The Washington Times on December 26, 2012, reported that a small island in the shadow of a giant neighbor that claims its territory, Taiwan nonetheless holds a key to shaping China’s meteoric rise, Taiwanese officials say. Excerpts below:
Taiwan is “the only force on Earth that may have an impact on the future political development of China,” said Steven S.F. Chen, formerly the island’s envoy to the United States and now an adviser to its president.
Mr. Chen and others argue that Taiwan can play such a role through the strategic use of soft power – the cultural leverage that comes with a shared history, language and geography.
Taiwan’s culture and people are steeped in the 2-millennia-old traditions of Confucianism – the guiding philosophy of China’s governing classes through centuries of imperial rule.
(Comment: Confucianism is not the only guiding philosophy of China. There is also a legalist tradition that takes hard power into account).
The principles of Confucianism “are the center of Taiwan’s education system from the third grade,” said Lung Yingtai, Taiwan’s minister of culture and a respected author and intellectual.
“The Germans quote Goethe a lot. We quote Confucius even more,” Ms. Lung said. “You breathe it in every day. There is no place in the world as Confucian as Taiwan.”
Although the philosophy was developed as a guide for the administrators of China’s vast empire, Ms. Lung said, Confucianism and liberal democracy are compatible.
“They merge perfectly,” though with imperfect results, she said in a speech during a visit to Washington in September 2012.
According to Confucius, every official from the lowliest clerk to the emperor should be “kind, upright, courteous, temperate and magnanimous,” Ms. Lung said.
Because it has continued to foster Confucian principles, Taiwan is a center of gravity for the Chinese diaspora, especially on the cultural level, where Taipei’s vigorous book and movie industries often publish works banned on the mainland.
Ms Lung said the overrepresentation of artists from the relatively small Taiwanese and diaspora populations is a result of their freedoms.
“A democratic system with guaranteed freedom of expression has given rise to a creative and culturally vibrant society in Taiwan,” she said.
…personal and cultural exchanges, and growing trade between the two uneasy neighbors, are underpinned by the Economic and Cultural Framework Agreement signed by Beijing and Taipei two years ago, which provides for gradually reducing tariffs and other bilateral trade barriers.
The Economic and Cultural Framework Agreement “is one of the keys to unlock the potential of soft power,” Ms. Lung told The Washington Times after her speech in Washington, noting that there is long way to go in terms of free trade in cultural materials such as movies and books.