About two-thirds of Taiwanese don’t identify as Chinese, according to a survey released Tuesday that highlights the challenge China would face in bringing the self-governing island under its control.
The U.S.-based Pew Research Center found that 66% view themselves as Taiwanese, 28% as both Taiwanese and Chinese and 4% as just Chinese. The telephone poll of 1,562 people, conducted last fall, has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
The results are consistent with other polls showing that people in Taiwan increasingly identify only as Taiwanese, Pew said.
Today’s Taiwan was born of a civil war in China that brought Mao Zedong’s Communists to power on the mainland in 1949. The rival Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan, an island about 160 kilometers (100 miles) off China’s east coast.
Seventy years later, younger generations in particular have developed a distinct identity, with 83% of respondents under 30 saying they don’t consider themselves Chinese.
Alexander Huang, a professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said it is a question of politics, not ethnic background. Younger Taiwanese grew up in a democracy, while China is a one-party state. Another factor, Huang said, is the diplomatic pressure that China puts on Taiwan and the military exercises it conducts in Taiwan’s vicinity.
“We are ethnic Chinese for sure. But politically, I think that’s the big difference,” he said. “It is quite understandable that people don’t want to be identified as Chinese.”
In addition, about 2.3% of Taiwan’s people are members of indigenous groups who are not ethnically Chinese.
Taiwan has never declared independence, though in many ways it acts like a nation, with its own foreign ministry and military. China still considers the island of 23.6 million people part of its territory and bristles at any talk of independence. It favors peaceful unification but pointedly does not rule out the use of force, if necessary.
The Pew survey found that about 60% of Taiwanese have an unfavorable view of China. While 52% support closer economic ties with China, only 36% favor closer political ties.
Conversely, more than two-thirds have a favorable view of the U.S., with 79% supporting closer political ties. The U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 to recognize Beijing as the government of China, but it continues to sell fighter jets and other arms to Taiwan. A U.S. law requires that Washington ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.