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Taiwan: An important ally in the battle against authoritarianism

🔴 Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, Sana Hashmi write: Transnational challenges demand joint efforts by liberal democracies

Written by Hsin Huang Michael Hsiao , Sana Hashmi |
Updated: December 31, 2021 9:09:53 am
During the pandemic, Taiwan elucidated the resilient nature of its foreign policy.

President Joe Biden-led Summit for Democracy was held on December 9-10 in a virtual format. As one of the flourishing democracies, Taiwan was seen in attendance, represented by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister, and Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States. The summit was driven by the idea that in the face of populism, authoritarianism, and other forms of non-democratic systems looming large, it is critical to keep the “democratic” flock together.

The salience of this summit lies in a deeper understanding on the part of the Biden administration that democracy is not just a form of government, it is a goal in itself, a value that must be cherished, preserved and celebrated. It is this vision of democracy as a norm that has seemingly rattled authoritarian countries. That said, unlike other political systems, democracy is also a way of life — a work in progress that needs sustained attention and careful nurturing to make it more resilient.

Ideas like these are consistently echoed in Taiwan’s policy circles. For instance, during the 2021 Open Parliament Forum held in Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated Taiwan’s commitment to work with liberal democracies for forging an alliance to bolster collective democratic resilience and realise open governance.

These goals were highlighted during this year’s Yushan Forum, where Vice President Lai Ching-te articulated the three principal priorities that would shape Taiwan’s external cooperation in the post-pandemic world — recovering from the pandemic, restoring the economy, and safeguarding democracy. These goals are not only in sync with global priorities but also complement the objectives set forth in Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy (NSP), launched in 2016 to bring Asia closer to Taiwan and vice-versa. The NSP is aimed to be a pivotal tool to engage like-minded democracies in the region.

Focusing on recovery (post-pandemic), revival (economy), and safeguarding (democracy) may help find a sustainable way in establishing a development-oriented regional engagement framework. The post-pandemic world would be more invested in some of these areas — for example, health diplomacy and collaboration in the medical sector, climate change mitigation, and developing sustainable and resilient supply chains. Taiwan is already proving its efficacy as a viable platform for the semiconductor industry. The US and its friends in the region, particularly India, Japan and Australia, have been proactively exploring possibilities of creating resilient supply chain mechanisms. With its technological knowhow, and shared interests and concerns, Taiwan fits perfectly in this agenda. Greater interactions between Taiwan and EU on the technology cooperation front, stimulated by the latter’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region, makes Taiwan a desired partner of fellow democracies.

Despite their apparent flaws and criticisms, democracies have fared much better than others in dealing with the pandemic. The world woke up to the perils of authoritarianism during the pandemic, which has also made the world realise the virtues of a democratic system.

However, political resilience needs to be complemented by economic and social resilience. Greater consultations and cooperation amongst democracies are needed to restore economic stability in the post-pandemic world. Post-pandemic regional economic recovery has to be tackled collectively as success hinges on sustained corrective steps of regional nature. As an industrialised democracy, Taiwan could play an important role, especially since countries are trying to reduce dependence on China and establish supply chain resilience. One big lesson the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that nobody is safe until everybody is safe.

During the pandemic, Taiwan elucidated the resilient nature of its foreign policy. In the early days of the pandemic, Taiwan, with its exceptionally low number of cases, reached out to friends. As part of its health diplomacy, Taiwan donated surgical face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, oxygen cylinders and concentrators to Covid-affected countries.

Taiwan, however, cannot afford to take its eyes off the challenges posed to democracies by authoritarianism. It is important for liberal democracies to acknowledge that they are facing similar challenges and view Taiwan as an indispensable partner. Deft diplomacy is in order since transnational challenges demand joint efforts by liberal democracies.

This column first appeared in the print edition on December 31, 2021 under the title ‘Democracy’s work in progress’. Hsiao, chairman, Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and Adjunct Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, is currently senior advisor to the President of Taiwan; Hashmi is a visiting fellow at Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation

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