Courtesy Reuters

Understanding Taiwan: Bridging the Perception Gap

The sustained economic growth, unprecedented prosperity, and full democracy recently achieved by the Republic of China has one drawback: the speed of Taiwan's progress has outstripped prevailing perceptions of what Taiwan is and how it should fit into the global order. To illustrate this, one need look no further than the attainment of full democracy on Taiwan, and the subsequent emergence of a new sense of national identity impelled by the force of the ballot box.

To convey a sense of the popular will on Taiwan today, I now refer to my fellow citizens as "New Taiwanese," meaning those who are willing to fight for the prosperity and survival of their country, regardless of when they or their forebears arrived on Taiwan and regardless of their provincial heritage or native language. This fresh national identity based on the New Taiwanese consciousness, holding that Taiwan's interests should be foremost and that the people of Taiwan all share a common destiny, has gradually harmonized the populace and provided a stable middle ground for Taiwan's political development.

This new sense of identity manifests itself in every aspect of Taiwanese social and political life, including the role that the voters of Taiwan feel is appropriate for their democracy in the world. In turn, the way that its democratic achievements are perceived elsewhere in the region -- particularly across the Taiwan Strait in Beijing -- directly affects Taiwan's security and future development in ways never anticipated by the international community. If peace and stability are to be maintained in the Taiwan Strait area, the perceptions underpinning policies involving Taipei and Beijing must be more firmly grounded in reality than in ideological wishful thinking. Only then can the international community faithfully take into account the full significance of democracy on Taiwan.

IMAGINED COMMUNITY

The people of Taiwan have long endured diplomatic isolation, which essentially began with the withdrawal of the Republic of China (R.O.C.) from the United Nations on October 25, 1971. Under pressure from Beijing, many

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