Social and Political Identity in Taiwan: Implications for Taiwan’s Security
Roundtable in Asia Policy 19.2

Social and Political Identity in Taiwan
Implications for Taiwan’s Security

Roundtable with Nai-Yu Chen, Brian Hioe, Christina Lai, Lev Nachman, Hsin-I Cheng, Michael Mazza, and Rong Chen
April 30, 2024

Who are the Taiwanese people? This seemingly simple question has been steadily taking on new complexity as an increasing number of Taiwan’s citizens identify solely as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese or a combination of the two. This Asia Policy roundtable takes a multifaceted look at the drivers behind Taiwan’s changing identity and how it is shaping its trajectory on issues that are central to its security and future.



Nai-Yu Chen

Trends in Political Identity: Where Does Taiwan Go from Here?

Brian Hioe

Unpacking Taiwan’s Identities: Substance, Contexts, and Party Stances toward China

Christina Lai

Small but Mighty: Third Parties in Taiwan’s 2024 Election

Lev Nachman

“Cultural Taiwanese” and “Political Taiwanese”: Two Sides of the Coin

Hsin-I Cheng

Demographic Demise? Taiwan’s Aging and Shrinking Population

Michael Mazza

The Ramifications of Changing Identities in Taiwan for U.S.-Taiwan Relations

Rong Chen


Nai-Yu Chen

Who are the Taiwanese people? This seemingly simple question has been steadily taking on new complexity as an increasing number of Taiwan’s citizens identify solely as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese or a combination of the two. The latest survey results from the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center reveal a steady shift—61.7% of respondents now see themselves as uniquely Taiwanese, a substantial increase from just 17.1% in 1992 when the survey began. This shift in identity is reshaping various aspects of Taiwanese life, including domestic politics and its relationships with global powers like China and the United States.

At the crux of this transformation lies a fundamental question: How will Taiwan’s redefined and evolving identity impact its future security and trajectory as a nation? This Asia Policy roundtable of essays takes a multifaceted look at the drivers behind Taiwan’s changing identity and how it is shaping the island’s trajectory on issues that are central to its security and future.

Set against the outcome of the 2024 Taiwanese presidential and legislative elections, the first essay by Brian Hioe offers a comprehensive analysis of the role and strength of the two traditional political identities in Taiwan: the pan-blue camp, centered around the Kuomintang (KMT), and the pan-green camp, centered around the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Emphasizing the interplay between domestic concerns, cross-strait relations, and the emergence of third parties such as the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), he observes that dissatisfaction with the DPP’s handling of economic issues, coupled with the appeal of the TPP, underscores the structural demand for an alternative to two-party dominance, despite the China factor’s continued significance.

Christina Lai next delves into the evolution of Taiwanese identity and its impact on the country’s policies toward China and the United States. She explores the nuanced factors shaping Taiwanese identity, including generational differences, perceptions of major powers, and the influence of multiculturalism. Lai contends that the rise of a civic identity based on democratic values poses significant implications for traditional party stances toward China and U.S.-Taiwan relations, necessitating a nuanced approach from the United States.

Shifting the focus away from the DPP and KMT, Lev Nachman in his essay examines the role of small parties, particularly spotlighting the emergence of the TPP and the decline of the once-promising New Power Party (NPP). In the 2024 election the TPP received a 22% share of the party vote and gained eight legislative seats, which not only reflects genuine discontent with the established parties but also makes it a potential kingmaker. Nachman prompts analysts to reassess Taiwan’s evolving multi-party dynamics and their ramifications for domestic policies and cross-strait relations amid diminishing DPP-KMT dominance.

Challenging simplistic dichotomies, Hsin-I Cheng’s essay investigates the intricate interplay of cultural and political identities in Taiwan. She argues that the cultural and political realms of the Taiwanese sense of self are intimately interconnected, shaped by historical experiences, geopolitics, and the quest for self-determination. She also sheds light on how marginalized groups such as Indigenous peoples and new immigrants have contributed to Taiwan’s complex identity development.

Michael Mazza’s essay next examines the profound demographic shifts occurring in Taiwan, specifically the rapid aging and eventual shrinkage of its population. His essay elucidates the societal, economic, and national security challenges posed by these demographic changes, such as strains on the workforce, healthcare system, and military readiness. It highlights the need for Taiwan to adopt technological solutions, welcome immigration, and deepen international security partnerships to mitigate these challenges. While Taiwan’s demographic predicament presents significant hurdles, it may also catalyze a leaner and more resilient society, capable of deterring external threats through innovative approaches.

Using polling data and a public opinion survey, Rong Chen analyzes how Taiwan’s evolving identities shape perceptions of U.S.-Taiwan relations. Results show that a strong Taiwanese civic identity is associated with greater support for independence, rejection of cultural similarity with China, and favorable views of the United States. She contends that the changing Taiwanese identity could influence perceptions of long-standing U.S. policies toward Taiwan, notably the “one-China” principle and the preservation of the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. She concludes by arguing that wise diplomacy and steering clear of zero-sum thinking are crucial in preserving peace.

Collectively, these essays illuminate the complex interplay of domestic dynamics, identity formation, demographic changes, and international relations shaping contemporary Taiwanese society and politics. While each essay offers unique insights, common themes emerge, such as the growing demand for political alternatives, the evolving nature of Taiwanese identity, and the importance of adaptive responses to demographic challenges and shifting geopolitical landscapes. As Taiwan navigates these multifaceted challenges, thoughtful analysis and strategic foresight will be essential in charting its course toward a secure future.

Nai-Yu Chen is a Project Manager with the Political and Security Affairs group at the National Bureau of Asian Research (United States), where she manages projects related to Taiwan, China’s grand strategy, and U.S. engagement with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

Brian Hioe is a Founding Editor of New Bloom Magazine (Taiwan), an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific since 2014. He is also a Nonresident Fellow at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Research Hub.

Christina Lai is an Associate Research Fellow in the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica (Taiwan). She is interested in U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, East Asian politics, and qualitative research methods. Her work has appeared in Politics, International Politics, Political Science, the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Review, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Asian Survey, and Asian Security. Her policy-related works and commentaries have been published by the NATO Association of Canada, the Global Taiwan Institute, Bloomberg, and BBC News.

Lev Nachman is an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Science at National Chengchi University (Taiwan). He was previously the Hou Family Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Taiwan Studies at the Harvard Fairbank Center. Dr. Nachman is also a Nonresident Fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research and at the Atlantic Council Global China Hub.

Hsin-I Cheng is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Santa Clara University (United States). Her most recent books on Taiwanese identity formations include Cultivating Membership in Taiwan and Beyond: Relational Citizenship (2021) and Resistance in the Era of Nationalisms: Performing Identities in Taiwan and Hong Kong (2023). Dr. Cheng is also a Fellow of the 2023–25 U.S.-Taiwan Next Generation Working Group at the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California–Berkeley.

Michael Mazza is a Senior Director at the Project 2049 Institute and a Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute (United States).

Rong Chen is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Dominican University of California (United States).

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Asia Policy is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal presenting policy-relevant academic research on the Asia-Pacific that draws clear and concise conclusions useful to today’s policymakers. Asia Policy is published quarterly in January, April, July, and October and accepts submissions on a rolling basis. Learn more