Digitalization, Transparency, … and Geese?

Two weeks back, I got schooled on the craft of business model “digital make-overs,” courtesy of six excellent student group presentations from our NextGen class of 2021, in a session led by IBM Consulting’s Dylan Li. Last week, I had the honor of helping host Taiwan’s Digital Minister, Audrey Tang, alongside epidemiologist and former Vice President Chen Chien-jen and AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk at the Healthcare Innovation Forum sponsored by IBM, MSD, and Varian. Tang has gained global acclaim over the past five years for pioneering digital approaches that increase government transparency and public participation. More recently, she helped Taiwan’s citizens mobilize to essentially stop a galloping pandemic in its tracks.

While AmCham is engaged in neither contact tracing nor “radical transparency,” we are practicing digital innovation in the service of efficiency and biosecurity by taking our mandatory Annual General Meeting (AGM) online. To prove that such digital innovations work – and may even enhance engagement – please login to the Online Membership Directory to securely review our AmCham Taipei-AmCham Taiwan merger plan and other governance documents. Taking another page (better, a screen) from Audrey Tang, you will then have two weeks to address questions about the documents and process to [email protected] We will respond promptly. If all works to plan, members can conveniently log on from their location of choice at 9 a.m. on November 16, contribute to reaching the government-mandated quorum, vote, and log off – all in about an hour’s time. No hotel parking validation needed, either!

Taking NGOs and for-profit companies online for governance meetings is new in Taiwan, and AmCham could never have navigated the complexities of evolving guidelines without the extensive pro bono support of member Winkler Partners. We are also grateful to Cisco for providing us with a robust platform for the webinar. And although the postal system predates the web by centuries, our mail-in balloting process also required modification, and we have our friends at Deloitte to thank for their great help with that task as well.

Just as AmCham has more to master in the practice of transparency, in health-related border controls, it would seem our governments do, too. As our editorial on the following page points out, Taipei authorities are victims of their own dazzling success with the non-pharmaceutical approach to pandemic suppression. The speed and efficiency that has followed Taiwan’s late start to COVID inoculation is, again, impressive. However, as the world moves on, the star student has turned laggard when graded on the curve of combined natural and injected immunity. As governor Steven Pan noted in an AmChams of the Asia Pacific (AAP) workshop held on October 27, this has left Taiwan at the back of the pack in reopening borders.

For Taipei, however harmful the current backlog may be, worse is the lack of transparency in granting exceptions, as well as setting or publicly discussing timelines or tripwires for a future opening. Business copes with added costs; it abhors a lack of regulatory predictability. The business visa backlog is costing Taiwan twofold: in terms of foreign investment forgone and the chance to fully capitalize diplomatically on the global recognition it has rightfully earned. There is irony in that the world’s two remaining protagonists of the so-called elimination strategy – China and Taiwan – are neighbors who are otherwise increasingly at odds.

Turning to Washington, we see a very different public health situation, level of societal trust, and policy twist. “Living with COVID-19” is the mantra. Meanwhile, the mandate for full vaccination for non-Americans wishing to enter the U.S. announced by the Department of State last month that goes live on November 8, is uncompromisingly even-handed for the country-specific bans it replaces. However, it gets lower marks for transparency in terms of prior notice, as well as for the “flexibility and compassion” that the editorial urges of Taipei. Given the extraordinarily low carrier risk from Taiwan-origin travelers, moreover, even the purportedly scientific basis for the mandate gets murky. With “fairness and equity” as additional policy watchwords, Taipei and Washington might both be reminded that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

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