WASHINGTON - Taiwanese rated the United States more favourably than mainland China by a nearly two-to-one margin, according to a survey done late last year and released on Tuesday (May 12).
"Overall, just 35 per cent of adults give positive marks to mainland China, while about six in 10 hold unfavourable views," said the report by the Pew Research Centre.
"There is widespread support for increased economic and political ties with Washington; enthusiasm for similar relations with mainland China is much more muted," the report said.
Economic ties are a different matter. "Still, even as people are sceptical about closer political relations, half would embrace closer economic ties with mainland China."
Younger respondents in particular favour the US over China by a wide margin.
"Among younger people, there is a 50 percentage point difference in support for economic relations with the two countries."
The response is similar in terms of political relations with either US or China.
Domestic political and identity issues and divisions are also reflected.
Those who align with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which asserts that there is a Taiwanese national identity separate from a Chinese identity, are more supportive of increased ties with the US rather than China.
Supporters of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which prefers closer relations with the mainland, favour mainland China, Pew Research said.
But among those who do not hew closely to any major political party, positive feelings for the US are much stronger than towards mainland China, the report found.
Also, among those who identify solely as Taiwanese, there is little enthusiasm about the mainland.
Favourable views of the US among this group are "three times higher than towards mainland China (75 per cent versus 23 per cent)", it said.
"But, among those who identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese, majorities have favourable views of both the US and mainland China."
Data for the report was drawn from a telephone survey of 1,562 respondents "representative of the adult population of Taiwan", conducted from Oct 16 to Nov 30, 2019.
This means that field work was done well before incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won re-election by a landslide in January, and also before the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in China.
It was also around the time the US Senate unanimously passed the first round of the Taipei Act, aimed at strengthening US support for Taiwan's global standing and diplomatic ties with other nations.
The report marks the first time the centre has polled Taiwan, Pew said in an e-mail.
"Surveying Taiwan has been a goal for Pew Research Centre for a while now," it told The Straits Times.
The survey was part of a larger one on other topics that will be published later this year.
The insight into Taiwanese public opinion comes at a time when China-US relations are at a new low amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been criticised for toeing Beijing's line, and the US is lobbying for Taiwan to get observer status at the global health body, which it has also threatened to defund.
On Monday, the US Senate passed a Bill calling for the Secretary of State to develop a strategy for Taiwan to regain observer status in the WHO, which has been blocked by China since 2017.
Taiwan is one of very few places which have been successful in curbing the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.