The classic components of foreign aid consist of economic assistance and humanitarian aid. Export of democracy to poor and ill democratic countries is not a novel idea. But, many countries hesitate to do so due to either historical baggage or political sensitivity.
For example, Japan shuns getting involved with other countries' political reform because Japan was an aggressor and a colonial ruler to most of East Asia during World War II. Some European countries such as the UK and France also refrain from giving political assistance to their former colonies or occupied territories in Africa.
But Taiwan is a different case. A victim of Japanese imperialism, Taiwan gained independence after World War II and quickly emerged as a newly industrialized economy and democratic society. Taiwan proves economic development and political reform can go hand in hand.
Although American democracy is the most adored and lofty role model for developing countries, the Taiwan experience is more pragmatic and attainable in short term. There is a niche for Taiwan to add democracy-building to its existing foreign aid.
The International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) is planning to host a week-long seminar on Taiwan's democracy for officials and opinion leaders from developing countries. This is the right approach to help recipient countries develop into democracies. In order to foster and ensure the continuation of such work, the ICDF and its superior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, might want to entice non-government organizations (NGOs) in Taiwan to join their endeavor.
Taiwan has abundant supply of well-educated middle-class elite, who are more professionally capable than many career foreign service bureaucrats. For example, Shin-shin Club of Fu-Jen Catholic University (輔仁大學醒新社) is a well-known group that has been a pioneer when it comes to helping the underprivileged. Their assistance has reached groups such as leprosy patients, the blind, juvenile delinquents and Aborigines.
Winner of the award for the best youth service organization for the last four year, the club has trained many graduate professionals since the 1970s.
If ICDF invites reputable NGOs such as the Shin-shin Club to work as a catalyst in the colleges and universities of recipient countries, the efforts may increase social awareness among those countries' college students. A sense of social responsibility will also gradually take root in the recipient countries.
Unlike grants and loans, it is highly difficult to measure the success of democracy by quantity or quality in the short term. Diplomats with term limits are often reluctant to do such work, lest they offend the nation's ruling regime or be accused of interfering in the domestic affairs of the country in question.
Taiwan can earn a reputation of being a good Samaritan by offering its own successful experience in democratization and economic development to its allies and friends. In the long run, democracy-building provides a common ground and a solid foundation for Taiwan to explore deeper and better bilateral relations with other countries. Unless Beijing can change its political system overnight, Taiwan has a free and upper hand in exporting its proud product -- democracy.
Once political prisoners under the KMT authoritarian era, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his party present a convincing role model for politically underdeveloped countries. Chen is already an international icon. If he cooperates with the ICDF and the nation's NGOs get involved, Taiwan can go a long way by integrating democracy-building programs into its foreign aid policy and practice.