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The Taiwanese Miracle

Today, Taiwan first of all stands for amazing economic success, which pushed the country to the forefront of the Asian economic miracle, as one of the Asian Tigers, alongside South Korea and Japan.
But what many of us don’t know is that this economic miracle has a history of political survival and development which is at least as interesting as that of its economic development.
The Taiwanese lesson is not, as many may be tempted to believe, merely the lesson of the highest standards of living in Asia after Japan, but also a tale rich in historical significance for Romanian readers.

How the Taiwanese identity was built

A frequent misconception is that the history of Taiwan begins only in 1949, with the establishment of the Republic of China by General Chiang Kai-shek. By no means so. The Taiwanese identity had been built long before, ever since 1624, when the Dutch East India Company settled here. They found an interesting population, with impressive traditions and a vibrant cultural life. The Portuguese also arrived here, attracted by rumours of richness, and give the island a name that remains well-known to this day: Ilha Formosa – Beautiful Island. In 1662, the island saw its first contact with mainland China, which was invaded by the Manchu people, so part of the old mainland Chinese administration was forced to take refuge on the island, accompanied by an army led by Jheng Chen Gong.
In 1683 the direct Manchu rule over the island is established, after  Taiwan was invaded by continental Chinese troops. But the Manchu rule was short-lived, as China faced major domestic weaknesses that make Japan the main beneficiary of Manchu China.
In 1894 Japan attacks the Chinese Army in the Korean Peninsula, wins a landslide victory and, under the Treaty of Simonosheki, it takes over the Korean Peninsula and the Formosa Island (today’s Taiwan). The Japanese rule led to the development of a local intellectual and economic elite. Economic development was impressive, with agriculture, communications and constructions witnessing an outstanding growth.
At the end of World War II, Taiwan already had a special economic and political status, and in 1943, in the Declaration of Cairo, the US President, Franklin Roosevelt, the British Premier W. Churchill and President-general of China, Chiang Kai-shek, agreed that at the end of the conflict Taiwan would lawfully become part of China.

A general loses a country, but wins a nation

In September 1945, when Japan surrendered to the Allies, General Chiang Kai-shek had enough reasons to be happy: he had managed to keep the Japanese at bay for eight years (1937-1945), had reunited China and gave fresh hopes to the people, through a reform programme and a Western-style party: Kuomintang (KMT- the Nationalist Party).
But what the General didn’t know was that the Soviet Union was already making plans to get control over China. To divert his attention, Stalin suggested the signature of a Treaty of Friendship with China, and the General was deceived into accepting the poisoned apple.
Meanwhile, two million soldiers were armed and trained by the Soviets in Mongolia and Manchuria, which had been occupied by the USSR at the end of the war, as Japan had fallen. As Chiang Kai-shek was sending his troops at home and preparing for ambitious land reforms, USSR was preparing to strike, through the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong. The 1948 communist attack was hard and fast: from the Korean Peninsula to the Mongolian desert, armoured and cavalry units backed by USSR dealt a terrible blow at Kuomintang. In 1949, the defeat was inevitable, and two million supporters of Kuomintang, along with the remaining troops of General Chiang Kai-shek and the Parliament of China took refuge in Taiwan. The General had lost a country, but won a nation: Taiwan.

The dream of return

The General remained haunted by the dream of re-conquering China, until his death in 1975. He wanted the name of the state on the Taiwan Island to be the Republic of China. He kept preparing for his return to China, maintained a Chinese government and parliament for China as a whole. Moreover, he would not accept China’s new borders, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mongolia.
In 1971, when Richard Nixon initiated the rapprochement with Beijing, China’s rightful seat in the Security Council was taken over from the government in Taipei by the one in Beijing. It is then that the General gave his famous speech, “The sky is too small for two Suns,” and withdrew from the United Nations. Death came as liberation for the General in 1975.
Although he had focused entirely on China, the General placed Taiwan on the path of economic success: economic freedom, aid from the USA, a daring land reform and the Programme of 10 Major Projects, which paved the way for a modern infrastructure—all these contributed to the Taiwanese miracle.

Towards democracy and development

The 1975-1985 decade was a time of fast development, which turned Taiwan into an outstanding example of economic progress. The secrets of a strong and prosperous Taiwan included State-funded loans, supported given to ten major private banks, an export-centred economy and amazing performances in the farming sector.
Since 1988, Taiwan has kept firm on the path of fast democratisation. Today, it already has a track record of 20 years of free elections and vibrant parliamentary activity, which made Freedom House rank it, in 2007, as the best functioning democracy in Asia, even better than Japan.
The national reserve is USD 290 billion, the gross domestic product per capita is USD 15,291, and the four per cent unemployment rate is the lowest in Asia.
Today, Taiwan has a functioning democracy, free press, a vigorous political life and, thanks to all these, a middle class that covers over 48 per cent of the total population.
The obsession with China has virtually faded out from Taiwan’s political life. The new President, Ma Ying-jeou, announced a new foreign policy track, dubbed “flexible,” which eliminates tensions with China.
In fact, air connections between the two states have been resumed, contacts between the inhabitants of Taiwan and China are no longer prohibited, Taiwan has invested over USD 200 billion in the Chinese economy, which was one of the chief factors contributing to China’s economic growth.
Taiwan has taken part in this year’s Olympic Games, and medium-level delegations of the two countries have met several times this year. The time of tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait seems to be over.

Romania-Taiwan: amazing similarities

What astonishes Romanian observers is the similarity between Taiwan and Romania in terms of national history. Both have a population of about 23 million, advanced cultures, both stayed for quite a long time in the shadow of a threatening neighbour (Russia in the case of Romania, China for Taiwan), both find support in their cooperation with the United States, in the NATO accession for Romania and with the USA directly for Taiwan, both shifted to democracy in 1989, both witnessed a shift in power in 2000 (the return of the Social Democratic Party in power in Romania, after the C.D.R. government, and the assumption of power by the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan) and a new change in 2008, when the Nationalist Kuomintang party came back in power in Taipei and a change in government occurred in Romania. Unfortunately, we are still far from Taiwan’s economic vitality, but Romania may become a Black Sea Tiger, if it learns from the Taiwanese experience: infrastructure, support for exports, investments in culture and technology, honesty and hard work.

Taiwan–a secure future

Close to 60 years since its establishment, Taiwan is about to become a member of the United Nations. It is already a member of several UN agencies, it provides humanitarian and development aid to 17 countries, and President Ma Ying-jeou has already made remarkable headway towards the recognition of the Taiwanese identity and of the Republic of Taiwan.
Moreover, with Taiwan as a symbol of democracy in the region, many analysts have reasons to hope that the dream of democracy in the Asian world stands growing chances to come true. The Taiwanese example has proved that a Buddhist country can build a viable democracy, that Confucianism can go hand in hand with the values of free markets and human rights, and that Asia can step on the path of economic development and democratic construction.
The experience of Taiwan is an example that Asia cannot afford to overlook.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 61
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