China-Taiwan: Cross-Straits Détente And Prospects For Reunification – Analysis


By Jeroen Gelsing

On January 14, 2012, a beaming Ma Ying-jiu delivered his victory address to a cheering crowd in front of his campaign headquarters. The results of the Taiwanese presidential election had just been announced, with Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Ma gathering 51.6% of the vote, compared to 45.6% for his direct competitor, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Cai Ying-wen. Though the hottest debates of the presidential election were fought over economy-related issues such as unemployment rates and Taiwan’s growing wealth gap, his re-election demonstrates tacit public assent of Ma’s détente with mainland China. Ma’s rapprochement policy of the ‘three no’s’ – no independence, no unification and no use of force – coupled with a radical policy shift in Beijing from intimidation to constrained patience and a goodwill-based reconciliatory approach, have brought cross-Strait relations to its warmest levels since the formally still unterminated Civil War of 1949. In his speech, Ma aspired to make Cross-Straits relations ‘ever more harmonious, with greater mutual trust and even fewer chances for conflict,’ resonating his counterpart Hu Jintao’s notion of a ‘harmonious society’ and softening approach to Sino-Taiwanese relations.1 Furthermore, Ma in October 2011 cautiously floated the idea to open negotiations for a Republic of China (ROC) – People’s Republic of China (PRC) peace accord that would formally terminate hostilities between the two sides.2 In March 2012, both sides upped the ante as the KMT and CCP concluded an inter-party agreement on the diplomatic foundations of cross-Strait relations, supplanting the ‘1992 Consensus’3 with the novel “one country, two areas” (yiguo liangqu). On the surface, prospects for Taiwan-China relations appear rosy under President Ma.

In light of this unprecedented détente, fruitful discussions on a peaceful settlement of the ‘Taiwan Question’ appear attainable for the first time in Cross-Straits history. Specifically, this article seeks to discuss whether the recent thaw in Cross-Straits relations increases the odds of peaceful ROC-PRC reunification. In the first section, the forces at work in Cross-Strait relations will be identified, followed by an assessment of how these elements interact and influence both one another and Cross-Strait policy. Secondly, the nature and scope of the current rapprochement will be set out. Thirdly, the structural limitations that the current rapprochement faces will be highlighted. It will be argued that unresolved disagreements and ‘trust issues’ between both sides form short to medium-term obstacles to deeper political integration, the growth of a ‘Taiwanese consciousness’ or perhaps even ‘identity’ a long-term challenge, and economic-political development of the mainland, or at least the Taiwanese perception as such, forms an indispensible condition for any peaceful reunification scheme. Finally, the impact of the crucial external actor, the United States, upon the prospects of peaceful reunification will be discussed.


The dynamics that affect the future of Cross-Straits relations are complex and volatile, and involve a deeply interconnected web of various state-level actors, political parties with varying alignments, as well as grassroots civic sentiments and notions of identity. Concretely, the elements engaged in Cross-Strait interaction can be divided into three categories, with the strongest interaction and potential solution located in semi-official and informal spheres. At the top, the United States, PRC and ROC interact as state actors to influence the Cross-Straits balance, though ‘international orphan’ ROC struggles to retain official diplomatic status and enjoys no formal recognition from any major player. Directly below this level, at KMT/DPP-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interaction, the foundations for the current détente have been laid. Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) are the two semi-official platforms, termed ‘track one and a half’, through which formal, ratified progress in cross-Strait interaction is made. As this process unfolds, Taiwan’s political parties and bodies interact with the passions of its citizenry – the core –, steering views on identity as well as being influenced and limited by them. In addition, direct contact between the two communities, too, shapes the future of cross-Strait relations.

