Made In Taiwan: A New Economic Model

Much has been made of the "Asian Way" of development-- authoritarian, hierarchical, and controlled. Singapore is often cited as illustrating how such a top-down political system fosters fast economic growth while other societies, emphasizing individual rights, fester and founder.

Taiwan proves that there is a second Asian development model, one based on greater democracy. The vigorous three-party campaign for the upcoming elections in December highlights the simple fact that even in Confucian cultures, with strong families and conservative values, democracy goes hand-in-hand with economic growth. Indeed, Taiwan illustrates that as Asia moves into the digital age, the free flow of information, essential to democracies, is also critical for growth.

In 1987, Taiwan closely resembled Singapore. A one-party state run by the Kuomintang (KMT) under martial law, it had all the earmarks of a Confucian command society. The government dominated economic decision-making. Seven years later, this island of 21 million people is electing the provincial governor, the mayors of its two biggest cities, plus dozens of city council members. The KMT is vying with the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the conservative New Party for control, setting the stage for the first direct presidential election in 1996.

The campaign itself expresses how the path to democracy and the Information Highway are becoming one. Access to information and new media are playing key roles in the election. Candidates are turning to unlicensed cable and radio to reach the populace. More than a hundred cable companies have banded together in a consortium to air campaign news to counter the biased coverage of the state-controlled television stations.

In its drive toward a more democratic society, Taiwan has also succeeded in making itself an Asian hub for the new digital age. It is already a software center for the Chinese-speaking world. Family-run companies are significant players in many global computer and electronics markets. Taiwan is becoming a center for entertainment and information programming for Greater China. Plus its citizens are free. Not a bad model.

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