Saturday, May 05, 2007

Economist Diary on Democracy in Taiwan and Hong Kong

My friend Walter passed me this link to an Economist diary about democracy in Taiwan and Hong Kong:

IT IS always good to find old acquaintances doing well. When I used to visit him in Taipei in the late 1980s and early 1990s Chiou I-jen seemed the epitome of Taiwanese radicalism. A long-haired, scruffy and rather intense young man, he would work out of the cramped, chaotic offices of the then newly-legal opposition Democratic Progressive Party, and he would shock me with the fervour of his pro-independence views—still, at that time, tantamount to sedition.

Today I call on him in the eerily empty caverns inside Taipei's massive red-brick presidential palace. He is the president’s secretary-general, having served previously as national security adviser, and he is a big behind-the-scenes figure in Taiwan's politics. People are gratifyingly impressed that he has spared time to talk to me.

He has spruced himself up these days, favouring elegant black suits with Chinese collars. He is more positive about China's role in Hong Kong than anyone else I have spoken to in Taipei, crediting China with making a big effort to show that "one country, two systems" works, partly as a means of putting pressure on Taiwan. The effort, however, is doomed. Taiwan's people, as he says, have only one question: "why do I need it?" Indeed, who wants a promise of autonomy if you are enjoying de facto independence? The Hong Kong model, he says, has failed to persuade Taiwan.
Long, well written, and full of interesting observations.


channing said...

Nice post. He's got a very vivid article going, but I wonder if he has any specific details on how Taipei is "run by democracy" as opposed to HKSAR--because that's the boldest statement he makes but he does not elaborate after that one sentence. There are plenty of counterexamples to Taipei/Taiwan democracy, such as the renaming airport and memorials, Suhua highway, foreign worker rights, flip-flopping international diplomacy, etc.

IMO I can better sum up the difference without using the word "democracy": HKSAR govt. is a lame duck that struggles to get anything at all done; Taipei/Taiwan govt. is a squabble house that beats upon its own politics more than real Taiwan issues. In terms of ability to serve the people, I don't think there's a clear winner as of 2007.

Anonymous said...

Channing, you are full of shit. How does renaming stuff that was named after a dictator that a majority of Taiwan does not like act as a counter-example to democracy in Taiwan? I don't even know what you mean by that. Do you mean... failure of democracy? Not that your examples make any sense (for the record--I am against Suhua Gao and for foreign workers rights), but democracy is a system that most people think generates the relatively best outcome (and is prone to failure).

An example of where the will of the people is not being properly represented is that campaign money in Taiwan is a black box and even worse than a black box is that one of the parties has huge amounts of assets that it uses to subsidize its campaigns.

Anyways, here's my favorite line in the whole diary, a huge slam against the Chinese KMT and the pro-Blue media:
"The KMT’s chairman, Lian Chan, was ingratiating himself in Beijing this week (misrepresenting a headline in The Economist in the process, saying we had accused the DPP of waging “Cultural Revolution” in Taiwan)."

Translation: "You asses tried to misuse a headline in our fine magazine, and we are calling you on it because we know exactly what we meant by that and it wasn't what you pretended it to be." Nice, very nice.

channing said...

Foul and provocative language aside, my point was there are things that aren't democratically decided. How to draw the line between serving people's needs and tedious pettiness is one facet of effective governance. If you still feel that I'm a steaming pile of garbage, then I'm sorry.

One thing I've experienced with blue bashers is that they tend to become emotional and angered easily, often accusing me of supporting Communism (who IS communist, anyway?) and surrender of Taiwan (to whom? Does China even know what to do about TW anymore?). I've received physical threats for merely stating my dissatisfactions with certain pan-green politicians' performance. When emotion overrides reason, it's scary and it strengthens our [unfortunate] stereotypes. Blogger Michael here has been a pleasant exception.

A more effective discussion would include what person A did/does/will do versus what person B did not do. Put another way, I perceive the aggression I'm receiving from you as undemocratic, because my freedom of expression and choice is threatened. And Taiwan loves "freedom," right?