The very model of a modern major economy

While China hides economic data, Taiwan shines in openness by, among other acts of democratic values, releasing accurate and timely information.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (right) and Morris Chang, founder of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), greet each other in Taipei, Oct. 20.

In a bit of bad news for Taiwan, the government said Thursday that export orders had dropped for the third time this year. The good news was that Taiwan released economic data at all and on time, a sign of its democratic openness.

In contrast, China decided to delay the release of the latest figures for its economy – the world’s second largest – on Monday. The official silence was perhaps to prevent any disappointing numbers from embarrassing Xi Jinping this week as he secures a third term as Communist Party leader during a gathering of the party’s elite. By many estimates, China’s gross domestic product per capita could be falling while Taiwan’s is expected to become the highest in East Asia this year.

Taiwan still struggles as a young democracy – its first direct presidential election was 24 years ago. Yet its people have strongly embraced the need for transparency and integrity in government, starting with economic data. In contrast, Mr. Xi has “reversed course from his predecessors’ emphasis on humility and openness to focus on national pride and self-sufficiency,” as The Wall Street Journal puts it.

Official secrecy has been rising under Mr. Xi’s decadelong time in power. A new law heavily restricts release of government data while academic exchanges with other countries have been sharply curtailed. Party censors are more diligent in scrubbing social media of any government leaks.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has become one of Asia’s most open societies – despite China’s attempts to spread disinformation among the Taiwanese. In an Oct. 10 speech, President Tsai Ing-wen said her government will “respond with a more transparent and democratic approach” against Beijing’s “attempts at sabotage.”

Because of trust in Taiwan’s business environment, the country remains the world leader in the manufacturing of advanced computer chips. It also beats out China in global indexes on economic competitiveness, online freedom, and ease of doing business. Highly dependent on imports of Taiwan’s semiconductors for its high-tech industries, China may be hesitant to invade the island.

That so-called silicon shield relies on Taiwan’s democratic values, such as its openness to alternative politicians every election and honesty in economic information. This open-mindedness also encourages creativity in science and technology. The country ranks high in “innovation capability,” according to the Global Competitiveness Report.

A high level of confidence in government helped Taiwan cope well during the pandemic. “Because we trust the people a lot, sometimes the people trust back,” one official told the BBC.

Openness has served Taiwan. In July, the United States began talks for a free trade agreement with the island. Despite attempts by China to isolate its neighbor, Taiwan has more than 60 trading partners.

As a model of governance, Taiwan surpasses the one touted this week by China’s ruling party. The world just needs to notice which country is releasing economic data, good or bad, and on time.

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