Editorial: Rediscovering our national drive

Thu, Jan 25, 2001 - Page 8

South Korea and Taiwan both began national policies of development and reconstruction after World War II. As a result of similar development paths and models, they have become the inspiration for comparative research by scholars while their accomplishments have received wide international recognition.

For example, South Korean development is unique in that it thrives on a "culture of hate." Taiwan's vitality also has a unique nature -- "colonial dynamics," which was essentially a counterattack against foreign subjugation.

The hatred of the Koreans is the product of both foreign enemies and domestic struggles. It has emerged as a collective social consciousness, driving individual and national accomplishments and leading the nation out of poverty, humiliation and insecurity. This collective consciousness was the main propellent of South Korea's progress.

Facing enormous pressure from China, as well as decades of suppression by strongman politics, the Taiwanese have countered with pragmatism and flexibility, producing fascinating momentum for growth under stress.

The unique developments in South Korea and Taiwan prove the validity of the saying "countries without enemies and external threats would remain ruinous"(無敵國外患者,國恆亡). These words would be useful to any country. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, an Arab scholar strongly criticized the US as "an country that cannot survive without an enemy." Even a superpower needs enemies, let alone Taiwan and South Korea.

So perhaps without its mighty enemy across the Strait and without a half century of oppression by the KMT, Taiwan would never have accomplished the economic and democratic developments the benefits of which we enjoy today. It is ironic to think that the people of Taiwan have the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT -- whose influence would generally be thought of as malign -- to thank for playing their respective roles of external threat and internal enemy so adroitly, providing the Taiwanese with the momentum and motivation for development.

And the irony deepens when one considers how, after last year's peaceful transfer of power in Taiwan, the momentum for growth began to vanish. In the past eight months, the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration's performance has been shaky. The main reasons for this include a collective anxiety emerging after the relaxation of a long-imposed suppression, and a sense of aimlessness resulting from losing traditional paternalistic leadership.

From an economic standpoint, Taiwan's society is so rich that people believe that "wealth is king." People have forgotten how hard-working and thrifty we once were. Even more, people no longer know the meaning of politeness and humility.

Facing the beginning of the 21st century and the start of the Year of the Snake, a thought-provoking question for the people of Taiwan is: What should we do, now that we have lost our "colonial dynamics?" Do we have any new enemies to resist? Do we have any new values to pursue?

Of course China remains an enormous threat. The people of Taiwan shouldn't drop their guard simply because of the opening of the "small three links" (小三通), the lifting of the "no haste, be patient" (戒急用忍) policy and the growth in investment in China. As long as China remains hostile toward Taiwan, refusing to engage with Taiwan as an equal and trying to limit our international standing, we must not relax our vigilance toward this enemy. But while our external threat remains, our internal enemies are gone. Perhaps we need an economic recession to rediscover basic values. Let us hope, though, that this process of rediscovery doesn't come at too high a price.