Mon, May 09, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China must learn from Taiwan's democracy

By Jerome Keating

As Chinese Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) sat down, pundits were questioning who needs who more? Does the aging Lien, who has never won a real election, need Hu to salvage his image and even keep in the game? Does Hu need Lien for public relations and to put pressure on President Chen Shui-bian(陳水扁)?

The real question, however, is at a deeper level. Does Taiwan need China or does China need Taiwan? My view? China needs Taiwan, hands down.

Let's forget about the fact that the People's Republic of China (PRC) needs Taiwan so its submarines and navy can have immediate blue water access.

Let's forget about the fact that China needs Taiwan to dominate travel between the East and South China Seas and so isolate Japan and the Koreas from their other Asian neighbors.

Let's forget about the fact that China needs the cash cow Taiwan, with its millions of Taiwanese investment dollars and businesses to help fuel its growing economy.

Let's forget about the fact that China needs Taiwan because foreign companies don't trust China's rule of law and intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, and so use Taiwan as a safe place for their R&D investments and access to China markets. Let's forget these many pragmatic reasons. The PRC needs Taiwan because of the "D" word.

Yes, the "D" word, democracy. Democracy is not antithetical to those of Chinese heritage. China needs Taiwan to show that democracy can and does work. It needs Taiwan to see that its people can be trusted with the right to vote.

Chinese can live by rule of law.

Chinese don't have to be treated like children, to be "protected" from themselves by a privileged hierarchical elite.

Chinese don't need their religion and beliefs controlled. The Falun Gong have never posed a threat to Taiwan's rule of law.

Chinese don't need their press muzzled. A free press and access to information and differing points of view have made Taiwan vibrant, not destructive.

Chinese don't need to be imprisoned if they question or challenge the government and its judgment. Taiwan's many vocal dissident minorities freely stroll the streets.

Contrary to PRC propaganda, chaos is not the result of the above freedoms.

Taiwan has shown that free people with free elections and a free press can live harmoniously under the rule of law even in little matters. When Taiwan imposed a motorcycle helmet law, many foreigners said, "It won't work, Chinese think the law is for other people." But it worked.

When Taipei imposed a strict separation of garbage and trash, foreigners said, "Chinese won't go into such detail for the environment." But they did.

Believe it or not, Taiwanese have and continue to show the way for those of Chinese heritage.

So maybe then, after more than a half a century since the People's Liberation Army "liberated" those in China, it's time to start trusting the people.

Does China need Taiwan? You bet.

China needs Taiwan to understand its own people and culture.

Jerome Keating has lived in Taiwan for 16 years and is co-author of Island in the Stream, A Quick Case Study of Taiwan's Complex History.

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