SEF-ARATS talks are not a flawless mechanism for solving the cross-Strait conundrum. Due to Beijing’s refusal to recognise ROC sovereignty, cross-Strait talks are not conducted on a state-to-state basis, but, depending on the ruling party in Taiwan, a KMT-CCP or DPP-CCP level.4 As a result, a particular agreement endorsed by the ruling party may be rejected by the opposition on the grounds that it does not represent their voters’ views – approximately 40% of the Taiwanese population. Since Taiwan’s main political camps – the pan-Blue coalition comprised mainly of the KMT and People’s First Party (FPF) and the pan-Green coalition encompassing the DPP and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) – are polarised on the eventual solution to the ‘Taiwan Problem’, this very negotiation system epitomises the fragility of the current Cross-Straits détente.5 Essentially, a changing political wind in Taiwan ‘could bring substantive changes to Taiwan’s mainland policy’ and potentially annul progress made by the previous ruling party.6 This was evident during the 2012 presidential campaign when the DPP’s Cai Ying-wen rejected the so-called 1992 Consensus, which forms the foundation of mutual sovereignty-related understanding on which all Taipei-Beijing cooperation rests. 7 In sum, ‘Taiwan’s mainland policy, no matter which party is in office, [will] be inevitably constrained by both the external and domestic conditions.’8

The frailty of the current rapprochement established, we can now turn to assessment of progress attained by Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jiu and China’s Hu Jintao since the former’s election. Since Ma’s ascent to power, permissiveness, as opposed to the bellicose statements and displays of force that Chinese leaders frequently resorted to during the late 1990s and 2000s, has characterised Beijing’s stance. In many ways, the current rapprochement is a continuation of the early 1990s mutual-trust building efforts that occurred before President Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000) his ‘two-states theory’ statements of 1999 and Chen Shui-bian’s blatantly pro-independence presidency (2000-2008) infuriated Beijing and caused a decade-long hiatus in SEF-ARATS negotiations. Convinced that the steady growth of China’s ‘comprehensive power’ will unstoppably lead Taiwan to gravitate towards the mainland, Beijing has now ascended to Taiwan’s demand that talks proceed on its terms and address the ‘easy problems’ first. Consequently, the SEF-ARATS agenda is dominated by or low-key economic and political issues, rather than the thorny question of sovereignty China is eager to see resolved.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), signed into force in June 2010, forms the heart of the contemporary cross-Strait rapprochement. It deals exclusively with economic issues and, reflecting Ma’s negotiation stance, slashes trade tariffs on 267 mainland goods and twice the amount of Taiwanese goods. In addition, a multitude of minor non-diplomatic agreements has been signed, ranging from issues such as fishing crew cooperation and safeguarding industrial product standards to permitting mainland Chinese individual travel to the island and academic exchanges.9 These closer ties are frequently described as confidence-building measures (CBMs) designed to expunge memories of a decade of hostility and re-establish mutual trust as a foundation for, should the détente continue, inevitable negotiations on sovereignty and nationhood. Chinese concessions on the high-political front stand out, such as the Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic truce – Beijing no longer attempts to humiliate Taiwan by using ‘checkbook diplomacy’ to siphon away Taipei’s remaining allies –, Taiwan’s 2009 acquisition of observer status at the WHO – albeit under the name Chinese Taipei rather than ‘ROC’ or ‘Taiwan’ – and tacit approval for Lien Chan’s reinstated mission to the yearly Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, whereas in the past ‘Beijing was strongly opposed to any representative with a political background from Taiwan’ taking part in it.10

Through the current détente, Beijing aspires to halt the trend towards progressing Taiwanese alienation from the mainland, therein effectively shifting its policy stance from ‘pushing for reunification’ to ‘preventing independence.’ It has been argued that Beijing is attempting to seize the current ‘window of opportunity’ brought about by two terms of KMT governance and create an irreversible trend to reconciliation and integration; a trend even the DPP cannot break away from should it regain power.11 On the Taiwanese side, President Ma has pledged to uphold the ‘three no’s’ as the guidelines of his administration and is in no hurry to reach a final resolution, as stated in May 2008 when he noted that reunification with the mainland is unlikely ‘in our lifetimes’ because Taiwanese oppose the mainland’s authoritarian rule.12 Time may restore mutual trust, but additional, more formidable obstacles to reunification remain, as detailed in the next section.

The Issue of Sovereignty

For half a century the CPP and KMT battled through bullets, cash and the pen while adamantly defending one principle: the world contained but one China, and Taiwan was part of it. As the Chiang administration lost its UN seat to the PRC in 1971 and nations of the world swapped diplomatic recognition of Taipei for Beijing – electing the CCP as the ‘sole representative of China’ rather than the KMT – the legitimacy of the latter’s rule of Taiwan began a process of gradual erosion. Nonetheless, until Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in 1988 the KMT ‘old guard’ clung onto reunification as the ultimate goal to justify its continued leadership. When Lee Teng-hui assumed position as chairman of the KMT in 1988, this reunification faction still enjoyed sufficient support within the party that Lee saw himself forced to pacify it by, in Taipei-Beijing negotiations, formally agreeing to the ‘One China Principle’ as a precondition for their approval of domestic democratisation.13 As of 2012, this ‘1992 Consensus’ is still upheld, and under Ma forms the cornerstone for rapprochement with the mainland.

