Taiwan's New Role in the World

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Thursday October 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The Cold War is over and if the Cold War was about communism, then communism is dead. It's dead, certainly, as far as any nations that claim the Marxist-Leninist version of it. To be sure a few nations like Laos and Vietnam may still list it as their ideology, however, most of the nations that laid claim to represent the principles of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" are nowhere near that mark.

Look down the list of "communist nations," the Soviet Union and its former satellites of Poland, East Germany etc., then China, Cuba, and the others, where are they now? In each, the past catch phrases of "proletariat, bourgeois, comrade etc." all appear to represent a bygone era.

The nations that once avowed Marxist-Leninist ideals and principles have gradually morphed into one-party state dictatorships where despite any proposed socialist bent, most have steered toward oligarchies with new people on top. So what is up?

George Orwell provides some insight. He pegged the eventual demise of the Soviet Union and the goals of the 1917 Russian Bolshevik Revolution with his 1945 allegorical work Animal Farm. Even in 1945, the socialist Orwell noted the overriding influence of the ambition, personality and character of Joseph Stalin and his supporters.

Sure, the Russian Tsar and his family were overthrown and replaced, but as in Orwell's allegory, the pigs stepped forward and as the remaining animals looked on at the end, they had trouble distinguishing the pigs that replaced "Mr. Jones," from the "other humans."

Orwell's work could easily have been written to also later apply to the People's Republic of China (PRC) which under Mao Zedong who with his coterie came out on top in the Chinese Civil War. That civil war had also begun shortly after the overthrow of a different dynasty, that of the Manchu Empire.

How then to separate a claimed ideology and its goals from nationhood and the personal goals, ambitions and megalomania of subsequent national leaders? Mao in his ambition would drag the "new" China through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where he would purge his own supporters to root out "the old."

However, it would take the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping with his "who cares if it is a black cat or white cat" economic approach to give the nation a more capitalistic bent and rescue it economically.

And thus at the end of the day, the final result was that the three leading countries with the most millionaires and billionaires are the US, China and Russia. One cannot think that the goals of Marx and Lenin were to create an additional two nations with the highest number of billionaires and millionaires. Certainly, in all cases the proletariat does not seem to have gained that much better control over the "surplus of his labor" than he previously had.

In each revolution, the individual human factor of greed and the will to power are too often left out in academic discussions of ideological importance in a nation's growth and development. What checks and balances are missing?

Today, however, the growing influence of a global economy continues, and the past dialectic between Marxist-Leninist thought and capitalism did not end with a capitalistic victory. A new dialectic has developed. For if the new world order is global, then this new world order has a new dialectic distinction; it is not so much that of class but rather more that of international corporations and the "haves and have-nots." This dialectic is about the growing consciousness of the divide between the 98 percent and the 2 percent, no matter what nation one is in.

This disparity that must be addressed in almost all nations raises a different question: Is this imbalance best solved by a form of democracy or that of a one-party state?

Most developing nations of the world cannot follow the path of any of the "big three,"--the US, Russia or China; the size alone of these three, gives each advantages and resources that other nations do not possess. A different role model in the medium-sized range is needed.

Enter Taiwan, a nation that has been through more twists and turns in the past century than most others as it went from Japanese Empire, to one-party state Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) colonialism, martial law and White Terror to a functioning democracy.

This mid-sized nation has a population larger than nearly 75 percent of the countries in the UN. It also is no "animal farm." It threw off the KMT who in the parlance of the people were "the pigs that had replaced the Japanese dogs."

The importance of Taiwan Studies takes relevance here; it should not be simply on Taiwan, but rather on lessons gleaned from the potential role model position of a nation that in addition to achieving a democracy, remains fiscally better off than 75 percent of the other nations of the world.

Taiwan had been free from any past dominant Communist influence not so much because of the KMT, which fled from China after losing the Civil War. When the 1917 Bolshevik revolution took place in Russia, Taiwan was a thriving part of the Japanese Empire and Japan had always kept Communist influence at bay.

When Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT came to Taiwan, Communist sympathizers and revolutionaries no doubt followed but Taiwan was no Chinese Hainan. The KMT one-party state repression that followed earned it the local reputation of "killing 100 Taiwanese to find one Communist."

Economically Taiwan easily remains in the top 15 to 20 percent of all nations of the world with a health care plan that covers 98 percent of its people. It has done this despite having had to overcome a certain "pariah status" brought on by China in its efforts to keep Taiwan out of the world picture and world organizations.

Taiwan's democracy possesses a unique identity in the world and in the new world order. As an island nation with an export driven economy it offers much to be studied particularly in how nations should address issues of haves and have-nots in a global world. It has chosen the democratic path where the people do not make policy over the barrel of a gun and they can change leaders with ballots not bullets.

Taiwan is not perfect and it certainly is not resting on any laurels. It has its share of future challenges. Nonetheless, its success and future efforts and direction provide a new look and direction for studies.

What the study of Taiwan reveals is a nation that threw off the one-party state and 40 years of KMT martial law and White Terror to not only become a nation that is fiscally better off than 75 percent of the nations of the world, but one that is a thriving democracy. This is what gives the importance to Taiwan Studies and the need to give Taiwan more space on the world stage.