Has Taiwan found the fair way?

We all know that politics and golf go together like Donald Trump and… well, golf. And the two have many similarities: they can both be described as open exhibitions of overweening ambition, courage deflated by stupidity, and skill scoured by a whiff of arrogance. After moving between shining on the green and being stuck in the bunker for years, Taiwan, perhaps inspired by Sergio García’s unexpected victory this year, seems to have joined the Masters.

After a long-lasting economic boom, social advancements, and successful international economic relations, Taiwan has moved from the periphery of the stands onto the green both globally and regionally. However, the wind is providing strong resistance and a number of obstacles stand in the way of a perfect par. What is clear it that although Taiwan’s status quo relationship to China allows for flexibility, it primarily restrains its possibilities to become a full-fledged member of the player’s club.

Earning its spot as the third Asian Tiger, Taiwan experienced a rapid economic growth during the second half of the twentieth century. The country went from a GDP per capita of $140 in 1959 to a $22 268 in 2016, and between the 60’s and 90’s, employment sank from 6 per cent to below 2 per cent as wages shot through the roof. And the Taiwan miracle continues – on 21 November this year, the Taiwan stock market hit its highest point in nearly three decades.

Taiwan’s capacity to innovate, its highly efficient goods markets, world-class infrastructure, and strong higher education system are a few other factors breathing life into the successes of the country. But perhaps it was not until Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage in May this year that it finally earned its spotlight as a progressive up-and-coming country. Same-sex marriage was legalised in Taiwan as a result of a court case taken by LGBT rights activist Chi Chia-wei, which resulted in the Constitutional Court finding that the statutory ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The island has proven to be more liberal than most of its neighbours, especially in the 2016 elections when Taiwan saw its first female president in Tsai Ing-wen. With winning the presidency, Tsai also became the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world, as well as the first woman to run an Asian country who is not the child of a political dynasty. The election also provided a very unlikely electoral victory for death metal singer Freddie Lim, who beat a ruling party veteran with both experience and power in a Taipei constituency. Moreover, Taiwan’s media environment is among the freest in Asia, making quite the contrast from its mother China.

The power of Beijing is not the only thing holding Taiwan back, however – there are also internal structures inhibiting the advancement of the country. To enhance its competitiveness, Taiwan will need to strengthen its institutional framework, which is weakened by inefficiency and corruption. The biggest issues for Taiwan can however be found in the major diplomatic difficulties for the country. The Chinese policy of one-sided allegiance has provided a short list of 21 countries, consisting mostly of Pacific island nations and South American and African countries, with diplomatic ties to Taiwan and official recognition of the nation as a country. Although managing well economically, this prohibits Taiwan from having access to international organisations, reduces the country’s legitimacy and weakens its position in the global field.

The pressure of China was especially felt this year, when it was discovered that Republic of China (ROC) national flag had been censored – pixelated whenever it appeared – in a documentary on the Taipei Summer Universiade, a student sports event held in August 2017. Department Commissioner Chien Yu-yen claimed that the broadcasted version was an edited version, meant for the Hong Kong market. “There is nowhere that China’s pressure on Taiwan is not felt,” commented Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je Ko.

The Taiwanese flag is not alone in being censored due to pro-independence sentiments: After wearing a sunflower dress at a concert in Taipei, as well as sporting the Taiwanese flag as a cape, pop star Katy Perry is indefinitely banned in China. Whether it was deliberate or not, the sunflower is the symbol of the Sunflower Student Movement and the dress was worn at the peak of the pro-independence movement. Lastly, this article is also banned in China: The Perspective webzine is blocked on the Chinese Internet. We are not to complain, however, as Katy Perry and the ROC flag, as well as Google, Facebook and The Big Bang Theory, do make good company for our unlucky fate.

P.G. Wodehouse once said: “To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” And although Taiwan can hit a few swings, fighting for dominance and allegiance against China is like playing a game against Tiger Woods: it takes massive willpower, practice, talent and a bit of luck to even stand a chance.

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