Global problems persist …
As we move into a new year, it’s easy to be gloomy about the future. The continuing plague of COVID-19, the PRC’s continuing belligerence towards Taiwan and others, the Russian threat to Ukraine, the deep political divisions in the United States and other countries, the decline of freedom in the world and the rise of more authoritarian rulers, worsening wealth inequalities around the world, demographic decline in the developed world, and seemingly unstoppable climate change are just a few of the many challenges we face.
… But there are reasons for Taiwan to thank
While there are many reasons to be skeptical about the future, I nonetheless found many reasons to be grateful for living in Taiwan. Taiwan has proven to be one of the best countries in the world to control COVID-19 and help others meet this challenge as well. It has developed its own vaccine and supplied more than 50 million medical masks to other countries as well as other medical equipment and assistance to those in need.
CEOWORLD magazine ranked Taiwan as the 10th safest place in the world to travel in 2021, given its handling of COVID-19. Taiwan also continues to rank among the best countries in the world for providing excellent health care to its own citizens, and for taxpayers, medical care is free.
- Political and economic freedom:
I am also grateful to live in Taiwan because it is one of the freest countries in the world. In the 2021 Freedom House ranking of people’s access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories, it scored 94 out of 100 points and is tied for seventh place with Estonia, the Germany, Cyprus and Iceland. In the 2021 Heritage House’s economic freedom index, it ranked sixth out of 178 countries.
Taiwan also continues to be a great economic success story. According to the IMF’s 2021 estimate, it is 20th in the world in nominal GDP and 12th in GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity.
Taiwan is also consistently ranked among the safest places in the world. Last year, Numbeo ranked Taiwan as the second safest country, followed only by Qatar. In the Numbeo Crime Index by City 2021, Taipei was ranked third out of 431 safest cities in 163 countries. Only Abu Dhabi and Doha have lower crime rates.
It is therefore not surprising that Taiwan retained its title in 2021 of “best place in the world for expats” for the third year in a row based on an online survey carried out in January by InterNations Expat Insider among 12,420 expatriates representing 174 nationalities out of 186. countries. Taiwan took first place among 59 named destinations. Mexico was in second place, with Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, Canada and Vietnam completing the top 10. The list looked at 37 factors grouped under the headings Quality of life, Ease of settling, Work abroad and personal finances. Taiwan ranked first in the Quality of Life and Working Abroad indices.
Since I retired as a diplomat, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to teach at four of Taiwan’s national universities, most recently National Chengchi University. I was inspired by the quality of the faculties, the ambition and skills of the students, and the overall academic achievements that I observed. I am grateful that I have always found positions in which I can make my own contribution, however small, to the future of Taiwan.
Good government with the right policies
Taiwanese should be, and most are, grateful for the cautious leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her administration. Perhaps more importantly, President Tsai did not dismiss the mirage of “one country, two systems,” an illusory promise that turned out to be a lie in Hong Kong but was already blatantly true in 2015 when the Former President Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九) held his long-awaited meeting with PRC leader Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore. Xi only spoke of “one country” and “one blood”, phrases Ma dutifully repeated, but there was no mention of “two systems.”
However, we can always hope for more … A wish list for the New Year: safety above all
We can hope that the PRC will put an end to its belligerent, provocative and counterproductive intrusions into the Taiwan Air Identification Area and surrounding waters. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely, so Taiwan must continue efforts to strengthen its defenses, including the acquisition of more sophisticated weapons.
Taiwan’s relations with the United States, Japan, Australia and many European countries have never been stronger. The formation of the Quad and the UKUS is a sign of a growing consensus that Taiwan is an essential security link in the Indo-Pacific region and must be assisted. Taiwan should continue to train and coordinate with its friends, building on the progress already made. The country’s participation in RIMPAC exercises this summer in any capacity will be another step in the right direction, but I hope it will participate rather than just observe. After all, back when the US Pacific Command’s eyes were in wonder, China was invited to participate in 2014 and again in 2016.
