Wed, Jul 05, 2017 - Page 8 News List

The Liberity Times Editorial: Navigating amid new technologies

How will Taiwan navigate the rough seas of new technological industries? A lack of vision and direction is making the answer more and more unclear.

US columnist and author Thomas Friedman tackled the problem while visiting Taiwan last month.

Noting that the nation used to be known as the “kingdom of computers,” Friedman said that the world has long since moved on into the mobile age, but Taiwanese businesses and commerce do not have a conspicuous presence in the realm of mobile e-commerce operations.

Major players like Apple, Tencent and Amazon have left their Taiwanese counterparts trailing far behind.

Friedman thinks that government departments have misjudged the impact of technological change and warned that Taiwan has at most 10 years to come up with policies that generate synergy and lead to progress, otherwise its remaining talent will say “goodbye.”

Friedman is the author of several books, including The Lexus and the Olive Tree — Understanding Globalization, The World Is Flat — A Brief History of the 21st Century and Hot, Flat, and Crowded — Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America.

His books provide in-depth accounts of scientific, technological and industrial trends and have become classic bestsellers all around the world. Although Taiwan is a small country with few resources, Friedman’s books have always presented it with the positive image of a country riding the crest of global technological industry.

In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman wrote of Taiwan in glowing terms, saying: “Taiwan is feared in Silicon Valley for its innovative prowess, connectivity and dynamic capitalist business culture that deftly exploits all this technology. If Taiwan were a stock, I’d buy it.”

The chapter from which that quote is taken is titled “Buy Taiwan, Hold Italy, Sell France,” showing that when Friedman wrote it, he saw Taiwan as being full of potential and hope.

Why, then, has Friedman delivered such a gloomy warning on his latest visit?

The glowing image the nation previously enjoyed was not mere wishful thinking on Friedman’s part. Taiwan did indeed create an economic miracle. More than two decades of double-digit economic growth made it a prosperous country of which it was said that “Taiwan is awash with money.” It became a role model for other developing countries.

In those days, Taiwan was determined to make a fortune. Its traditional manufacturing industry was so strong that the words “Made in Taiwan” became famous around the world. With the arrival of the computer age, the nation became an important base for assembly and subcontracting for worldwide customers, and a key link in their component supply chains.

When the 921 Earthquake struck in September 1999, the disruption it caused to production lines made the world realize Taiwan’s indispensable pivotal position in the global technology industry.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of its economic takeoff was that it was accompanied by advances in culture and civilization. Universal values of freedom and democracy supplanted the old authoritarian ideology, and became the motivation force for democratization and reforms that have built a Taiwanese identity.

The “hardware” of industry worked in tandem with the “software” of democracy. Material prosperity and legal reforms played complementary roles that helped it “come of age,” escaping from poverty and dictatorship and joining the ranks of enlightened nations.

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