VIEW THIS PAGE “The predominant impression I have of Taiwan is of a prosperous, peaceful, vibrant, inventive, friendly, cosmopolitan, and extremely interesting place. Moreover, the development of a democracy that is both recognizable to democrats all around the world, and at the same time very much a reflection of the local culture, is an important dimension of what I feel about Taiwan.”
Amit Pandya is, among many other things, a passionate enthusiast for Taiwan. He’s an international lawyer and South Asia expert currently working at Washington’s Henry L. Stimson Center, a non-profit, non-partisan institution devoted to enhancing international peace and security through analysis and outreach. He just edited a new book, Regional Voices: Transnational Challenges. Concentrating as it does on Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Africa and the Middle East, the book doesn’t specifically cover Taiwan. It’s often mentioned, however, and so I first asked Pandya how the nation fitted into the broader picture.
“First let me say what the broader picture is,” he replied. “The book sought to gain insight into how knowledgeable people from the area it covered thought about issues such as threats from environmental degradation and climate change, public health crises and pandemic diseases, maritime security and resources, food security, trade, water shortages or conflicts, demographic shifts, competition for energy and natural resources, terrorism, transnational crime, and other emerging cross-border or transnational problems.
“Our work was based on a belief that effective US policy towards particular countries and regions, and towards specific global issues, required an understanding of the perspectives, priorities and approaches of societies as well as governments in these regions.
“As for Taiwan, the Western powers and Taiwan’s neighbors, seeking to accommodate the sensitivities of the mainland Chinese government, have long made the mistake of pretending that Taiwan can be ignored, or at best marginalized in diplomacy and in the making of international policy. When we started looking at a range of transnational threats and challenges, and the prospects of international cooperation in responding to essentially international threats, it became apparent immediately that Taiwan is as essential as any other Asian nation.
“Taiwan is as much the object or victim of these challenges or threats as anywhere else. It has to be at least as much part of the necessary solutions as any other nation because to exclude from collective responses any large society that suffers from problems such as SARS, Avian Flu or marine pollution is to offer only an incomplete solution. Incomplete solutions that leave the problem partially unsolved threaten the effectiveness of solutions adopted by other nations.
“Indeed, I think that a strong case can be made that Taiwan is more important to the potential solutions to transnational threats than its size would suggest. It enjoys far higher levels of education, scientific research, technology and transparency than almost any other society in its region, on a par with Japan, Singapore and possibly South Korea. Education, scientific research, technology and transparency have been shown to be essential to the development of solutions to the technical and political challenges posed by the inter-relationship between rapid economic growth, environmental change, environmental degradation, social change and political instability.