Written by Daniel Jia.
This is the second part of a two-part Taiwan-China comparison and perspectives analysis. In Part One, differences between the two societies’ governance principles are discussed. In this part, fundamental differences between Taiwan and China are examined.
Covid-19 Pandemic Response
While China and Taiwan have faced the great challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, the two leaders showed two drastically contrasting pictures regarding pandemic management.
Xi put a great emphasis on the “tremendously encouraging achievements” that “WE”— the Party — have accomplished and praised loudly the “dynamic zero-Covid policy”.
Although Xi did not mention the achievements in detail, he said a few things in general. By putting “the people and their lives above all else,” Xi elaborated, the Party and its government “have protected the people’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible” and succeeded “in both epidemic response and economic and social development.”
Ironically, these “achievements”, which have been flooding the social media and non-propaganda media without stopping, are, in fact, humanitarian disasters (e.g. children being separated from parents, people being forced into cramped government quarantine facilities, and locked-down residents running out of food, etc.) and economic destruction – the Asian Development Bank in September projected that China’s economic growth in coming years would be the slowest among Asian emerging markets. These failures are the inevitable outcomes directly stemming from the “zero-Covid policy” praised by Xi but diplomatically criticised by the WHO in May.
Since these “achievements” are already the best outcome the CCP could bring to China, and the “zero-Covid policy” is considered the key policy instrument to stay, the Chinese people must be prepared to embrace more hardships from now on.
In Xi’s description, the CCP is fully credited for the entire achievements in the pandemic response; the Chinese people are placed at the negligible receiving end at the mercy of the CCP’s good deed. Thus, to say that the CCP and its great leader are the chief culprits of China’s overall, if not completely, failed Covid-19 pandemic management is not an overstatement.
On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, Tsai credited Taiwan’s success in pandemic control to the people, not the government, let alone the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “Each of you has played a heroic role in these efforts.”
When projecting the post-pandemic era, Tsai announced the end of pandemic measures with a clear time mark. “In three days … Taiwan will resume normal exchanges with other countries around the globe … emerging from the shadow of the pandemic and moving toward life as normal.”
Tsai’s passage sent an unambiguous message to the public: Now it is time for the people to regain control of their daily life from a temporary government tutelage.
The sentence in Tsai’s speech that exhibits the most striking contrast to Xi’s rhetoric is the following: “We remember and grieve for our fellow citizens who have passed away due to the pandemic. Their passing reminds us that there will always be room for us to do better.”
This is a humble statement from the head of a country that has done exemplarily well in pandemic management. The Taiwanese people are privileged and blessed.
Xi’s perspectives of international realities in front of China are pessimistic and defiant.
Xi sees that China is surrounded by “drastic changes in the international landscape, especially external attempts to blackmail, contain, blockade, and exert maximum pressure on China,” and forecasts “high winds, choppy waters, and dangerous storms.”
For the first time at the Party’s National Congress, a Party chief warned of the potential danger of “foreign sanctions, interference, and long-arm jurisdiction”. Xi linked such “sanctions” to national security, and attributes the difficulties to the West’s attempts to curb and undermine China’s rise.
Given the technological sanctions imposed on China by the U.S. government and the series of sanctions that Russia has faced since it invaded Ukraine in February, Xi’s worries are well justified, especially when China’s military aggression against Taiwan is evolving from a theoretical assumption to a dire reality.
On the other hand, Xi has a vastly different view of China’s international image. “China’s international influence, appeal and power to shape the world has significantly increased.” This rhetoric is a green light to the notorious “warrior wolf diplomacy” China has adopted in the past decade since Xi took the helm in 2012. With the Report’s endorsement by Congress, Xi’s hardline foreign policy will likely be carried forward without backing down.
Xi’s pessimistic international view and his defiant approaches sharply contrast with what the President of Taiwan had to say to the Taiwanese people on this subject.
Tsai’s speech was delivered in a positive and confident tone.
Tsai reported to the Taiwanese people that Taiwan is “pursuing cooperation and exchanges with … countries across the Indo-Pacific as well as Central-Eastern Europe,” with a broad goal of “deepening Taiwan’s international cooperation and close ties with democratic allies.”
