At a Time When Global Democracy Is in Retreat Taiwan Offers Hope
Last month The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released its 10th annual Democracy Index. The Index ranks 167 nations around the world on adherence to democratic norms using five general criteria:
- Electoral Process & Pluralism
- Functioning of Government
- Political Participation
- Political Culture
- Civil Liberties
The results were sobering. 2017 marks the worst decline in global democracy in years, not one region profiled recorded an improvement in its average score. Countries that were once considered stable democracies have reduced media freedom; hamstrung their judiciaries and weakened and sometimes dissolved their legislatures. Elected autocrats have repealed constitutionally-guaranteed term limits giving themselves what amount to lifetime leadership tenures. The United States is not immune to this global wave. A recent YouGov poll finds that 14 percent of American millennials would prefer to live in a fascist or communist country than in a capitalist one demonstrating either a woeful misunderstanding of the freedoms they currently enjoy or an alarming and inexplicable willingness to surrender them.
Against this bleak backdrop, Taiwan serves as a democratic beacon of hope. The Canadian Fraser Institute’s Human Freedom Index records an increase in Taiwan’s freedom during 2017 and notes that the only Asian territory where freedom is more robust is in Hong Kong. Taiwan placed 13th in the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index placing the island democracy above the regional average. Taiwan’s score in the EIU Index is 7.72 placing it toward the more democratic end of the ‘flawed democracy’ category. The island democracy outperformed the United States in Electoral Process & Pluralism; Functioning of Government and Civil Liberties. The U.S. also received a ‘flawed democracy’ ranking with an overall score of 7.98. Taiwan’s trend toward freedom extends to intellectual property protections. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Intellectual Property (IP) Index, Taiwan’s overall score increased from 20.59 to 23.85. Read more about the 2018 IP Index here. The Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) has launched IP-focused traditional and social media campaigns on the importance of respecting online copyrights and TIPO’s Intellectual Property Rights on Campus Task Force conducts outreach activities at universities and schools to underscore the importance of IP protections.
Taiwan’s steadfast commitment to democracy is all the more remarkable because its democratic traditions developed so recently. Taiwan held its first legislative elections in 1991 and directly elected its first president in 1996. Since then this stable democracy has had three peaceful transfers of presidential power with chief executives representing both major parties – the KMT and DPP. Taiwan’s constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. With hundreds of privately owned newspapers, radio stations and other outlets, Freedom House considers Taiwan to have one of the freest and most robust media landscapes in Asia. To recognize the unique place that Taiwan occupies as a vital democracy in an increasingly important strategic neighborhood, this past summer the ALEC Task Force on International Relations adopted a Resolution in Support of Strengthening and Deepening the Relationships between Taiwan and the States of the United States which can be found here.
The strength of Taiwan’s democratic institutions is constantly tested by cross-strait tensions with China. Since the election of President Tsai two years ago, China’s President Xi Jinping has signaled a greater emphasis on eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty and pulling the island democracy into China’s orbit. Chinese strategic bombers have conducted “island encirclement” flights and have exerted pressure on Taiwan’s allies to switch allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. This effort showed modest success this summer with Panama replacing its longstanding diplomatic recognition of Taiwan with recognition of China. Washington has responded with bipartisan initiatives to promote visits to Taiwan by U.S. warships, civilians and high-level Administration officials. The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka and Center for American Progress’ Vikram Singh authored an op-ed (It’s Time for the World’s Democracies to Stand Up for What They Believe In) where they call for “a renewed premium to bind democratic nations.” They suggest rewarding “shared commitments to the rule of law … [and] Rational investment in mutual friends for mutual benefit…” Taiwan has upheld rule of law and democratic values in the face of significant geostrategic challenges and has definitely earned America’s continued support. As Pletka and Singh observe, such an arrangement just might prove mutually beneficial.