Sat, Mar 09, 2002 - Page 9 News List

Taiwan needs to take a more rational approach

By Lee Yuan-tseh 李遠哲

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Eight years have already gone by since my return to Taiwan in January 1994. During these eight years, this land has gone through various changes, often leaving a deep impression on me. The gradual development of democratic politics in Taiwan, the transformation and coming of age of Academia Sinica, the care and concern shown by the Taiwanese people after the earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999 have, over and over again, impressed me with the dynamic diversity and vitality of Taiwan.

On the other hand, the inability to successfully initiate cross-strait talks so important to the future of Taiwan, the lack of improvement in civic awareness in Taiwan, some people being too intent on quick successes and instant benefits caused by global transformation: all these are somewhat regrettable.

In the beginning of a new year, people often like to put posters with auspicious words above their doors saying "Everything starts anew." I would also like to take this opportunity to put forward some hopes and expectations that I hope the people of this land will encourage each other to work on.

I hope that this new year will bring not only new clothes, new hopes, a new Cabinet, and a new situation, but also more composure, more openness and more rational attitudes.

As far as I can remember, there have been elections almost once a year during the past few years. These elections always bring with them conflicts and confrontations, but luckily enough, these conflicts and confrontations often subside before too long.

Irrational thinking

The general public also no longer tolerates political infighting. I have also noticed, however, that discussions about issues such as the use of China's Pinyin system, the "no haste, be patient" policy, the "1992 consensus," and the acceptance of Chinese academic degrees by Taiwan not only continue unabated, but along the way many people also seem to have lost their ability to think rationally and to analyze the diverse aspects of the issues in detail.

They often willfully or arbitrarily turn complex issues into simple two-sided ones, and simplify or tag a label to the opinions of others, thus deepening dissent and prolonging the stand-off. This kind of polarization may be helpful to disseminating one's own private views, but it diminishes the space for rational discourse in society and stifles the chances of developing one's own ideas and new breakthroughs, and is really very unintelligent.

I am going to use the proposed establishment of eight-inch wafer foundries in China by Taiwanese companies as an example, and talk a bit about my feelings concerning the issue. I think that most Taiwanese will agree that the future political direction of Taiwan must respect the wishes of 23 million people. We must be masters of our own fate, and naturally do not want the fate of our lives to be decided by someone else. Even though we have this consensus, many people still have different interpretations of whether eight-inch wafer investments in China are beneficial to the future development of Taiwan. My view on the issue lies very close to that of Morris Chang (張忠謀), chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電).

Many of my business friends have told me that eight-inch wafer technology is not unique to Taiwan, and that if Taiwanese companies don't go to China, then companies from other countries are sure to do so. TSMC and United Microelectronics Corp (聯電) both have superior quality controls, and if they can compete with companies from other countries on the same salary and land-lease conditions, it is very possible that they will become the market-leading manufacturers in China.

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