[Viewpoint] A letter to Taiwan’s president

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[Viewpoint] A letter to Taiwan’s president

Your Excellency, President Ma Ying-jeou,

I would like to express gratitude on behalf of the Korean press for inviting me to the state ceremony and reception in celebration of the 99th anniversary of Double Ten Day, or Taiwan’s National Day. Thanks to generosity of the Taiwanese government and Your Excellency, I was fortunate to be a part of a memorable celebratory event.

I also had a valuable opportunity to tour key government offices and attractions during my stay. Your Excellency was kind enough to speak to every one of the guests from the foreign press corps. Upon my congratulatory greeting, your Excellency said thank you in excellent Korean, which I believe shows your interest and amity toward the Korean people.

National Day commemorates the 1911 overthrow of the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty under the banner cry of the Three Principles of the People - nationalism, democracy and people’s livelihood - hailed by revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, the Founding Father of Republican China. As the absolute monarchy that ruled France over centuries collapsed in the French Revolution, the thousands of years of Chinese dynasties were ended by the Xinhai Revolution that started on Oct. 10, 1911.

Revolutionaries then declared Asia’s first republic, the Republic of China. But the revolution was accompanied by a series of upsets, struggles and pain that cost tremendous amounts of blood, sweat and tears from the Chinese people. As it approaches the centennial anniversary of the monumental revolution, China has entered a new renaissance era, both on Taiwan as well as on the mainland.

During my stay in Taiwan, I was able to breathe and taste the sweetness of freedom and prosperity. We humans feel most free when we can say whatever is on our mind. Taiwan ranks second after Japan in press freedom in Asia, gauged by the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House in its annual report. That means the Taiwanese press enjoys more freedom of expression than their Korean counterparts. One Taiwanese government official told me that few public officials are off the press radar. The press is omnipotent, he added.

Taipei’s streets bustle with vitality and people casually attending to their ways. The country matches South Korea’s per capita gross domestic product, but Taiwan’s per capita income measured in purchasing power, $31,776, is higher than Korea’s $27,938, largely thanks to a stable inflation rate. Most Taiwanese live without worries about daily necessities as their country ascends into the ranks of advanced economies.

As I sat watching the anniversary ceremony, I brooded on the concept of a state. Taiwan, like Korea, is a small nation. With a population of just 23 million, its size is one third of South Korea’s and it has fewer citizens than Seoul has residents. The country is under a growing threat from the 1.3 billion-populated mainland, which is now the world’s second-largest economy.

Taiwan has diplomatic ties with 23 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa, as most countries have been pressured by Beijing to forego diplomatic recognition of Taiwan under a “One-China Policy.”

But no one doubts Taiwan is a powerful nation. The Switzerland-based Institute for Management Development rates Taiwan as the eighth most competitive nation in the world in this year’s ranking, compared with Korea’s 23rd and Japan’s 27th. On a global competitiveness scale devised by the World Economic Forum, Taiwan is in the top-tier group ranking 12th among 133 nations.

The country excels in information technology industries and is a dominant player in mask ROM chips, semiconductor testing, semiconductor device fabrication and optical discs. The chanting at the ceremony’s parade of “Taiwan No. 1” was well-justified.

But more valuable than its size, competitive rankings and number of states that recognizes Taiwan is the standard of public lives. Politicians may want to boast of political accomplishments, but their bigger role is to see to all of their people so that none is left out from economic and political developments.

A poll last month showed that just 9.8 percent of the Taiwanese people wanted unification with China, while 86.2 percent were happy with the status quo. If they wanted to be folded into a bigger and more powerful country, they would have wanted unification, but what they value more is their freedom and comforts.

South Korea and Taiwan are similar in many ways. Both accomplished fast industrialization and democratization. Both are burdened with division and unification problems and also grapple with the repercussions of accelerated modernization. Both are trying to find ways to create a fairer and balanced society.

Taiwan may envy Korean conglomerates like Samsung, LG and Hyundai, but we Koreans are awed by Taiwan’s solid, small- and mid-sized enterprises. Taiwan is a good teacher for Korea in its pursuit of a society that is more concerned about the well-being of individuals than a proud national facade. I truly wish happiness and success for the Taiwanese people and Your Excellency.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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