Cross-Strait integration and Taiwan's new security challenges

Jean-Pierre CABESTAN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Many analysts argue that cross-Strait integration has directly contributed towards stabilizing the relationship between China and Taiwan (Kastner 211:9). This stabilizing factor was already perceptible under the Chen Shui-Bian presidency (2000-2008) and even at the end of the Lee Teng-Hui era, but has become more visible and obvious since Ma Ying-Jeou’s election. Indeed, since 2008, on the surface, Taiwan’s security has dramatically improved: not only has a genuine détente emerged, but also what Ma himself described as a ‘rapprochement’ has taken place across the Taiwan Strait. However, on the ground, Taiwan’s military and non-military security challenges have intensified. On the one hand, the capability of Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC) to defend itself and protect the island from outside aggression has deteriorated; in addition, since no military confidence-building measures (CBMs) have been initiated with mainland China (People’s Republic of China, PRC) military incidents cannot be excluded or managed properly. More importantly, however, the growing capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to project power and exert pressure on the island as well as the Ma administration’s lack of investment in defence have made Taiwan more and more dependent on the de facto US security guarantee – the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). At a time when the United States’ relative decline has become more perceptible, Beijing has been intensifying its pressure on Washington to stop providing weapons to the island, and a debate is looming in the US on its own long-term capability and interest in the context of guaranteeing Taiwan’s security. On the other hand, Taiwan’s accelerated economic and social integration with mainland China has deepened the former’s dependence upon the latter, enhanced China’s political influence and eased its united front work on the island, not only with the business community but also with the political and cultural elites as well as society as a whole. To be sure, many of Taiwan’s security challenges are not really new. Some have their origins in the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and the asymmetry between the territory, the population and the (potential) resources that both Chinese governments have respectively controlled since then. Others stem from the PRC’s economic and military rise after Deng Xiaoping decided to reform and open up his country in 1979 and to speed up this process in 1992. Still others

are directly related to Chiang Ching-Kuo’s and his successors’ acceptance of indirect and direct trade, people-to-people and non-official relations with mainland China. And the Taiwanese people’s deep political divisions over the island’s identity and status as well as the nature and the future of its relations with the PRC have also, especially since the beginning of the democratization process in 1986-1987, constituted a well-rooted security challenge. Nevertheless, Ma’s election and the Kuomintang (KMT)’s return to power in 2008 initiated an unprecedented mainland policy that has contributed towards increasing these challenges and creating new ones that are far from being all of a military nature. The growing interactions across the Strait have already multiplied the number of constituencies on the island that have a vested interest in maintaining a close and stable relationship with the mainland, creating tensions within Taiwanese society (see below); they also have the potential to modify the Taiwanese people’s perception of the mainland, loosen Taiwan’s security relationship with the US and eventually their perception of the PRC, their identity and their attachment to the status quo in the Strait – or what I would call the island’s de facto independence – precisely at a time when the impression of a US strategic decline is gaining momentum. In this chapter, I do not aim to address all these issues in detail but rather to provide some very tentative and provisional answers. My conclusion is that, while Taiwan, with US support, will be able to remain a distinct democratic political entity under the ROC constitutional framework, the island’s room for manoeuvre and, possibly, its political autonomy will continue to shrink.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTaiwan and The 'China Impact'
Subtitle of host publicationChallenges and Opportunities
EditorsGunter Schubert
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781317369158, 9781315671116
ISBN (Print)9781317369165, 9781138945920, 9781138590687
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2015

Publication series

NameRoutledge research on Taiwan

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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