Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Taiwan: Too Much Sniping, Too Little Joy

Taiwan: Too Much Sniping, Too Little Joy
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
May 26, 2010

Recently the public on Taiwan received a string of positive economic reports. During the first quarter economic growth exceeded 13 %, a 31 year high. Private investment growth this year will reach 37%, a 35 year high. Exports grew at an estimated rate of 24% this year, a 23 year high. Per capita GDP this year will reach an historic high of 18,000 USD.

But the happiness experienced upon receiving this good news lasted less than a day. Soon afterwards, the public was once again neck deep in anxiety. The main reason was the Taiwan stock market was sharply impacted for several days in a row by the European credit crisis and the political clash between North and South Korea. Cries of anguish filled the market. Even non-investors were on tenterhooks. Worse, the good news of first quarter economic growth was dismissed as a calculated effort to release profit reports close to May 20. Private investment growth had cold water splashed on them by reports that "unemployment remains high." The export boom was read as "excessive dependence on mainland China," an even more heinous crime. The increase in GDP meanwhile, became just another cue to mock President Ma Ying-jeou's "633" slogan.

Society on Taiwan has a particularly intense sense of crisis. People worry about their plight as members of a "small nation." They pay close attention to signs of trouble between the ruling and opposition parties. They closely monitor the pulse of the outside world to remain in synch with the international situation. Peoples' sensitivity to their environment and anxiety over change, coupled with an opposition party hovering like vultures, and endless sniping by talking heads, makes it almost impossible for them to experience happy times.

Interestingly enough, when Lausanne Switzerland announced its global competitiveness rankings, the Republic of China's ranking lept from 15th to 8th. Yet apparently no one considered this anything worth celebrating. On the same day, Headlines in South Korea's major media read, "South Korea's competitiveness exceeds Japan's for the first time," and "Korea achieves its best ranking ever." In fact South Korea's "best ranking ever" meant it merely squeezed into 23rd place. Both Korea and the Republic of China are part of East Asia's Confucian cultural sphere. Why the diametrically opposed responses within the two countries?

The collective anxiety felt on Taiwan has three main sources. One. Democracy has brought with it liberation of speech and thought. But it has yet to upgrade the content and quality of political thought. Instead, a social consensus has become even more difficult to reach. This deepens people's feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty. Two. The Republic of China's political development has reached a bottleneck. The mere transfer of power between the two parties has not allowed the ruling and opposition parties to cease hating each other. People in northern and southern Taiwan are unhappy with each other. These factors even intrude upon and oppress the economy, the culture, and other realms. Three. The public has less and less patience with Blue vs. Green political infighting. But society has yet to discover a new force able to break this deadlock. Under the circumstances, the more confrontational the commentaries, the more they nullify each other, and the more confusing they are to the public.

Society on Taiwan has long lacked a sense of joy. It has long been troubled by insoluble domestic uncertainties and foreign threats. Peoples' instinct to express and and enjoy themselves have increasingly been suppressed. When Ma Ying-jeou offered his "Golden Years" proposal, the Green Camp immediately mocked it as a "Golden Turd." Forget the soon to be signed ECFA. The opposition DPP is bad-mouthing it every chance it gets as "selling out Taiwan." It is using the differences in benefits received from the "Early Harvest List" to incite rivalries among different industries. How can the public not be apprehensive about where the country is headed?

The opposition DPP has chosen to equate democratic checks and balances with "endless sniping." That is bad enough. The opposition DPP and opposition pundits seem to be afflicted with "obsessive-compulsive criticism disorder." The ruling party meanwhile, has never outgrown its unrelievedly naive "Peter Pan Syndrome." It seldom responds to issues with maturity, in accordance with public expectations. Take for example the plan for a biotech park on the site of Ordnance Plant Number 202. Had the government stood firm on matters of environmental impact and urban planning, the development of environmentally friendly biotech industries on the site of an old ordnance plant was entirely feasible. What need was there to call a screeching emergency halt to a major national plan merely because of a peition submitted by one writer? The government's reaction to external criticism is passivity and timidity. This merely intensifies public anxiety.

Let us attempt to recall the last time the public on Taiwan experienced even a tiny bit of shared joy. When was it? Was it when Wang Chien-ming pitched a winning game in the Major Leagues? Was it when Ang Lee received an Oscar? Was it when Chen Shu-chu accepted a humanitarian award in New York? Was it "none of the above?" The issue is not whether the government is or is not doing a good job. The issue is not whether the Republic of China has received sufficient international recognition. The issue is not whether critics are malicious and irrational. The issue is whether this society still has confidence in itself and the capacity for joy.

2010.05.26 02:21 am









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