I also hope that Taiwan will seriously reconsider the issue of military conscription. Although he remains politically unpopular across party lines, military experts I know have consistently told me that the current four-month tour for men is grossly inadequate. Like other countries facing the possibility of having to defend themselves against aggression, realistic and longer training is essential both for military preparation and to demonstrate Taiwan’s national will to defend itself.
Strengthening Taiwanese trade relations
Now is the time, I hope, that Taiwan and its friends also do more to improve their trade relations. As I have long argued, the primary motives for US free trade agreements with 20 partner countries have generally been strategic and political rather than economic. This was certainly the case with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Peru and Chile, among others. Now that Taiwanese voters have rejected the January 15 referendum that would have banned imports of American pork containing traces of food additives, it is high time the U.S. trade representative’s office did its part and reconnect with Taiwan on a free exchange. Currently, only Singapore and New Zealand have free trade agreements with Taiwan.
Likewise, in an effort to strengthen Taiwan’s economic independence, friendly countries like Japan, Australia and Canada should support its entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As the PRC is also a candidate, if admitted first, it will certainly try to block entry from Taiwan. In a promising development, Canada and Taiwan began talks on an investment deal on Jan. 10 and did so courageously at the ministerial level – a move that is sure to anger Beijing.
Solving Taiwan’s demographic problem
Taiwan’s fertility rate is the lowest in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook’s 2021 estimate. Only the fertility rates of South Korea, Singapore, Macao and Hong Kong come close to those of Taiwan. This demographic decline, characteristic of much of the developed world today, raises the growing specter of labor shortages, declining domestic consumer demand, and declining tax revenues to support a number growing elderly. The proportion of people over 65 is expected to reach nearly 20% of Taiwan’s population by 2025.
While increased social support for mothers is an obvious measure that would help, Taiwan could consider increasing immigration.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s demographic problem is compounded by its severe “brain drain” as talented Taiwanese find preferred jobs elsewhere. Oxford Economics’ Global Talent 2021 ranked Taiwan as the country with the largest talent gap in the world. The government is particularly concerned that many of the more talented are moving to the PRC in search of higher wages. In 2021, the Continental Affairs Council banned the PRC from recruiting qualified Taiwanese for jobs in China, especially in “critical technology,” but it may also be time to secure more attractive wages for the country. qualified personnel in Taiwan.
And then there is the energy conundrum of Taiwan
Taiwan was the 14th largest consumer of electricity in the world according to 2021 data, and electricity is of course essential to its high-tech infrastructure. Unfortunately, from a security standpoint, in 2020 97.79% of Taiwanese energy was imported and only 2.1% was indigenous, according to the Energy Bureau of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In addition, 91.74% of the country’s energy came from fossil fuels; only 0.36% hydroelectric power; 0.38% solar, wind and geothermal energy; and 6.57% was nuclear. Taiwan’s dependence on fossil fuels means it has not been able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. According to the German Climate Change Performance Index for 2022, Taiwan ranks 58th out of 60 countries and the EU.
Meanwhile, as was still evident in the January 15 referendum question on whether Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be unsealed, public opinion continues to oppose nuclear power. Taiwan has yet to find a way forward. Considering Taiwan’s miraculous achievement in overcoming huge odds of becoming a successful democracy, I bet it will succeed.
William A. Stanton is currently Full Professor at National Chengchi University, where he teaches at the International College of Innovation. He was previously (2019-2021) vice president of National Yang Ming University, then senior vice president of National Yang-Ming Chiao-Tung University. From August 2017 to July 2019, Professor Stanton taught at the Center for General Education at National Taiwan University. Previously, he worked for four years as Distinguished Professor George KC Yeh and Founding Director of the Center for Asia Policy at Tsing Hua National University (NTHU). From October 2014 to January 2016, he was also NTHU’s senior vice president for global affairs. Prior to his academic career, Dr Stanton served as an American diplomat for 34 years. His last assignment was as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (2009-2012).