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese socio-political landscape has changed. Taiwan’s 1986-founded opposition, the DPP, rejects the consensus on the grounds that it is a KMT-CCP agreement that has nothing to do with them, which is furthermore fundamentally at odds with the contemporary cross-Strait political reality and aspirations of the Taiwanese people. As such, to the DPP, the 1992 Consensus can never form a framework for closer cooperation with mainland China. Given the fact that 78% of all Taiwanese desire status quo preservation in the Strait or lean towards independence,14 it is hard to fathom how agreement upon a principle that enjoys little support on the Taiwanese side of the Strait can be used to conclude further Sino-Taiwanese sovereignty agreements, let alone a trend towards reunification. Beijing, however, is dissatisfied with the 1992 Consensus as the ultimate agreement between both sides. For China, the consensus suffices to hold talks on functional issues with Taipei, but does nothing resolve the divergence between the wishes of the Taiwanese citizenry and the main opposition party vis-à-vis Beijing’s aspirations to reunification.

Nevertheless, to move negotiations forward, the sovereignty issue cannot be dodged forever. Ma in October 2011 gingerly floated the idea of signing a peace accord that would formally end hostilities between the KMT and CCP.15 This, certainly, appears the way forward in terms of CBMs and closer cross-Strait cooperation. However, as China’s long-term goal remains unchanged – it is willing to accept slow reunification, not no reunification – it is unlikely it will sign a peace accord without at least a vague intention or promise to reunify from Taiwan’s side.16 Moreover, Beijing is likely to be apprehensive about making (sovereignty) concessions because of Taiwan’s nebulous political future. After all, if Ma is succeeded by a DPP administration in 2016, it could seize past permissiveness by Beijing to move Taiwan closer to de jure independence. For Taiwan, on the other hand, any compromise on its de facto sovereignty is unacceptable.17 That said, scenarios involving a trade-off in which Taiwan promises not to declare independence in return for a Chinese commitment not to use force appear promising.18 Even so, progress on the sovereignty issue will require a great deal of creative thinking as well as the continued growth of mutual trust.

The Trust Factor

Though on the surface cross-Strait ties have warmed, deep-rooted mistrust of one another’s ultimate intentions remains at both governmental and societal levels: a natural result of a 117 years of de facto separation characterised primarily by mutual hostility. Particularly inimical to deeper cross-Strait understanding is the unease caused by continued threat of military conflict and persistent social prejudices towards the citizenry on the ‘other side’, which ties in with processes of identity-building and nativist nationalism, particularly on Taiwan.

The palette of cultural, economic and low-key political Beijing-Taipei CBMs has not yet expanded into military territory. Though an idealist hat has at least been folded, the political realist hat remains firmly lodged onto the crowns of both presidents Hu and Ma.19 Whereas unilateral signs of goodwill prevail in the international arena, such as the recent ‘diplomatic truce’ initiated by Beijing, neither side has yet proven willing to extend these measures in ways that may compromise the nation’s security (Taiwan) or decrease political leverage (China). More specifically, Beijing is unwilling to remove its 1500 missiles deployed on the south-eastern coast opposite Taiwan without some form of reciprocity, whereas President Ma has indicated the removal of these weapons constitutes an absolute precondition for negotiations on a peace accord, only after which military CBMs can follow.20 This impasse, too, will require creative diplomacy.

