Politics & Policy

Taiwan Journal, Part I

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.

‐Remember how, in the bad old days, our airlines hired flight attendants — “stewardesses,” we called them — who were young and pretty? I think EVA follows the same practice . . .

‐One types “stewardesses” with the left hand alone . . .

‐On the electronic map in front of me, I see a landmark labeled “Mount McKinley.” My heart leaps. I thought that honorable term was gone forever! When we stop over in Anchorage, I see postcards in the gift shop — hailing “Denali.” Oh, well.

‐I knew the battle was lost a few years ago when one of my most conservative friends — true-blue, without an ounce of PC in him — said he had visited “Denali.”

‐Taiwan is hot, Florida-like. I know you’ve never heard this before, but it’s not so much the heat as the humidity.

‐Not far from the Taipei airport, I see wind turbines. When I first started to see them in various parts of the world, years ago, I thought they were kind of cool — something new under the sun, and an admirable source of energy. Now I’m more inclined to think they are a blight and a joke.

But I am not entirely settled on the issue . . .

‐It is hot, hot on the streets of Taipei, and yet there are these hot-food stalls. An incongruity, I would think. Kind of heat on heat.

‐A man walks by with a parrot on his shoulder as naturally as a lady would walk by with a poodle on the Upper East Side.

‐The air quality isn’t bad, nothing like Beijing, from what I understand. I’m reminded a little of Rome when I was a student. Yet there are still some people wearing mouth-covers.

‐There is a sign that says you can’t throw cigarettes on the ground — “No Butts,” it says. Perfect English. But still, a tiny bit funny.

‐The dogs respond to Chinese commands. Do they speak Mandarin or Hokkien or both? Or are they just going by tone? They are not available to be interviewed.

‐In my “Oslo Journal,” scribbled last month, I mentioned the profusion of 7-Elevens in the Norwegian capital. I don’t see that convenience store at home much anymore. But Scandinavia has them.

And Taipei is absolutely crawling with them. There seems to be one every few blocks or so. A local tells me, “They make living so easy.” (Reminds me of a Gershwin song.)

‐It is natural to think that Taiwan was once a Portuguese colony. Taiwan has been colonized many times. The Portuguese were some of the greatest explorers and colonizers the world has ever known. Taiwan was once known as “Formosa,” the Portuguese word for “beautiful.” So . . .

But, from what I understand, the Portuguese were never here. It’s just that, sailing by one day in the 16th century, a Portuguese sailor said, “Hey, an ihla formosa” — a beautiful island.

The rest, apparently, is history.

‐When I reflect on the development of Taiwan since 1945, or 1949, I can’t help thinking, “This is what China — all of China — could have had. This is what China could be, and even greater. Sure, they have something like mercantilism now. But they are still a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. And there are still countless people living in caves. It didn’t need to be, it didn’t need to be.”

How many years and lives has Communism gobbled and wasted, for almost a century now, throughout the globe!

Anyway — I’ll have more thoughts and reports, melancholy or not, tomorrow, in Part II. Thanks for joining me, friends.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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