President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was recently seen touting the results of an opinion poll that surveyed Taiwan's good image abroad, particularly with the EU's opinion leaders.
One can easily understand the importance of Taiwan's international reputation and its worldwide public relations battle with China, which is constantly trying to exclude Taiwan from as many international meetings and sports events as possible.
While there's no doubt that Europe's elite is aware of the progress Taiwan has made in terms of its democratization, it is at least as important to wonder what ordinary people in Europe think about Taiwan.
In a perfect world, Europeans should be the first to applaud Taiwan's transformation during the last 10 years. Free elections, respect for minorities and increasing women's role in the public sphere are all mainstream, fundamental concepts in the European political landscape, especially in Northern parts. Eastern European countries have also made this transition at pretty much the same time as Taiwan.
It seems natural that they would champion Taiwan's cause if they knew about it. And of course knowledge and support at the ground level would also influence European leaders when the time comes to make decisions favorable to Taiwan.
And first of all, what do Europeans know about Taiwan? Coverage of the presidential elections, such as the last one in 2004, is about the only time that Europeans [briefly] hear about the democratic nature of Taiwan. The rest of the time, tension between Taiwan and China regularly crops up in the news. It is explained by Taiwan's desire for independence.
It is safe to say that Taiwan is still better known for its economic progress [the ubiquitous "Made in Taiwan"] and its difficult relationship with China than for its democratic and societal achievements. It is not widely known that along with South Korea, Taiwan is the only real democracy in Asia. Nor has the Taiwanese government done much to change this.
Even though some efforts have been made in Taiwan to make it a world-class tourist destination, there has been no major international campaign on the scale of Malaysia's, for example (with the now famous slogan "Malaysia, Truly Asia").
Of course it's not easy for Taiwan to attend international exhibitions due to the pressures China constantly applies to have Taiwan excluded. But in the age of the information super-highway a physical presence is not always necessary to get your message across.
The international coverage of Taiwanese elections should be much wider, with Taiwan inviting more foreign correspondents. Also why doesn't Taiwan have an efficient English-language news channel to counter China's CCTV-9, as well as an English language press agency like Xinhua (which also distributes news in French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic)?
The information field could very well be where the battle to secure Taiwan's future is won.
All this could be crucial because the values embodied by modern Taiwanese society are held close to the heart of all Western societies. Taiwan's democratic system, at the national and local level, should be publicized more.
The move by Taiwan to recognize Aboriginal languages as official languages resonates in countries like France and Spain where recognition and teaching of regional languages has been a hotly debated topic in the last decade.