Despite growing economic opportunities emerging from mainlander tourism, many Taiwanese remain deeply suspicious of their propaganda-induced political viewpoints that render them unable to understand why the island may prefer prolongation of the status quo rather than (immediate) reunification. Additionally, the flow of mainland tourists flocking to Taiwan has made apparent the difference in social norms and values between the two groups rather than highlight the similarities. Generalising, mainlanders are oftentimes privately viewed as uncivilised, and therefore looked upon with a certain degree of disdain. Mainland Chinese, on the other hand, view Taiwanese as a narrow-minded people who are unnecessarily attempting to prolong the inevitable reunion of what they perceive as ‘all Chinese’ in a single China.21 From their perspective, shared language and religion as well as similar cultural roots are sufficient reasons for reunification.22 Indeed, prejudices, too, stand in the way of rapid reunification and may, or may not, disappear over time as social, cultural and economic interaction across the Strait increases. Certainly, ‘it will take much time to heal the wounds of history and establish a new mutual understanding.’23

Taiwanese Identity

Over the last decade or so, observers have noted the growth of a sense of identity on Taiwan, the content of which encompasses radically different elements than the nationalism featuring on the mainland. Statistics have documented this process of national identity change on Formosa. In a poll administered in June 1992, 26.2% of ROC citizens identified themselves as Chinese, 17.3% as Taiwanese, and 45.4% as holding a Sino-Taiwanese dual identity.24 In June 2009, an identical poll administered by the same election study centre displayed radically different results. A year after Ma won the bid for presidency, a mere 4.3% of ROC citizens identified themselves as Chinese, compared to a 52.1% share for ‘Taiwanese’ and 39.2% as holding a dual identity.25

Nonetheless, various scholars have drawn a line between ‘Taiwanese identity’ and ‘Taiwanese nationalism’, claiming the former need not necessarily lead to the latter and result in demands for independence.26 Some even prefer to speak of ‘Taiwanese consciousness’ rather than identity, implying the existence of notions of national solidarity that have not yet reached a fixed form.27 In socio-cultural terms, the island is still in flux. As noted above, the lifting of Martial Law in 1987 paved the way for the creation of an official multi-party democratic political system. The seeds of opposition, however, had already been sown in 1949 when the KMT massacred some 20.000-100.000 Taiwanese in an attempt to gain control over the island. The grassroots protest movement of the late 70s and early 80s, culminating in the formation of the political entity known as the DPP, drew upon decades of repression of the Taiwanese people as well as suppression of its own breed of ethno-nationalism, one that opposed both the Chinese ethno-nationalism upheld by the KMT and its notion of ‘recovery of the mainland’. Fast forward three decades, and ‘mainlander’ and ‘Taiwanese’ identities have begun to fuse. ‘…With the political and economic transformations of the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwanese identity has changed dramatically, becoming increasingly inclusive, proud, and nationalistic,’ containing both an ethno-cultural and a civic component.28

Regarding the former, it has been called ‘an amalgam of Han culture and ancestry, Aborigine culture and ancestry, and Japanese culture’ – an identity that was consciously promoted by Chen’s DPP government. These ethno-cultural notions form an implicit rejection of the identity promoted on the mainland, that of the ‘Middle Kingdom’: a historically Han nation harbouring minorities.29 On the civic side, the transition to democracy with its concomitant civil liberties and respect for human rights has greatly boosted Taiwanese national pride. The peaceful power transitions of 2000 and 2008 can be said to have strengthened Taiwan’s maturing democracy, thereby widening the gap between China’s authoritarianism and the collective ethno-nationalism it fosters on the one hand, and Taiwan’s mix of individualistic, civic ethno-nationalism on the other.30 Ironically, Beijing was more comfortable with the period of KMT claims to the mainland, because that precluded debate over Taiwan’s sovereignty status.

The implications of growing Taiwanese nationalist sentiments for cross-Strait relations are profound. Though a growing sense of Taiwanese identity is unlikely to lead to greater support for independence – at least in the short-to-medium terms because of the associated risk of cross-Strait conflict – any final resolution will have to accommodate the Taiwanese desire to preserve their domestic political system and civil rights. One scholar contends that ‘…the growing sense of Taiwanese consciousness and national identity can only slow down the process of reaching a final resolution (if not, make it impossible).’31 Others, however, call attention to the ‘changeability’ of identity, or the degree to which a group can consciously change the identity label under which it is classified, and the concept of ‘variability’, which refers to changes in the content of an individual’s or group’s identity.32 Taiwanese identity has proven malleable, as evident from the relative success of the Japanese kominka and KMT ‘Sinicization’ efforts, and it may undergo another transition as China’s ‘comprehensive power’ grows, Beijing increasingly draws Taiwan into its political and economic orbit, and – most importantly – its civil society begins to project an appealing image. This, however, seems unlikely without the fulfilment of certain preconditions on the mainland.

