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Taiwan-PRC relations: Closer, in theory

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13 October 2010 15:45

Peter Martin lives and studies in Taipei and blogs at www.sinocentric.co.uk.

One of the tenets of liberal international relations theory is that contact between societies brings them closer together and thus reduces the chances of conflict.

Certainly, the Chinese Communist Party believes this to be the case when it comes to China's relations with Taiwan. Thus, it has included an 'early harvest' programme in the recently concluded Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with Taiwan, enthusiastically promoted cross-Strait cultural exchanges, allowed mainland Chinese to travel to Taiwan in tour groups, and allowed mainlanders to study on the island. As Chinese leaders have said frequently and clearly, these measures are seen as a part of the long-term process towards unification.

Many outside observers believe this is working and, in some respects, it is. Certainly, cross-Strait political relations have improved markedly: government-to-government contact has increased massively and even Taiwan's opposition DPP party has said that this would not be reversed if they were to win in the 2012 presidential elections. It is also reflected also in the Ma Government's strategic positioning in recent months: at a time when other countries in East Asia have been hedging against China's bullish diplomacy, Taiwan has appeared reluctant to break with China's line.

In economic terms, too, it is clear that cross-Strait integration gives Beijing increased leverage over Taiwan. Finally, despite vague suggestions by Wen Jiabao that the situation might change in the future, China has continued to strengthen its military capabilities, with more than 1000 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

These developments mean independence is unrealistic in the short-term; the Taiwanese public recognises this, as illustrated by its continued support in opinion polls for the status quo.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the Taiwanese people are in any way feeling more 'Chinese' as a result of these processes or that the idea of unification is becoming any more popular. In fact, quite the opposite is true. As cross-Strait integration continues apace, the sense of social distance between the two sides seems greater and greater. More on this in a follow-up post.

Photo by Flickr user Fishtail, used under a Creative Commons license.

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