Beijing, by flexing its muscle, seems to have succeeded only in pushing the Taiwanese away. A series of missile tests by the People’s Liberation Army in the lead-up to Taiwan’s March 1996 presidential election was designed to intimidate voters and turn them away from re-electing the nationalist Lee Teng-hui. One of his opponents, Chen Li-an, warned, “If you vote for Lee Teng-hui, you are choosing war.” Mr. Lee won comfortably over three other candidates, with 54 percent of the popular vote.
The Chinese authorities also seemed to think that increasing economic interdependence across the Taiwan Strait would be a pathway to unification. At some point, the theory went, it would be too costly for Taiwan to unravel economic links.
And yet. Trade between China and Taiwan exceeded $181 billion in 2017, up from about $35.5 billion in 1999. But even as the two economies grew closer, the number of people who identified as Taiwanese increased: from more than 48 percent to about 60 percent between 2008 and late 2015, during the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou, of the Kuomintang.
The Sunflower Movement of 2014, a series of protests led by a coalition of students and civil-society activists, marked the rejection of close relations with China by Taiwan’s younger generations. So did the election of the pro-sovereignty Ms. Tsai in 2016.
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