When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Across The Strait: What Still Divides China And Taiwan

March 22 protests in Taipei City, Taiwan
March 22 protests in Taipei City, Taiwan
Wang Tao*

On March 18, hundreds of Taiwanese university students stormed and occupied the Legislative Yuan, the island nation's parliament. Five days later, they joined other civic groups and invaded the Executive Yuan, before being evicted forcibly by the police.

In technical terms, the demonstrators were protesting the unilateral decision of Taiwan's ruling party to pass the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement without a proper clause-by-clause review of the deal. But the unrest is part of a broader series of questions about the economic integration of Taiwan and mainland China.

Many have argued that as the cross-strait exchanges open up, Taiwan's overall economy will benefit from sharing trade profits with China. Since Taiwan has yet to obtain a trade partnership with any other huge market, relying on China is the only option for it to boost its economy.

Beijing knows that it can rely on Taiwanese businessmen who do business in China pushing the Taiwanese authorities to support trade with China. In other words, economic integration will inevitably lead to closer relations politically.

But in fact that "economic integration will lead to political integration" is a rather shallow rationale that overlooks the complexities and history of cross-strait relations.

On the one hand, even if Taiwan’s overall economy benefits from the trade agreement, the biggest beneficiaries will be a small minority of wealthy capitalists. Small business owners and the employees at the bottom of the ladder will be victims.

Whereas China has an authoritarian system that can enforce its trade policy with little resistance, the Taiwanese people assume that markets will be open and democracy ensured. An important affair such as signing a pact which will have a huge impact on Taiwan will certainly cause a public backlash if the democratic process is not followed. The unprecedented protests against this trade pact shows the strength of such public opinion.

Identity geopolitics

On the other hand, Taiwanese people’s resistance to economic integration with China has gone beyond simple considerations of political and economic interests. The psychology of the Taiwanese public is crucial. Being the small neighbor of a rising giant inevitably triggers deep anxiety among all walks of life. Even if Taiwan has no choice but to follow the cross-strait economic integration in liberalizing its trade, over-reliance on mainland China economically — at the expense of political independence — is undoubtedly unacceptable for a lot of Taiwanese people. With the strenghtening of economic cooperation, such a mood of rejection should be expected to rise only further.

What this implies most importantly is that the cross-strait economic integration does not somehow spur Taiwan's society to identify with mainland China. On the contrary, along with the growing economic reliance on China, the Taiwanese identity is strengthened instead.

In a book published in 2012, entitled National Identity and Economic Interest: Taiwan's Competing Options and Their Implications for Regional Stability, several Taiwanese scholars reached similar conclusions.

As Michael Danielsen pointed out in one chapter of this book, the reason why cross-strait economic integration doesn't lead to a common identity is related to Taiwan's democratization. Through democratic politics, Taiwan has gradually formed an independent local consciousness. Ethnic group consciousness in the Taiwanese society is still highly fragmented, making it is very difficult for President Ma Ying-Jeou and his Nationalist party to build a Greater China consciousness.

Even if part of the Taiwanese people support further cross-strait economic cooperation, they will still differentiate economic interests and cultural identity. Moreover, as labor and class divisions grow, people at the bottom of Taiwan's society may be pushed further toward Taiwanese nationalism.

Within the academic community, the definition of Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity has itself long been a controversial concept. And it has become more and more apparent through various studies of the issue that the cross-strait economic ties have never been a simple economic issue.

To a certain degree, Taiwanese protests against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement proves that Taiwan and China getting closer in economic relations doesn't necessarily lead to a sense of common identity. On the contrary, if politicians handle the situation inappropriately this is likely to bring about Taiwanese nationalism and cause relations across the Taiwan Strait to deteriorate.

Whether for China or Taiwan, future cross-strait interactions should never be guided solely by economic interests. Meanwhile, the undeniable fact that China's rising economic and political influence is making the cross-strait relationship unbalanced means that the two governments across the Taiwan Strait must remain on equal status when they sit down at the negotiation table.

*Wang Tao is a Chinese researcher at Cornell University.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Will Winter Crack The Western Alliance In Ukraine?

Kyiv's troops are facing bitter cold and snow on the frontline, but the coming season also poses longer term political questions for Ukraine's allies. It may be now or never.

Ukraine soldier in winer firing a large canon with snow falling

Ukraine soldier firing a large cannon in winter.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Weather is a weapon of war. And one place where that’s undoubtedly true right now is Ukraine. A record cold wave has gripped the country in recent days, with violent winds in the south that have cut off electricity of areas under both Russian and Ukrainian control. It's a nightmare for troops on the frontline, and survival itself is at stake, with supplies and movement cut off.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

This is the reality of winter warfare in this part of Europe, and important in both tactical and strategic terms. What Ukraine fears most in these circumstances are Russian missile or drone attacks on energy infrastructures, designed to plunge civilian populations into cold and darkness.

The Ukrainian General Staff took advantage of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Kyiv to ask the West to provide as many air defense systems as possible to protect these vital infrastructures. According to Kyiv, 90% of Russian missile launches are intercepted; but Ukraine claims that Moscow has received new weapon deliveries from North Korea and Iran, and has large amounts of stocks to strike Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest