Saturday, 3 August 2013

Taiwan's legislatures need to remember Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Taiwan is in the international news, and again it is for the wrong reasons. Members of Taiwan's Parliament, the Legislative Yuan, have once more been filmed fighting among themselves ahead of an important vote on the future of the island's nuclear industry. Footage from the Washington Post, available at Taiwan's parliament dukes it out, is making the rounds on the social media, much to the amusement of both journalists and audiences. While we are encouraged to laugh at this latest example of literal political combat, there are very clear soft power consequences associated with the actions by Taiwan's Parliamentarians.

Laughing at Taiwan does not encourage a serious discussion about the island's place in the international community, and its democratic system is ridiculed rather than applauded. At a time when Taiwan remains the first Chinese democracy, such behaviour reinforces the unreasonable idea that perhaps the Asian Values thesis is right after all. More importantly for Taiwan, fighting in the Legislative Yuan sends a very clear signal to the People's Republic of China and strengthens its propaganda: This is what happens in a so-called multi-party democratic political system; this is what we are protecting you from.

Taiwan's legislators need to understand that how they behave is a reflection of how Taiwan's political system is perceived. At a time when Taiwan is struggling to exercise soft power - to project its democratic virtues and ideals, and build upon one of its principal advantages, namely that Taiwan is not the PRC - such ridicule comes at a high price; and it is possibly too high a price for a state with few formal diplomatic relations and no voice in the international media. Taiwan's foremost resource is its credibility as a democracy, but this is a resource quickly squandered by the irresponsible conduct of its politicians. They should do all they can to make sure the world is talking about Taiwan, not laughing at it.

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