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More than half of Americans would support military defense of Taiwan

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. (Voice of America/Released)
August 30, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

More than 50 percent of the American public would support U.S. military intervention to defend Taiwan against invasion by China, according to a recent opinion survey in the U.S.

“When asked about a range of potential scenarios, just over half of Americans (52 percent) favor using U.S. troops to defend if China were to invade the island,” the Chicago Council Survey said in a report on its website.

“This is the highest level ever recorded in the Council’s surveys dating back to 1982, when the question was first asked.”

Survey data showed that a majority of Americans supported a range of U.S. policies towards Taiwan including official recognition as an independent country, inclusion in international organizations, and a U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement, it said.

“Chinese intimidation of Taiwan has increased since 2016, demonstrated by naval drills in the Taiwan Strait, incursions into Taiwanese airspace, and economic coercion targeted at Taiwanese industries,” the report said.

However, 47 percent believed the U.S. shouldn’t sell arms or military equipment to Taiwan, compared with 50 percent who believed it should.

Sixty percent of Republicans polled supported military intervention over Taiwan, compared with 50 percent of Democrats.

Sixty percent of poll respondents saw Taiwan either as an ally or a necessary partner, while 61 percent saw China as a rival or an adversary.

Ye Yaoyuan, an associate professor in the Department of International Studies and Contemporary Linguistics at St. Thomas University said the results come at a time of widespread anti-China sentiment in the U.S.

“This friendly attitude towards Taiwan is of course also related to anti-China attitudes among the American public,” Ye said.

“They know that China just wants to invade Taiwan, and Taiwan doesn’t like China,” he said. “It’s a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

Influence on policymakers

Weng Luzhong, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Sam Houston State University, Texas, agreed.

“Support for Taiwan is inversely proportional to antipathy to China. The increase in antipathy to China is completely equivalent to the increase in support for Taiwan,” he said.

Weng cited a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in June showing that 69 percent of respondents had negative attitudes towards China.

But he added: “There is still a big gap between disgust and hatred.”

“That is to say, Americans may not like China, but they don’t necessarily feel they have to fight it,” Weng said.

But he said the poll could sway policymakers.

“Now we see that there is a public willingness to send troops to support Taiwan, that’s a point of reference,” he said. “If something happens in the Taiwan Strait, there is a far greater likelihood that the U.S. will support [Taiwan].”

“Will it send troops? I think that’s looking like a yes right now,” Weng said.