Lecture on Taiwanese politics outlines past, future of democracy

Last Thursday, Anne Hung, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), held a lecture titled “Taiwanese Politics: Foreign Policy and Democracy” that detailed Taiwan’s political development and transition to becoming the first democratic republic in East Asia. The lecture also focused on Taiwan’s new approach to foreign policy, especially within the relationship between Taiwan and China.

Hung has served as director general of TECO-Boston since 2009, and prior to this tenure has held various posts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan. In the United States she has served as the Division of Congressional Liaison in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, D.C., and was a senior assistant at TECO San Francisco (1987-1992). Her impressive education includes studies at UC-Berkeley, National Chengchi University in Taiwan and the National Taiwan University.

The lecture began with an outline of the history of the events leading to the democratization of Taiwan, highlighting the important transitions between 1970 and the early 1990s, when various cultural and political movements were gaining momentum. Hung described the 1970s as an era of a cultural identity movement within the nation.

The 1980s combined these ideas into a whirlwind of social reform movements, a “golden decade for Taiwan’s social movement which brought social reform advocacy into the center stage of public concerns,” Hung explained. There were as many as 20 important reform movements, ranging from consumer demands to women’s and indigenous people’s rights to environmental activism.
The 1990s saw even more heightened action, with activism playing a critical role in political and constitutional change in Taiwan. “The transition from culturally indigenous to social activism and then to political democracy was forced by civil society activism, most of which was middle-class oriented, backed and supported,” Hung said.

She added that while Taiwan has made impressive social and political progress as a nation over the last few decades, it is still a young democracy with room for improvement. “Our government is continuing to work on strengthening the democratic infrastructure, including taking tangible steps to enhance Taiwan’s rule of law and protection of human rights in conformity with international standards,” Hung said. She cited the ratification of measures such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both administered by the UN, as steps taken “to strengthen the human rights of our citizenry and further consolidate the rule of law [in the nation].”

The second half of Hung’s lecture focused on Taiwan’s foreign relations, especially the unique and historically complicated cross-strait relation it holds with China. Hung emphasized Taiwan’s desire to strike a balance between domestic issues, cross-strait relations and external relations in its political and economic dealings. “The Republic of China (Taiwan) is the first democracy among ethnic Chinese societies,” Hung explained. “When we formulate our cross-strait policy toward mainland China, it is our hope to share our values and way of life with our neighbor across the Strait.”

Hung also made clear that Taiwan’s policies would not be limited to simply the acquisition of wealth and power in the East Asia region and beyond. “A truly modernizing society should not be limited to wealth and power, but must also include the foundations for freedom and democracy,” Hung said. “We understand this goal can only be realized in an environment of peace and stability.”

To accomplish these new tasks, Taiwan adopted a set of policies largely centered on cross-strait rapprochement and flexible democracy to facilitate and ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the Asia-Pacific region. “Our goal is to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, while shelving disputes, building mutual trust and abiding by the “three no’s” of “no unification, no independence and no use of force,” Hung said.

Hung also discussed Taiwan’s Flexible Diplomacy policy, which aims “to build up our soft power and to reestablish mutual trust with all our major international partners, especially the United States,” she said. Now that the cross-strait relationship between mainland China and Taiwan has been improved, Taiwan’s new goals are to reach a balance between Taiwan’s region relations and cross-strait relations by “pursuing a diplomatic truce with the mainland,” she said.

Hung concluded the lecture by noting that this year marks the centennial anniversary of the Republic of China, referencing Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic, as envisioning “a day when all Chinese people would live in a free, democratic and prosperous society.” “We look forward to the continued development of peaceful cross-strait relations, economic prosperity and strong relations with countries around the world,” Hung said. “We also hope that the international community will continue to render Taiwan its support and assistance, so that we can fulfill our obligations as a responsible and democratic member of the global community and make even greater contributions to the future of mankind.”