Written by J. Michael Cole. Taiwan was among the more than 100 countries invited by the U.S. to participate in President Joe Biden’s “Summit for Democracies” held on December 9-10. Minister without portfolio and Taiwan’s “digital minister,” Audrey Tang, as well as Taiwan’s representative to the U.S., Hsiao Bi-khim, represented Taiwan at the Summit.
Written by J. Michael Cole. With all that renewed focus on Taiwan, however, also comes responsibilities. Taiwan’s elevated importance does not signify that it can take a backseat and let others ensure its security. As President Tsai remarked recently, “Taiwan’s only option is to make ourselves stronger, more united and more resolute in our determination to protect ourselves.” If there is one thing that the US experience in Afghanistan can teach us, it is that even the world’s top superpower cannot bend reality to its will, no matter how hard and long it tries.
Written by J. Michael Cole. A recent cover story in The Economist referring to the Taiwan Strait as “the most dangerous place on earth” has caused mixed reactions in Taiwan and elsewhere. While the headline was certainly alarmist—one can imagine more dangerous places than Taiwan to be in, from Yemen to Afghanistan, Somalia to some neighbourhoods in Mexico, for example—the article nevertheless reflects the reality that no other geopolitical flashpoint today is as likely to spark major armed conflict than the Taiwan Strait. China has shown much greater hostility in the past year.
Written by J. Michael Cole. On July 30, former president Lee Teng-hui, whom many regard as the father of Taiwan’s democracy, passed away at the age of 97. Lee leaves behind a nation that is markedly different from what it was when he entered politics decades ago. No figure—none—has had as major an impact on Taiwan than Lee, whose decisions in the crucial period between the late 1980s and early 1990s determined the future course of the nation and propelled into the “third wave” of democratisation.
Written by J. Michael Cole. The first four years under the Tsai Ing-wen administration have brought greater clarity regarding Beijing’s attitude toward Taiwan and its democracy. Although in the months prior to her inauguration on May 20, 2016, it was still possible to imagine that the two sides could find a modus vivendi despite Beijing’s longstanding antipathy toward the Democratic Progressive Party, Beijing almost immediately adopted an unforgiving course of action which soon poisoned the relationship.
Written by J. Michael Cole. A long time in the making and after many challenges, a major politico-historical TV drama about Taiwan’s democratization will finally hit TV sets nationwide on 20 January. Based on political developments and figures from the 1990s, “Island Nation” (國際橋牌社) follows the hopes, fears and travails of a wide set of fictional characters in the dramatic years of Taiwan’s transition from an authoritarian state to a democracy.
Written by J. Michael Cole. The Kuomintang (KMT) began 2019 a seemingly reinvigorated party following its successes in the previous November’s nationwide local elections. Epitomising this new energy was Han Kuo-yu, the candidate who had scored an unexpected victory against his opponent from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Kaohsiung, Chen Chi-mai. No sooner had Han assumed his seat as mayor of the southern port city than the “wave” that brought him into office elevated him to even greater heights.
Written by J. Michael Cole. Liberal democratic societies are simply incompatible with the increasingly authoritarian mindset that animates the CCP. The notion that their inhabitants — global, connected and proud of their liberties — would willingly cede their freedoms to Beijing is naive at best. Such illusions are being shattered in Hong Kong as we speak, and the idea that the Taiwanese would be any less committed to preserving their hard-earned democracy is preposterous. It says a lot about the CCP’s appeal that the only way it can quiet down discontent on its peripheries is through pacification.
Written by J. Michael Cole. Rather than isolate Taiwan and Hong Kong, Beijing’s unwillingness to accommodate different political systems on its peripheries and its inability to do “soft power” effectively has had the opposite effect: more than ever, Taiwan and Hong Kong are joining hands in their opposition to the CCP.
Written by J. Michael Cole. Despite the high polarization that characterizes Taiwanese politics, the country’s three-decade-long democratic history has, to its credit, witnessed near-universal respect for those ideals. The three transitions that have occurred since democratization — in 2000, 2008 and 2016 — have been peaceful; even the paper-thin re-election of Chen Shui-bian in 2004, during which some members of the opposition camp engaged in acts of violence, never came close to being regarded as illegitimate.
Written by J. Michael Cole. More and more, there are signs that the mainstream KMT is trying to reassert control over its destiny. And that core KMT, as history has shown, can be ruthless. Within a matter of months, Han the savior has turned into a liability, and a bit of an embarrassment, for the party. What happens in the next weeks and months is anyone’s guess, but it is easy to conclude that Han and his supporters might not like what the blue camp has in store for them.
Written by J. Michael Cole. With Taiwan’s election campaign shifting into high gear, an escalating campaign of intimidation by one camp and a media consortium that backs its candidate threatens to seriously undermine the ability of journalists and political commentators, both local and foreign, to do their work. By doing so, that camp is hoping to impose its discourse on the process and to limit, if not silence outright, any criticism of its candidate and the proxies that are aligned with it.