Taiwan Journal, Part I

Taipei, Taiwan


I’ve discovered something in recent days: When you tell people you’re going to Taiwan, they often hear “Thailand.” I ask a Taiwanese consular official in New York, “Have you noticed this? Have you noticed that, when you say ‘Taiwan,’ Americans may well hear ‘Thailand’?” “Oh, yes,” she says.

I wonder if it works the other way: whether, when you say “Thailand,” people hear “Taiwan.” I don’t think so. An interesting phenomenon.

Taiwan certainly deserves to be remembered — deserves to be held in consciousness — for it is one of the most admirable nations on earth. We will explore the reasons, in coming days.

And, yes, I said “nations.” In some quarters, when you call Taiwan a “nation” or even a “country,” you will get an argument.

Incidentally, I have a friend in Salzburg — an American — to whom I was once going to send something through the U.S. Post. He said, “Fine, but when you put ‘Austria’ on the envelope, it’s liable to wind up in Australia.”

In my Impromptus of last Thursday, I said I was going to begin a journal — this journal — in the week of June 17. I hope you don’t mind a jumping of the gun.

Before I leave for Taiwan, John Derbyshire, that old Asia hand, and fount of poetical knowledge, quotes Kipling: “If you’ve ’eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ’eed naught else.”

Why do you and I admire Taiwan? I’ll remind you: It is a plucky little democracy. It threw off years of authoritarianism to become a robust, noisy, exemplary democracy. It “evolved,” you could say. Taiwan puts the lie to the notion that “Asian values” preclude democracy.

“Democracy is for the West,” the excuse-makers say. “Freedom of worship, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, elections, checks and balances, rotation in office, pluralism — all those things are fine for the European West, but not for the Asian East.”

Baloney, says Taiwan (and South Korea, and Japan, and some other places).

Also, Taiwan has a free economy and is one of the world’s economic powerhouses. It proves the contentions of liberalism (classical). It is a melting pot, or at least “multicultural.”

And it is surviving in the shadow of a giant police state, namely the PRC — a police state that threatens to swallow the democracy to its southeast. Taiwan is denied a seat in the U.N., a place in other international organizations. Why, Taiwanese journalists in New York aren’t even allowed to cover the U.N. You can’t get credentials.

Virtually the whole of the U.N. is devoted to the Palestinians, who don’t yet have a state!

Sometimes our country, the United States, denies Taiwanese leaders the right even to touch down on our soil for refueling. Shameful, absolutely shameful. There aren’t many things that make me burn with shame, on account of our country. This does.

And yet, the United States is the best friend Taiwan has ever had. (Never mind that we severed formal relations, in favor of the PRC.) You could say, No U.S., no Taiwan.

Anyway: Taiwan is determined to survive, despite the forces against it. All of those who cheer democracy and liberalism must cheer Taiwan.

I say the same of Israel, which is perhaps even more friendless than Taiwan.

From New York to Taipei, I fly EVA Airways, the Taiwanese airline. There is no Wi-Fi aboard, which is strange, given that Taiwan is the Technology Nation.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review