Preconditions for the Mainland

Despite pledges from Beijing to respect the fifty-year “one country, two systems” (yiguo liangzhi) approach laid out for Hong Kong in 1997, behind the scenes the Chinese controlling hand has gained force to curb freedom of the press, place CCP party members in strategic government posts and repress alleged subversive movements.33 Taiwanese observers have eyed these developments with alarm. If Beijing cannot patiently respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties – even as an official part of China – until its complete return in 2047, then what are the implications for Taiwan should it accept even the most basic, autonomy-preserving reunification scheme?34

This observation is expressive of a sentiment widely held on Formosa: for reunification to become a viable option, Beijing will have to demonstrate sincerity, honour its commitments and respect Taiwan’s system of government. The Chinese political system, which has not yet embraced any form of popular democracy, is fundamentally at odds with the core civic values older Taiwanese have battled for to obtain and Taiwanese youth become ingrained with. And as Hong Kong’s recent development shows, reunification with an authoritarian China poses a threat to the preservation of civil and democratic ideals. Already, Beijing is encroaching upon Taiwan’s freedom of the press, buying influence in the media to try and steer Taiwanese public opinion towards China.35 Only once China begins to edge towards the liberal-democratic camp are such values guaranteed to be preserved. Beijing, though, ‘scorns at the idea of democratisation as a precondition for reunification.’36

Continued Chinese economic development, too, is imperative to reunification. The welfare state that has been constructed on Formosa embodies prosperity, and unification with a developing nation may be perceived as a step backwards on the socio-economic ladder, tying in with notions of ‘uncivilised mainlanders.’ Until China moves forward in political participation of its citizenry and a prosperous civil society is formed, Taiwanese citizens are likely to structurally oppose reunification.

Finally, a cross-Strait resolution cannot be reached without tacit approval of the United States. The US has ‘long declared an “abiding interest” in peaceful resolution of the conflict, but it has avoided saying anything on how it is to be resolved,’37 preferring to retain policy flexibility through mutual deterrence. Crucial to the US commitment is the Taiwanese transformation from an authoritarian police state into a vibrant democracy, where consistently high voter turnout rates and the non-violent power transitions of 2000 and 2008 demonstrate both the dedication of the Taiwanese to the first ‘Chinese democracy’ in history as well as its maturing nature. Until the 1980s, it was the KMT that needed protection under the guise of ‘containment’; now, it is the Taiwanese people and their liberal-humanitarian values that do. Accordingly, the United States has ‘over the past decade … adopted the practical position that any cross-Strait solution must have the Taiwan public’s support,’38 which is ‘strongly in accord with American principles and not likely to be altered.’39 Indeed, now that Taiwan is in the liberal-democratic camp, the US cannot pursue a ‘hands-off policy’ for fear of major credibility loss amongst its allies.
In other words, the US has reserved the privilege to either give or withhold its blessings to any Cross-Strait reunification scheme. Though, as established before, reunification in the short-term is unlikely, long-term trends, such as identity-forming on both sides and the political development of the mainland, are more difficult to predict. However, for the first time since Formosa’s cession to Japan in 1895, the Taiwanese people have, albeit within a limiting, external threat-based framework, been empowered to preside over their own fate; a self-empowerment that will remain as long as Sino-American relations do not regress into outright hostility. Ultimately, though, because of the island’s precarious international position, its future remains intertwined with those of the United States and China. Even if the Taiwanese eventually desire reunification, this process will be complicated if it the United States re-dons its Cross-Strait realist hat and Taiwanese desires are perceived as contravening US strategic interests. For now, with the US watchfully keeping to the side-lines while Beijing and Taipei attempt to solve the dispute themselves, Taiwanese enjoy US consent to take their nation’s future in the direction they desire. A changing international playing field, however, could change this goodwill overnight.

The Sino-Taiwanese rapprochement realised under the Ma administration is merely the beginning of a lengthy, difficult and uncertain process of negotiations rather than a highway for resolving the ‘Taiwan Question.’ Through the goodwill and conciliatory stance adopted by both parties, cross-Strait interaction and dialogue has grown to hitherto unprecedented levels, but substantial obstacles to taking the next step – signing a peace accord – remain, not to even touch upon conclusion of a final, binding agreement on the political status of the island.

