Taiwan’s maturing democracy is an “amazing development” that will ultimately have a very significant influence on China, US academic Larry Diamond said on Monday.
“To walk the streets of Taiwan is to experience a very pluralistic, dynamic, liberal democracy,” Diamond said.
“It is a very appealing society,” he added.
A senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Diamond was addressing a conference on “Taiwan’s Maturing Democracy” at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
He said that in the long run, Taiwan was sure to have a pro--democracy impact on China.
That impact, he said, was one reason that he had become a “passionate advocate” of cross-strait cultural and social exchanges.
Visits to the nation by Chinese tourists would “wind up as one of the most subversive factors for authoritarian Communist rule of China,” Diamond said.
Shelley Rigger, a professor of East-Asian politics at Davidson College, North Carolina, said Taiwan’s democracy was “still in the process” of maturing and that it was “very much a work in progress.”
“Things don’t fit together quite right yet,” she said.
Rigger said that Taiwan had not just a “critical citizenry,” it had a “cranky citizenry.”
This was not a good time to be a politician in Taiwan, she said, adding that no one was popular.
At least two factors helped to explain the feeling of “unsettledness and upheaval” in Taiwan and the inability of political actors to find positions that were “meaningful and desirable” to the electorate, she added.
One factor was the continuing evolution of the political parties within the democracy and the other was the problem of cross-strait relations hanging “like a cloud” over Taiwanese politics.
“It’s a cloud that people have tried to blow away, or get out from under, but it follows wherever they go,” she said. “The cloud brings pressure and uncertainty.”
According to Rigger, Taiwanese politics still lacked a clear “left” and “right” distinction.
Both major parties represented a range of interests across the economic spectrum that resulted in them being “paralyzed” on how far they could go on economic issues.
At the same time the question of “national identity” was becoming increasingly problematic for both parties, she said.
Especially among young Taiwanese, a strong Taiwanese identity was being accompanied by a “pro-engagement attitude” toward China, Rigger said.
However, even if people agreed ideologically, it did not mean they shared a view on how to reach shared goals.
“Taiwan is in an incredibly tight spot and it is getting tighter all the time,” she said. “Figuring out how to deliver continued economic prosperity and good relations with China without conceding much, if anything, in terms of Taiwan’s autonomy and sovereignty, is a very tall order.”
Among others speaking at the conference were Nigel Li (李念祖), adjunct professor at Soochow University; Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), professor at National Sun Yat-sen University; Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮), professor at National Taiwan University; CTiTV news anchor Erich Shi-wei Shih (史哲維); Eric Yu (俞振華), assistant professor at National Chengchi University (NCCU); Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Bush; and Ho Szu-yin (何思因), professor at NCCU.