Give Taiwan Its Due This Election Day: The Ticker

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By William Pesek

China and the U.S. have found something they can actually agree on: hoping President Ma Ying-jeou is reelected in tomorrow's Taiwan election.

Ma's opponent, Tsai Ing-wen, is viewed with suspicion by China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan. China worries she will reverse Ma's efforts to improve ties with the mainland and perhaps even declare independence. The U.S. needs China's help in curbing nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. It fears any change to the status quo in cross-Taiwan Strait relations.

It's an odd position for the U.S., the great champion of freedom, in which to be. Here you have a thriving democracy of 23 million people and the U.S. tells Taiwan to keep its head down and not to make trouble. It's a calculated embrace of realpolitik to keep the peace in a chaotic economic environment.

Yet let's take a moment and give Taiwan its due -- and point out what China's $5.9 trillion economy could learn from Taiwan's $355 billion one.

Taiwan's vibrant democracy and free press are something from which China's Communist Party should be learning. The powerful entrepreneurial spirit coursing through Taiwan is a secret of the economy's success and one that has created internationally competitive companies like Acer Inc., Giant Manufacturing Co., HTC Corp., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and others.

China, by contrast, seems to have little time for developing indigenous brands -- it’s more interested in buying established overseas businesses and demanding technology transfers as the price of access to its markets. The trouble with skipping some of the development steps is that sometimes you trip.

Taiwanese have no misgivings about the importance of China's economy. No Asian economy can blow off the potential of 1.3 billion people who someday want to become richer, travel the world and buy the kind of technology gadgets and goods Taiwanese are so skilled at building. Least of all an export-driven economy in the heart of the greater China region.

Let's just not forget the odd limbo in which Taiwan finds itself as 18 million eligible voters head to the polls. Just as much as Taiwan should be harnessing China's boom, Beijing should be heeding Taipei's example.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

-0- Jan/13/2012 15:44 GMT