All governments are waging public relations campaigns to win popular opinion at home and abroad, as are many transnational corporations. This is particularly true of Taiwan, China, India, Japan and South Korea in this increasingly polarized world.
In this age when money talks louder than ever before, China has more channels and resources than other countries to provide a steady flow of information about its objectives and policies. It also appears to be well-placed to win friends and reshape global opinion over the Taiwan question.
Faced with this imbalance of power, Taiwan should pursue better and smarter official public relations to offer accurate information to foreign observers who might be disposed to take a more sympathetic view of the nation.
In particular, Taiwan’s democratization, its embrace of universal values and inclusive politics, and its gradual implementation of transitional justice should attract much international interest. The challenge is how to share the Taiwan story across formal and informal platforms.
A preliminary review of scholarship about Taiwan conducted by specialists in US and European universities reveals a discrepancy between insightful academic findings and their dissemination to the general public. There seems to be a stronger emphasis on Taiwanese history and culture than on its latest democratic accomplishments and cutting-edge technologies.
Therefore, the nation should use innovative methods to better communicate the Taiwan story.
One effective way is to draw on the experiences of Japan, South Korea and China to integrate general knowledge of Taiwan into school and university curricula. The goal is to make the Taiwan story a part of liberal arts education, not a special area of knowledge pursued by privileged elites in Ivy League schools.
Another way to improve media coverage of Taiwan in major newspapers is to arouse public curiosity about the nation. Conventional reporting about Taiwan appears to be sporadic and is usually tucked away in generic coverage on China. There is less interest in Taiwan’s efforts to transform its democracy, protect the environment and preserve its heritage.
If Taiwan is eager to be more visible on the global news landscape, it must nurture future opinion makers and leaders. The nation should create a Taiwanese equivalent of a Fulbright scholarship for international scholarly and cultural exchange.
At a time when Taiwanese universities and vocational colleges are faced with low enrollment, they should not only reach out to Chinese-speaking students from Hong Kong, Macau, China and Southeast Asia, but also open their doors to middle-class and low-income students in the West.
The skills gained by international students participating in Taiwan’s advanced educational system would expand their horizons, giving them first-hand experience of the nation and an appreciation of how it differs from other Chinese polities.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.
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