In its most threatening move yet against Taiwan, China flew the largest-ever number of military aircraft in a single day near the island nation on Tuesday. Beijing’s escalating attempts to intimidate the people of Taiwan with displays of force led The Economist magazine to declare in April that the island is the most dangerous place on earth. Yet a Chinese invasion has not happened. Why not? One reason may be other big news this week about this thriving democracy 100 miles off the coast of autocratic China.
In a global ranking of countries by economic competitiveness, Taiwan has reached the Top 10, rising from 11th to 8th. Among populations over 20 million, it is now first, according to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), a business school in Switzerland.
China ranked only 16th in global competitiveness while its recent stranglehold on Hong Kong’s freedoms has caused that territory to drop from 5th to 7th in the rankings.
The IMD admires Taiwan’s “dynamism” and “open and positive attitudes,” giving it the agility to innovate and adapt to global supply chains, represented by the fact Taiwan manufactures 84% of the world’s most advanced computer chips. Taiwanese electronic parts in the latest iPad Pro from Apple account for 18.5% of all components in value, according to Nikkei business news, up from 1.7%.
Last year, Taiwan replaced South Korea as China’s top source of goods imports, “owing to innovation and specialty production in the Taiwanese market,” according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. The mainland’s high dependence on imports of Taiwanese advanced electronics is a strong deterrence to a military takeover of the island. An invasion would be so disruptive to Chinese high-tech companies that it would set back the Communist Party’s goal of national “economic rejuvenation” by 2049.
In other words, the freedoms that Taiwanese people enjoy have created a level of high-tech innovation that could be its best defense.
As part of her drive to improve innovation in Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen is promoting English learning across much of society. She has set a goal of making Taiwan a bilingual country by 2030, a move that will draw more foreign talent to its research labs and help create a better entrepreneurial culture.
Such steps will enhance a spirit of creativity that only political freedom and rule of law can nurture. They are also practical shields against China’s bullying.