An island nation with 23 million people, Taiwan just offered an example on how much power these days relies less on physical force than on attractive ideas. As the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, Taiwan held its seventh direct presidential election Saturday, which alone is a model for China to follow.
But its voters also reelected the country’s first woman president, Tsai Ing-wen, by a wide margin. In addition, her victory was bolstered by young people coming out to support the island’s rule of law after watching Beijing’s crackdown on semi-autonomous Hong Kong over the past year.
Yet for all the success of Taiwan’s soft power as a democracy, President Tsai has also built up another attractive quality – one that counters China’s attempts to coerce and isolate a territory it claims as its own. Over the past four years, she has tapped the country’s political and social freedoms to nurture creativity and collaboration in its technology industries.
Ms. Tsai’s policy efforts have boosted industrial innovation, helping to reduce a dependency on the mainland’s cheap labor and shielding Taiwan from economic coercion by Beijing. She has put a special focus on green technologies, hoping to derive 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, up from the current 5%.
Taiwan is now the fourth most competitive country in “innovation capability,” according to the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report. The quality and quantity of its research and development are close to the top three leaders, Germany, the United States, and Switzerland. Taiwan is also 33rd in macroeconomic stability, a result due in part to its solid foundation as a democracy and a protector of patents.
Taiwan’s unemployment rate is the lowest in two decades. Its economic growth now exceeds that in Singapore and South Korea. And, with the help of a trade war between the U.S. and China, it is luring Taiwanese companies back home from the mainland.
The island nation is finding that the protection of its sovereignty increasingly lies in democratic ideals and the freedom of thought that allows for innovation in science and engineering. “We value the lifestyle of democracy,” Ms. Tsai said in her victory speech. In the long run, the power of attraction is greater than the force of arms.