By Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao & Sana Hashmi
United States President Joe Biden-led Summit for Democracy was held on December 9-10 in a virtual format. This much-speculated and awaited summit was well attended by many leading democracies of the world. As one of the flourishing democracies, Taiwan was also seen in attendance, represented by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister and Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States. Biden’s Summit for Democracy was driven by the idea that in the face of populism, authoritarianism, and other forms of non-democratic systems looming large, it is critical to keep ‘democratic’ flock together.
The salience of this summit lies in a deeper understanding on part of the Biden administration that democracy is not just a form of government, it is a goal in itself- a value that must be cherished, preserved and celebrated. It is this vision of democracy as a norm that has seemingly rattled that even authoritarian countries call themselves democracies.
That said, unlike other political systems, democracy is also a way of life- a work in progress, which is why it needs sustained attention and careful nurturing to make it more resilient.
It is ideas like these that are consistently echoed in Taiwan’s policy circles. For instance, during the 2021 Open Parliament Forum held in Taiwan in early December, where President Tsai Ing-wen herself reiterated Taiwan’s commitment to work together with liberal democracies for forging a stronger democratic alliance for bolstering collective democratic resilience and ensuring realization of open governance.
These goals were also duly highlighted during this year’s Yushan Forum, when Lai Ching-te, the Vice President of Taiwan systematically articulated three principal priorities that would shape Taiwan’s external cooperation in the post-pandemic world: recovering from the pandemic, restoring economy, and safeguarding democracy. These goals are not only in sync with global priorities but also complement the objectives set forth in Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy (NSP), launched in 2016 to bring Asia closer to Taiwan and vice-versa. The NSP is aimed to be a pivotal tool to engage the like-minded democracies in the region.
Focusing on recovery (post-pandemic), revival (economy), and safeguarding (democracy) are meant to deal with contemporary challenges. This might also help find a sustainable way in establishing a development-oriented regional engagement framework. It is noteworthy that the post-pandemic world would be more invested in some of these areas viz. health diplomacy and collaboration in the medical sector, climate change mitigation, and developing sustainable and resilient supply chains. Taiwan is already proving its efficacy as a viable platform for the semiconductor industry. The United States and its friends in the region- particularly India, Japan and Australia- have been proactively exploring possibilities of creating a resilient supply chain mechanism. With its technological knowhow, and shared interests and concerns, Taiwan fits perfectly in this agenda. Greater interactions between Taiwan and EU on the technology cooperation front, stimulated by the latter’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region makes Taiwan a desired partner of fellow democracies.
While democracies suffered at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, they bounced back showcasing the resilient and people-centric nature of their political systems. Despite their apparent flaws and criticisms, democracies have fared much better than others in dealing with the pandemic, especially in terms of maintaining a balance between peace, prosperity, good governance, transparency, and efficiency. The world has woken up to the perils of authoritarianism during the times of COVID-19 pandemic. It has also made the world realize the virtues of a democratic system.
However, political resilience needs to be complemented by strong elements of economic and social resilience as well. There needs to be greater consultations and cooperation amongst democracies in restoring economic stability in the post-pandemic world through calibrated and smoother transition. The road to post-pandemic regional economic recovery is not one-way; it is a common challenge that has to be tackled collectively as the success hinges on sustained corrective steps of regional nature. As an industrialized democracy, Taiwan could play an important role. When countries are trying to reduce dependence on China and establish supply chain resilience, it is important for Taiwan to see the larger picture and further advance economic interests.
The surge in COVID-19 infections through Omicron variant has alarmed countries to not get complacent with the situation. One big lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that nobody is safe until everybody is safe. As colloquial as it might sound, this is where the key to the post-pandemic world lies. This goal, however, cannot be realized without collective efforts.
During the pandemic, Taiwan elucidated the resilient nature of its foreign policy. In the early days of the pandemic, when countries across the world were struggling with the COVID-19 spread, Taiwan, with its exceptionally low number of cases, decided to reach out to friends. As a part of its health diplomacy, Taiwan donated surgical face masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, oxygen cylinders and concentrators to COVID-affected countries.
While Taiwan is doing its bit and showcasing its resilience in meeting the goals of recovery from the pandemic, revival of economy, and safeguarding of democracy,it cannot afford to keep its eyes off the challenges posed to democracies by authoritarianism. It is important for liberal democracies to acknowledge that they are facing similar challenges and Taiwan is an indispensable partner and engagement with it presents a viable solution to the persisting problems. Deft diplomacy is in order as such transnational challenges demand joint efforts by liberal democracies.
(Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao is Chairman, Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and Adjunct Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica. He served as National Policy Advisor to the President of Taiwan between 1996 and 2006 and is currently Senior Advisor to the President of Taiwan.
Sana Hashmi is a Visiting Fellow at Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and former consultant with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
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