Taiwan offers good model of democracy

Of 140,445 registered Trumbull County voters, only 34,844 — less than a quarter — cast ballots for Tuesday’s primary election, despite having virtually an entire month to do so. Sadly, this pitiful voter turnout is what we, as Americans, have come to view as acceptable in our democracy.

What can be incredibly eye-opening, however, is traveling around the world to nations that take their democratic responsibility even more seriously.

I spent last week in Taiwan, a small Democratic republic located off the coast of communist China. A 1949 split in which members of a Chinese Nationalist political party fled mainland China to Taiwan severed the island from Communist rule. Still today, however, China leaders continue to regard Taiwan as Chinese territory — a claim Taiwan staunchly disputes.

Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaushieh Joseph Wu last week said this: “China cannot claim its ownership of Taiwan,” Wu told us during our visit, which was sponsored by his ministry. “Taiwan does not belong to the PRC (People’s Republic of China).” (On an interesting side note, Wu was excited to introduce himself to me as a “fellow Buckeye,” having conducted his graduate studies at The Ohio State University.)

China regards its Taiwanese relationship very differently and has raised tensions in the region with attempts to influence how the world views Taiwan. For instance, acting under China’s direction, the World Health Organization last week refused to invite Taiwan to participate in this month’s vitally important 71st annual World Health Assembly. Last month China continued attempts to influence private businesses — including U.S.-based airlines, for instance — how they should classify Taiwan. China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent letters to United Airlines and American Airlines ordering these companies to follow Chinese law and refer to Taiwan as part of China no later than an imposed deadline or face referral to “relevant cyber-security authorities” for punishment, according to published reports.

In recent weeks China also has ramped up military drills in the strait separating the two countries, possibly to send messages of Beijing’s capabilities if Taiwan continues to balk at Chinese rule. During our visit, Foreign Minister Wu acknowledged the military threat against Taiwan is “genuine.”

So, while Taiwanese people go about their day-to-day lives, that threat remains constant in the back of their minds. Perhaps that’s why the Taiwanese are so cognizant of the high value of democracy. Voter turnout in that country hit 60 percent in the last national election — and that was with only one election day (not an election month, like in the U.S.) and no opportunity for absentee voting, according to Ketty Chen, a vice president with the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, a nationally funded non-profit organization in that country.

Emphasizing the value of open government, Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang serves in a radically transparent manner by encouraging active public participation in government via online surveys and posts full texts of meetings and in-person town-hall type gatherings created to encourage open discussion on topics of public debate. The information then is communicated by the public majority’s sentiment to government departments to find resolutions.

While the role of media independently watchdogging government remains vitally important in Taiwan — just like in the U.S. — Taiwan has taken democracy one step further by actively promoting the value and importance of open government to its residents.

The roles of Taiwan’s Digital Minister and the Foundation for Democracy — which I view as more progressive in many ways than open government attitudes held in America — also can be used to combat the very real threats of misinformation being spread by China or other foreign propogandists.

These efforts just may be a key to keeping the public involved and battling infiltration by outside or foreign forces intent on disrupting the democratic process. And if it helps to eliminate voter apathy along the way, that would be an even bigger plus.