Firstly, for any resolution plan to gain sufficient leverage and long-term support from the Taiwanese side, a Formosan domestic consensus on the island’s future is required. Currently, the island’s politics are too polarised and its citizenry too divided to reach a compromise on the outstanding ROC sovereignty issue without alienating half the population. However, as the DPP is becoming less radical in its rhetoric and the KMT increasingly lends ears to the voice of the Taiwanese population rather than solely pursuing its own agenda, convergence between Taiwan’s two dominant political parties is becoming apparent. Should a domestic consensus arise, then the island’s leaders possess a stronger bargaining hand and a clearer sense of the direction in which to nudge Taiwan’s future.

Reunification in its milder forms is not a ludicrous, unattainable notion; rather, short- and medium term developments will have to lay the foundation for a potential long-term resolution based on mutual trust, appreciation and flexibility. At present, the 1992 Consensus forms slippery common ground for economic and low-political engagement between the two sides. The momentum built-up through deepening ties may suffice to press on with negotiations for a peace accord, but given the structural divergence between Taiwan and China regarding the island’s (future) sovereignty as well as lingering mutual distrust, the odds that any such peace treaty will directly address high-political issues are negligible. Nonetheless, if a peace accord is based on a Taiwanese promise not to declare independence in exchange for a Chinese promise not to use force, it is reasonable to assume both sides will be content with the outcome. For Taiwan, this would guarantee continued de facto independence as desired by nearly 80% of its population, while for China it would dissipate fears that a possible DPP re-election in 2016 or 2020 might take the island in a politically wholly different direction – provided Ma, of course, succeeds in uniting Taiwanese public opinion on the terms of the peace accord.

In addition, two seemingly dichotomous trends will affect long-term prospects for cross-Straits relations. Taiwanese identity, rooted in pride of its political system and economic prosperity as well as encompassing an ethno-cultural component, may continue to erode support for any reunification scheme. On the other hand, it is far from certain islanders will remain opposed to unification per se if China democratises, creates libertarian values matching those of the Taiwanese and develops into a prosperous, responsible player in the international arena.

Finally, as long as United States military and economic might remain unrivalled, it will continue to hold the final say on the future of cross-Strait relations. Presently, as Sino-American relations are cordial, the US encourages cross-Strait dialogue as a means of mitigating the odds of conflict across the Strait while adopting the position that any ultimate solution must enjoy support from the Taiwanese population. However, as the ‘Taiwan Card’ remains stored in the US deck, a changing Asian strategic environment marked by hostility may lead the US to play it once more, and thereby not only alter its current laissez-faire attitude towards cross-Strait relations, but in fact derail the entire integration process. Indeed, despite the recent détente, Taiwan’s destiny remains shrouded in mist.

Jeroen Gelsing
is currently a graduate student in Intelligence and International Security at King’s College London.

1. ‘Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s election victory speech, The Manila, Jan 21 2012,

2. Rachel Chan, ‘Ma floats possibility of cross-strait peace deal,’ Oct 18 2011,

3. The 1992 Consensus is an agreement concluded between KMT Taiwan and China on the ‘One China Principle’, which states that there is but one China and both sides belong to that entity, but the text in practice allows both groups to differ upon the interpretation of the side that represents this ‘China’.

4. Former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui declared in a 1999 interview with Deutsche Welle that Taiwanese authorities defined Taiwan-China relations as conducted on a state-to-state basis, implying more than mere de facto independence for Taiwan, a statement which infuriated Beijing and, for a decade, shattered its faith in the sincerity of Taiwan’s politicians to reach a cross-Strait solution acceptable to both sides.

5. In fact, the KMT’s ultimate agenda regarding a cross-Strait solution is opaque. Formally, it clings to the notion of reunification as the desired final resolution, but in practice the pan-Blue camp, too, is dependent on voter approval for its cross-Strait policies. Mainland observers have noted a convergence between pan-Blue and pan-Green cross-Strait policy agendas, and derided Ma’s approach to Sino-Taiwanese relations as nothing more than disguised ‘peaceful seperation’ (heping fenlie) designed to maintain the status quo.

6.  Cai (2011), 9.

7. Leadership transitions in China, too, may set Cross-Strait relations back depending on the idiosyncrasies of its paramount leader and domestic pressures to appear ‘tough’.

