My teenage daughter is interested in Taiwan’s political culture, so I took her to President Tsai Ing-wen’s election victory celebration. Amid the cheers, chants, and the occasional air horn, I heard something that I’ve never noticed before at a political event in Taiwan. It was the sound of people speaking Cantonese. A lot of Hong Kongers were in the crowd.
I had read that many young people from Hong Kong were coming to Taiwan to experience the election. I guess we can call them political tourists. For them, Taiwan’s democracy is inspiring. The country is cool.
This seemed ironic to me as I recalled my experience being transferred from Taiwan to Hong Kong in 2005. The city was booming then, and most people didn’t seem to care about politics. They were more focused on profiting off mainland China’s blistering hot economy.
At the time, when Hong Kongers learned that I had most recently lived in Taipei, they frequently said, “Oh, you must be so happy to be in Hong Kong now!”
They viewed Taiwan to be an unstable, dangerous place. People were always dying in mudslides, earthquakes, and tour bus crashes. Fistfights broke out in the legislature. Relations with the other side of the Strait were tense.
The negative image is partly due to the media, which mostly cover sudden events, such as murders, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks. Journalists often fail to fully appreciate gradual stories that develop over decades, such as the maturing of Taiwan’s democracy.
I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of the way Taiwan conducted this last election. Turnout was high. The casting and counting of ballots were efficient. Candidates who lost gave classy concession speeches.
But much more needs to be done to build on the democratic success in Taiwan – and the U.S. as well. I’ll never forget how former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis replied when asked to identify America’s biggest threat. He said it was “divisiveness inside this country – the lack of respect, the lack of listening to one another and accepting that people who disagree with us might be right once in a while.”
In both the U.S. and Taiwan, politicians need to pragmatically work to build a consensus between the major political parties. They must stop dwelling on divisive issues and focus the debate on how to best strengthen the society and economy.
The post-election period is a perfect time for a fresh start. Let’s do it.