochow University, suggests that Washington’s handling of the Ukraine war has influenced Taiwanese perceptions of how the US might respond to armed conflict with China.

Skepticism Towards China

While Taiwanese skepticism towards the US is evident, perceptions of China are even more dismal. Only 9.3% of respondents consider China trustworthy, slightly lower than last year’s 9.4% and 13.5% in 2021. China’s assertion that Taiwan is a renegade province and its intention to reunite the island with the mainland, even by force if necessary, contribute to the negative perceptions.

US Security Commitment to Taiwan

Despite the lack of trust in the US overall, the survey indicates that Taiwanese people still have faith in Washington’s security commitment to Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 legally binds the US to provide Taiwan with defensive arms and maintain the capacity to resist coercion. President Joe Biden has reiterated the US commitment to intervene militarily should China use force against Taiwan.

More than 65% of respondents expressed support for American arms sales to Taiwan, and approximately 57% believed that the US would use force to assist Taiwan if Beijing attempted to unilaterally change the status quo. This suggests a notable gap between the overall credibility of the US and the credibility of its security commitment to Taiwan.

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Diverging Views on Taiwan’s Status

The survey also explored the question of whether Taiwan and China belong to the same country. Approximately 78% of those polled rejected this idea, affirming the belief in Taiwan’s separate identity. Interestingly, even among Kuomintang party members or supporters who generally favor closer ties with Beijing, more than 50% agreed that Taiwan and China are not part of the same country. This highlights a disconnect between the party’s stance and the beliefs of its support base.

The Implications for Taiwan’s Presidential Election

As Taiwan approaches its presidential election scheduled for January 13, 2024, the political landscape is becoming increasingly complex. The election is expected to focus on local health and welfare issues, as well as relations with Beijing and the island’s sovereignty. With regional tensions rising and evolving geopolitical challenges, the outcome of the election could be a turning point for Taiwan’s future relations with China and the United States.

The winning party will play a crucial role in shaping the trajectory of these relationships. Shifting political alliances have made predicting the election outcome difficult. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which leans towards the establishment of an independent Taiwan, has the front runner for presidency, William Lai Ching-Te, who currently serves as Taiwan’s vice-president. In contrast, the Kuomintang party (KMT), which favors closer ties with Beijing, has faced challenges in forming a joint ticket with the Taiwan People’s Party led by Ko Wen-je. The presence of Foxconn founder and billionaire Terry Gou as an independent candidate further complicates the political landscape.

Beijing’s approach to the election is expected to involve deepening Taiwan’s political divisions and portraying the DPP as incompetent. If a DPP victory appears inevitable, Beijing may escalate its rhetoric on the risk of war, hoping to sway Taiwanese voters towards the more China-friendly KMT. However, the report titled “The 2024 Taiwanese Elections: A Primer” suggests that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has learned from past tactics and is pursuing a two-pronged approach, combining intimidation tactics with the prospect of closer Taiwan-China economic integration.

With geopolitical tensions on the rise, the international community closely monitors these elections. The conflict with China has reached a new dimension, especially in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The winning party will determine the future trajectory of relations between China, Taiwan, and the United States.

In conclusion, while most Taiwanese do not view the US as trustworthy, they still believe in Washington’s security commitment to Taiwan. The survey highlights the complex dynamics and diverging views within Taiwanese society regarding the US, China, and Taiwan’s status. As the presidential election approaches, the outcome will have significant implications for the island’s future relations with China and the United States amidst evolving geopolitical challenges.

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