Seeing the blooming success that confronts a visitor on every street corner, it's hard to believe that Taiwan is number one most likely place for the outbreak for WWIII. If the harsh words out of China are to be believed, though, then Taiwan is where it's at.
The Taiwanese seem amazingly relaxed about the whole thing. For most of them, they have grown up hearing distant propagandist rumblings from the mainland all their life, and in the tradition of the boy who cried wolf, the fear is rather underwhelming. Instead, the Taiwanese are resigned to the fact of their inferior military might when compared to their mainland rivals (in spite of one man who earnestly informed me that he believed the Taiwanese airforce was superior to the Chinese one). Rather than military might, the Taiwanese believe they have two things in their favour - firstly, the firm knowledge that they are in the right, and secondly the belief that the rest of the world will rush to their aid should China attack. With these twin beliefs, Taiwan marches energentically forward.
There is a justified loftiness to the Taiwanese view of the world. It sees itself as the plucky underdog, who has done exceptionally well from its meagre means, whilst its more materially gifted counterpart has drifted aimlessly. It is indeed a remarkable achievement for Taiwan to propel itself into the realm of the modern, first world whilst China fritters away its numerous opportunities and languishes with a large part of its country in absolute poverty. The political scientist within sees China and Taiwan as perhaps the clearest example of the material benefits of democracy and free markets over totalitarian, planned economies.
So why do the Taiwanese prize their independence so highly? My gut instinct is that Taiwan values its independence largely for the practical, pragmatic advantage that it gains rather than some abstract, intanglbe idea of pride. Taiwan fears that the bustling society it has constructed for itself would be quickly demolished if China was to take over control of the island. The Taiwanese look ominously across the Taiwan Strait at the callous, antidemocratic monolith that is China, and fear the impact that it would have. There is, however, no great spiritual reason for the Taiwanese to assert its independence. Ethnically and culturally, Taiwan and China have much in common - it is the way of life that sets the two apart.