Taiwan pursues these goals not through financial bribery or political coercion but “through collaboration in cutting-edge technologies, reciprocal investment, financial support, and other means,” Tsai explained. These approaches are again in sharp contrast to China’s international dealings, which can be summarised as a modern extreme of the old “carrot-and-stick policy” or the combination of “wolf diplomacy” and “money-sprinkle diplomacy” in China’s zealous and proud nationalists’ own words.
On the report card, Tsai showed the people that “friends from across the world have travelled to Taiwan to express their heartwarming support … In fact, Taiwan is now receiving more international attention than ever before.” It is worth emphasising that Taiwan’s abovementioned diplomatic achievements were accomplished under increasing coercive threats from China, which target Taiwan and any country that extends friendship to Taiwan.
Tsai summarised Taiwan’s international accomplishments and responsibility: “The Republic of China (Taiwan) has become an important global symbol of democracy and freedom … Upholding Taiwan’s security means upholding regional stability and democratic values.”
Tsai’s vision of future Taiwan is not a nation filled with nationalistic zeal but a proud contributor to world peace and prosperity. “Let us stand on the world stage with courage, determination, and confidence. Let us make Taiwan a Taiwan of the world, and let us give the world an even better Taiwan.”
The Taiwanese people warmly embrace Tsai’s confidence in Taiwan. However, this confidence must have delivered a great degree of discomfort to Tsai’s Chinese counterpart, Xi, who is too consumed by worries about China’s security and his own safety to mind the world’s wellbeing.
As expected, Xi put the doctrine of the CCP and particularly his own believing system in a central position that would dictate China’s path in the next 10, 20 or 100 years.
“We [I] have established the Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. In doing so, we have laid out the basic policy for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, put forward a series of innovative ideas, new thinking, and new strategies on national governance, and achieved a breakthrough in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of our times. We have endeavoured to use this new theory to arm ourselves intellectually, guide our practice, and advance our work. This theory provides us with fundamental guidance for advancing the cause of our Party and our country in the new era.” Xi proclaimed in his Report.
This lengthy, slogan-filled text can be summarised in one sentence: The CCP, the government of China, and the Chinese people will have only one source to take orders from. That is: Xi.
In contrast to Xi’s “One leader, One voice, One action” command, Taiwan’s President Tsai encouraged the Taiwanese people to exercise their role as citizens in modern society.
“In a democratic society, we can have different positions, and we can debate with one another, but we should unanimously and resolutely stand behind our free and democratic system,” Tsai highlighted in plain language the value that has been fought for and upheld by the Taiwanese people to this day.
It is increasingly clear that Taiwan and China are ideologically incompatible in the past and present. “There is no room for compromise in the Taiwanese people’s commitment to democracy and freedom,” Tsai reaffirmed in her speech.
The ideological gap will likely grow wider under Xi’s third term and beyond.
In this analysis, the divergence between Taiwan and China is examined by comparing the two societies in six aspects: Governance, Prosperity, Equality, Covid-19 Pandemic Response, International Standing, and Core Value, through which the differences in fundamental principles and the governance characteristics dictated by those principles are presented and explained.
Taiwan and China have been on divergent paths for 70 years.
The Taiwanese people embraced democracy and freedom and have brought harmony, prosperity, and pride to Taiwan.
On the other hand, the Chinese people have been force-fed by the CCP’s ideology, have lived in horror for a great part of the past 70 years, and are facing the possibility of returning to poverty after a brief economic relief.
China’s leaders and state media have sent the following promise to the Taiwanese people: If you support “national reunification”, we will guarantee that you will be entitled to the same rights and benefits that the people in China are enjoying.
That the CCP and its leaders have the illusion that the Taiwanese people envy and will embrace the life of the Chinese people is beyond comprehension with normal logic and common sense.
Given the widening gap between Taiwan and China in almost all aspects, until the time has arrived when China adopts democratic approaches in domestic and international dealings, which is unlikely to happen under Xi; or when Taiwan chooses to endorse China’s “One leader, One voice, One action” doctrine, which is even more improbable, China’s “national reunification” dream will remain a dream.
Daniel Jia is the founder of consulting firm DJ Integral Services. He writes analytical reports on public-related matters, focusing on China-related cultural and political issues. There is no conflict of interest to be disclosed.