Stop blaming China
I travel regionally from Taiwan for business almost every week, mostly to China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. Each time I have to battle the creaking and poorly thought through services that ferry visitors into Taiwan from the tatty airport to the shabby shuttle bus, along dilapidated and partly finished streets to Taoyuan HSR, past litter, cracked pavements, muddy fields and roads to nowhere.
Perhaps because I have lived here so long I’ve mostly stopped noticing this decay, but for some reason this time I once again had a “first impression” of Taiwan from a business traveler’s perspective, and it was not good at all.
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is the worst major airport in Asia. The current upgrade will not change this status. Extraordinarily, there is still no rail link to the capital. To take a taxi to the HSR station, one is told, impolitely (every time), to wait while several taxis idle right in front of you. These, you see, are only for the high fares into Taipei. The passenger with the urgent train to catch has to hang around for minutes in the cold or heat while a taxi is summoned from a car park.
I have never been to another airport where there is no line and I still have to wait for a cab! Thoughtlessness, a complete absence of the friendliness that marks Taiwan and a lack of sophistication and pride: These are pretty much your first experiences. How can a country that holds one of the world’s largest foreign reserves and talks of the importance of investment and tourism have allowed itself to fall into such backward disrepair?
The media and politicians have occasionally touted Taiwan as a future “Switzerland of Asia.” We have one already — Singapore. At the moment, what is the point of Taiwan? Where does it fit in the scheme of things and what leader is articulating this? As a businessperson, how could I argue for the foreign investment that Taiwan so badly needs for job growth, particularly for graduates, when there is such inadequate infrastructure?
The competition is surging ahead to the level where Taiwan’s destiny seems to point increasingly to that of the Philippines: A future of democratic corruption, low growth, election fatigue and a revolving door of insiders who take turns to feed from the trough.
Taiwan’s problems get explained away far too easily. Yes, China makes life difficult, but the nation can still tackle its demographic issue to bolster its domestic market and future tax revenues, boost productivity through improved education of its human capital, protect its environment to capture the huge potential for tourism and belatedly focus on first-tier infrastructure to capture investment and jobs.
In this sense, perhaps the greatest damage China has caused to Taiwan is its availability as a convenient excuse for failure. Snap out of it.