Taiwan – Tremendous Opportunities, Tremendous Threats

A contributed post….

Economics, Ideology and the Politics of Discourse
Jerome F. Keating, Ph.D.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. . . Only by unintermitted Agitation can people be kept sufficiently awake to principle and not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.�

“Never look therefore for an age when people can be quiet and safe. At such times Despotism, like a shrouding mist, steals over the mirror of Freedom. . . Republics exist only on the tenure of being constantly agitated.�


“The Republic that sinks to sleep, trusting to constitutions and machinery, to politicians and statesmen for the safety of its liberties, never will have any.”

The above provocative words addressed by Wendell Phillips to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1852 may seem a bit archaic to modern readers, but Taiwan take note. The warning on how the benefits of prosperity can lull citizens to forget the price and original purpose of their past struggles for democracy is not archaic. While some who took part in the struggles for democracy may turn now to comfort and greed if not to corruption, the responsibilities that go with democracy remain never ending.

Vaclav Havel found different issues in the achievement of democracy. The former president of the Czech Republic, which had its Velvet Revolution in 1989, found a new challenge in what he called a “post-revolutionary disillusionment.” When he was in prison he stated how he longed for freedom. However, once he was finally free, he found himself confronted with so many options and every day decisions so that he almost longed to return to the simple security and confinement of strict prison rules.

The people of Taiwan face both of the above challenges. What man or woman does not want peace and what man or woman does not want prosperity now that democracy has been won?

Peace and prosperity, however, are not an automatic consequence of democracy, nor will they come with laxity. Peace must be worked at. Prosperity must be worked at. Democracy must be worked at, but never at a loss of freedom and its subsequent sovereignty.

The greatest challenge for Taiwan is to keep developing its industries and economy, but the greatest threat to Taiwan is still its loss of democracy and sovereignty at the hands of China or even at the hands of potential quislings within. By being democratic, Taiwan already has the independence of democracy; it now needs to maintain that freedom of choice.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty as is constant effort the price of economic development. This is what must be balanced and this is why today’s Taiwanese and in particular the members of the Strawberry Generation will not have an easy life.

The decisions and responsibilities of the above will not go away; they are part and parcel of democracy. This two-fold effort of developing economically and maintaining democracy must be the measure of evaluating the performance of Taiwan’s politicians.

Observe the actions of Lien Chan recently returned from the People’s Republic of China where he hobnobbed with Hu Jintao and its leaders. Lien has never won a democratic election in his life and may for that reason have an antipathy towards such an ideology. Lien does know prosperity, however, particularly from wealth acquired from privileged connections in a one-party state.

This creates the tremendous duplicitous irony that Taiwan experiences. Lien, past Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has lost twice to Chen Shui-bian in democratic presidential elections, but he still refuses to address him as President. Lien’s party attempts to castigate Chen as another Hitler. Yet Lien has no problem in wining and dining with the leaders of the largest one-party state autocracy and one of the most flagrant violators of human rights. Like long lost brothers they talk freely of economy and connections but choke on the word democracy.

It is said, businessmen have no country. Certainly, those who have enjoyed economic privileged positions in an autocratic one-party state will have no problem or qualms in getting into bed with leaders of other autocratic one-party states. They jump in easily as long as they can maintain the same economic privileged positions they once had. This may be why Taiwan’s democratic ideology is never discussed when pan-blue politicians visit China.

A similar example is found with a one time leader of Taiwan’s near defunct New Party, Jaw Shaw-kong. Jaw also knows the benefits of economic privilege and its loss at the hands of democracy. Despite this Jaw has been able to parlay money collected for registered New Party voters (from its past heyday) into building a broadcast business that is more profitable than politics when he was one of the autocratic good old boys.

Jaw too touts the benefits of economy over ideology. He recently interviewed economic guru Kenichi Ohmae to lead him to say that Chen Shui-bian lacked “vision” that he should focus on economy and ignore ideology. Kenichi Ohmae is author of the famous quote “pleading national interest is the declining cottage industry of those who have been bypassed by the global economy.” Have you ever wondered why Kenichi does not repeatedly sing that song in the People’s Republic of China?

People like Kenichi Ohmae enjoy the luxury of a democratic state protecting one’s freedoms and can dole out easy advice without suffering consequences. He speaks only from the position of business profit. A further question to ask is why are there no economic gurus living in one-party state autocracies or dictatorships doling out advice on how to set the economy of the world aright?

This irony should not be lost on Taiwanese voters or anyone in the world.

There is no need to be antagonistic in declaring democracy; but that does not mean to be silent on it. Feminists learned long ago about the denigrating dimensions that result from detracting discourse; they learned not to be silent. Feminist insistence on the rights of women to be properly addressed and spoken to and to be treated as equals naturally antagonized the “chauvinist pigs” who sought to put them down, to keep them in their place and to deny them their liberty. Nevertheless, it was only through their persistent efforts that such barriers began to fall.

Refusal to admit to or speak of democracy likewise does not preserve it. Taiwan’s leaders should not be told to go to the back of the democratic bus and to sit their silently thankful that they were allowed to get on.

Economy and democratic ideology are not an either/or choice in discourse; for Taiwan they are and should always be seen as a both/and requirement.

By emphasizing how economy and democracy are not antithetical, Taiwanese politicians whether blue or green can take advantage of a tremendous opportunity before them. Taiwan has overcome many obstacles in its struggles and journey from a one-party state to a democracy. It can be an ideological guide for those in China. Whether China can suffer to look to Taiwan for guidance is for them to decide but for those in Taiwan the discourse of democracy is a vital part of Taiwan’s heritage and identity. It must never be abandoned.

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Other writings can be found at http://zen.sandiego.edu:8080/Jerome

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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