American lore touts the nation as a “city on a hill” — a democracy shining brightly for the world to see and emulate. Yet, Americans should look to Taiwan — an island in the sea — for a model of the civic values and national spirit central to a strong democracy.
It is true that both democracies exhibit room for improvement. Partisanship and sensationalism, in particular, threaten political stability in Taipei and Washington.
My tour of Taiwan — as part of the Mosaic Taiwan 2018 fellowship program sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — has evidenced that Americans can learn from Taiwan’s approach to stemming the distrust and apathy facing democratic progress worldwide.
The US should study Taiwan’s reliance on diplomacy, insistence on refining its democratic institutions and celebration of democratic participation.
Withstanding the idiosyncrasies associated with Taiwan’s position in the international community, democracies around the world should study its democratic best practices.
The maturity and vibrancy of its democracy, although younger than most, is often more advanced than the democracies that fail to formally recognize the nation.
Its democracy is strengthening at a time otherwise defined by global democratic regression.
Its diplomatic corps practices the exchange of goods, ideas and people, a superior approach to international relations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs manages extensive efforts to increase people-to-people connections with democracies worldwide, securing educational and professional exchanges that empower Taiwanese to travel and contribute to other democracies.
The government has lowered obstacles to the exchange of ideas by negotiating visa agreements and memorandums of understanding with several nations.
A 2010 agreement with Canada on youth mobility facilitates the exchange of young workers.
Taiwanese pursue informal exchanges as well, exhibiting one of the world’s highest overnight stay rates.
Taiwan demonstrates the democratic humility and dexterity to identify institutions that require improvement.
With government backing, the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy offers grants to nurture non-governmental organizations in diverse communities, laying the seeds for an even stronger democracy.
Taiwan places a high priority on membership and participation in international forums such as the World Health Assembly.
Although these organizations wrongly deny Taiwan the chance to contribute its knowledge and expertise to global progress, Taiwanese remain devout democrats. The nation is home to robust civil discourse, with at least 14 TV stations and four newspapers.
Voters, perhaps energized by the lively debates held on TV and in editorial pages, act on opportunities to voice their opinions — the nation boasts a 67 percent voting turnout rate.
High-ranking diplomats will tell you that the democratic ethos defines the nation’s reputation internationally.
Travelers to Taiwan quickly sense the freedom of expression and independent spirit that pervades its civic society.
Democracies are buckling under the pressures of income inequality, populism and globalization, but an island in the sea — Taiwan — provides sore eyes with an uplifting view of what democracy can look like in the 21st century.
In Taiwan, everyone can see that where freedom of expression and civic participation exist, democracy thrives.
Kevin Frazier is a Masters of Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government visiting Taiwan through the Mosaic Taiwan 2018 fellowship program.
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