8. Cai (2011), 9.

9. Glaser (2010), 4.

10. Cai (2011), 11.

11.  Glaser (2010), IX.

12. Peter Enav, ‘Unification with China unlikely “in our lifetimes”: president-elect,’ The China Post, May 16 2008,

13. Su (2009), 86-117.

14. KMT surveys,

15. ‘Time to embrace pragmatism,’ Taiwan Today, Oct 29 2011,

16. Tsai in: Cai (2011), 140.

17. See below, section ‘Taiwanese Identity.’

18. Lieberthal (2005), 53-63.

19. See: Hao (2010), 147-155.

20. Glaser (2010), 13.

21. Hao (2010), 145.

22. Ibid., 142.

23. Tsai in: Cai (2011), 141.

24. Data from National Chengchi University Election Study Center, cited in: Wang (2009), 2.

25. Ibid.

26. Rigger (2006), 9.

27. See: Brown (2004) and Rigger (2006).

28. Brown (2004), 2. For a typology of nationalism, see: Hao (2010).

29. Ibid., 7.

30. For this point, see Wang (2009).

31. Tsai in: Cai (2011), 138.

32. See: Brown (2004).

33. Francesco Guarascio, ‘Hong Kong a vital test for China – and the west’, Public Service Europe, Jan 16 2012,

34. Highly political sovereignty issues are increasingly discussed through private and academic second and third tracks, and scholars, in their search for a solution acceptable to both sides of the Strait, have created various schemes ranging from a ‘Chinese Commonwealth’ (Kuo and Myers in: Tsang, 2004) and a ‘United States of China’ (Tsang, 2004) to a ‘hybrid between federation and confederation’ (Hao, 2010). All these blueprints approach the idea of a ‘confederation’ that allows Taiwan to retain far-reaching autonomy, and should trust, identity and democratisation issues be solved, adoption of one such scheme may genuinely prove feasible.

35. Michael Turton, ‘Media freedom under China influence’,, Mar 25 2012,

36.  Cheong (2001), 192.

37. Bush (2005), 257.

38. Ibid., 258.

39. Scalapino in: Zagoria (2003), 9.

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One thought on “China-Taiwan: Cross-Straits Détente And Prospects For Reunification – Analysis

  • October 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    The article’s fundamental flaw is its uncritical acceptance of the word “reunification” as a translation of the Chinese “tǒngyì”, which simply means “unification”, i.e. takeover by the PRC. Taiwan has never, at any time in the putative five millennia of Chinese history, been the province of a stable and responsible regime based in mainland China. No part of Taiwan was ever a part of China before 1683, when the Manchu conquerors of China also conquered Taiwan, and Taiwan was never named a province of China before 1885, when the Qing dynasty was on its last legs. Modern Chinese national identity, politics, and education were formulated on the mainland after 1895 when Taiwan was part of Japan’s empire, and were not brought to Taiwan until 1945. This identity gap fostered a resentment toward Taiwanese by mainland-educated survivors of the Anti-Japan War of Resistance because many Taiwanese did not intuitively share the mainlanders’ consciousness of being Chinese in a modern nationalist sense, and were accustomed to feel affinities with maritime neighbors like Japan and Austronesian ethnicities.

    The writer speaks blithely of “reunification” occurring if China democratizes and adopts liberal policies. The prospect of anything like that is so remote as to be entirely not worth our considering seriously. Such rhetoric is, at best, a face-saving formula by which the two sides can minimally tolerate each other in the present, without excessive hostility. China cannot “liberalize” any time before the dissident natives of its principal internal colonies, Tibet and Xinjiang, have been securely pacified, and that cannot happen for another two generations, at least. If that is accomplished, China will then want to “reunify” with “Outer” Mongolia (as the Republic of Mongolia, a United Nations member state, is customarily called in China), which China regards as an integral part of its proper historical legacy from the Qing dynasty. “Outer” Mongolia can only be absorbed if Russian control in Siberia has been seriously weakened; in that case China will begin to talk openly of “recovering lost territories” in Central Asia that were part of the Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire that later conquered China in the late 13th century. Historical awareness of these matters is subtly maintained in official and semi-officlal teaching and propaganda in China as a way of maintaining popular sentiment that China has suffered exceptionally grievous wrongs in modern times.


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