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Book Abstract

As Taiwan has become increasingly dependent on mainland China economically, its policies toward China have fluctuated between liberalization and restriction. This study uses a framework that links national identity and economic interest to explain the ongoing debate over Taiwan’s cross-Strait economic policy and the oscillations this debate has produced in four episodes during the presidencies of Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, and Ma Ying-jeou. The debate has revolved around competing opinion clusters, described here as Extensive Restriction, Moderate Restriction, Moderate Liberalization, and Extensive Liberalization. In the first two episodes, Taiwanese had not yet agreed on their national identity and the discussion was highly politicized, with Extensive Restrictionists and Extensive Liberalizers being most appealing. In the latter two, however, there was an increasing convergence on a definition of national identity, rooted in Taiwan’s distinctive values and institutions, rather than in ethnicity. Support for extreme policies dropped considerably, and the two moderate clusters became dominant. This consolidated national identity enabled a larger number of Taiwanese to dissociate economic policies from their future political preferences and definitions of national identity, and to rationally discuss the competing options. However, the debate remained intense, as Taiwanese attempted to balance a number of competing goals, including economic growth, equity, stability, security, and even international recognition and environmental sustainability. How Taiwan’s emerging national identity has shaped the evolution of its cross-Strait economic policy has implications for not only the future of cross-Strait relations but also the discipline of international political economy.

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