On Thursday and Friday last week, the Digital Innovation Forum, hosted by the APEC Business Advisory Council, took place at the Taipei International Convention Center.
Invited speakers included Taiwanese and overseas experts who have made innovative contributions to the field of network applications.
One speaker was former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves. As president, Ilves led Estonia’s efforts to develop an open government and find ways to overcome obstacles in the nation’s difficult geopolitical environment.
Ilves’ experiences could prove beneficial for Taiwan.
Estonia’s population is only 1.32 million. The nation regained its independence when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Since then, Estonians have made good use of their late-developing advantage in technology.
During Ilves’ 10 years in office, he led Estonia’s transformation into a global model of digital governance. Located on the doorstep of a powerful neighbor, Estonia has been willing to defend and empower itself, leveraging technology to develop innovative businesses and quickly growing its economy to become a developed nation.
Taiwan has a similar geographical position to Estonia’s: They both have unfriendly, powerful nations as neighbors. Taiwan’s existing foundation in information and communications technology makes it possible to achieve the same kind of industrial development. In the past few years, Taiwan has also oriented itself toward having an open government, although its achievements have been few.
Last week’s forum provided an opportunity to learn from other nations’ experiences, but are we in Taiwan willing, at a national level, to apply Estonia’s experience of using technology to govern a reborn nation?
Having spent a decade at the helm of Estonia’s reforms, Ilves is the best person to advise us on this.
Taiwan could learn from Estonia’s experience in developing an “e-residency” plan.
Launched in 2014 under Ilves’ leadership, the plan welcomes individuals and companies to become non-permanent residents of Estonia. The nation gains access to simple professional assistance, while the residents identify with Estonia in a conceptual way, without having any obligations.
Thus far, about 40,000 individuals and 5,000 companies have become “e-residents” of Estonia, including a number of world-famous experts. Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became an “e-resident” of Estonia in 2015.
This kind of identity as a virtual resident fits well with the features of the Internet world. People who meet online and find that they get on well can form communities where they exchange views and gradually develop into civic forces — and what is true for individuals also applies to nations.
Small nations that are overlooked by the world’s mainstream media can seek recognition that transcends national boundaries. Joining traditional international organizations under a national title is no longer the only way for nations to gain influence. In the age of the Internet, using broader and more flexible definitions of sovereignty and citizenship can garner recognition in the international community. The “e-residency” concept could be an especially valuable lesson for Taiwan to learn.
Estonia’s system of governance is not only significant because of its level of implementation, but also for its historical significance. Compared with dictatorial or oligarchic societies, the Internet brings liberation and autonomy, as well as sharing and cooperation.
Taiwan’s freedom and democracy are precisely the fertile ground that nurtures a networked society.
Taiwanese non-governmental organizations invited knowledgeable people from around the world to visit Taiwan. In doing so, the nation demonstrated how the Internet can nuture creativity.
Meanwhile, China is taking its use of the Internet to the opposite extreme.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government is using the far-reaching capabilities of the Internet and digital technology to maintain law and order, and to keep everyone under control.
Overseas, Beijing is using digital networking to exert sharp power, sharpen its trade weapons and disrupt the world order. This kind of closed and destructive networked society based on a monolithic value system goes against human nature and is a dead end.
Taiwan’s and China’s choices about how to apply technology, and their different attitudes toward a digital society, can be compared with Estonia’s story of building a networked nation.
The forum has shown Taiwan some options for repositioning itself in the Internet world.
Hochen Tan is a retired civil servant.
Translated by Julian Clegg
Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law and a number of other democratic and human rights issues continue to strain relations between the UK and China. The tense situation has significantly decreased the likelihood of British Royal Navy ships being able to continue their practice of docking in Hong Kong’s harbor for resupply — a not altogether unpredictable development. In a Nov. 19 online speech to parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier would next year lead a British and allied task group to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia. Johnson
President-elect Biden and his team soon will confront a raging pandemic, a severe economic crisis, demands for progress in addressing racial injustices, intensifying climate-induced crises, and strained relations with allies and partners in many parts of the world. They will be oriented to view China as America’s greatest geostrategic challenge, but not the most immediate threat to the health and prosperity of the American people. Amidst this daunting inheritance, US-Taiwan relations will stand out as a bright spot, an example of progress that should be sustained. There are strong reasons for optimism about the continued development of US-Taiwan relations in the
Americans tend to think of Vietnam as a war that split the US rather than as a country in today’s world. Vietnamese are of course way past that. The country does not have any US Electoral College votes, but if it did, they would be cast enthusiastically for US President Donald Trump. When I told a group of university students at a park in Ho Chi Minh City that I was from the US, they asked: “Do you know why we love Trump?” “Uhhh, is it because he hates China?” I asked back. “Yeah,” the group responded in unison. With a 1,000-year history of
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announced that Shih Cheng-ping (施正屏), a retired National Taiwan Normal University professor, who Beijing says is a spy, had been sentenced to four years in prison for espionage crimes. The news followed last week’s announcement by Beijing that it is compiling a “wanted list” of pro-independence “Taiwan secessionists” that would be used to “punish” those blacklisted under its national security laws. Taken together, the announcements show that Beijing’s Taiwan policy under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is becoming increasingly erratic, uncoordinated and poorly thought out, which raises serious questions about Xi’s leadership ability. Shih went missing