by SIMON C. HSIEH
Both are small but rich and beautiful democratic countries, surrounded by strong and hostile enemies.
The visa waiver which came into effect on August 11 between Israel and Taiwan ushered a new era of improving trade and tourism between the two countries.
In addition to the waiver, we signed several other agreements and memoranda including a Customs Cooperation, Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and more. Before the end of the year we will hopefully sign two more agreements, about water technology and aviation.The people of Taiwan are also thrilled to congratulate Technion Professor Dan Shechtman on becoming Israel’s tenth Nobel Laureate. In Taiwan, we well remember the excitement when Dr. Yuan T. Lee won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
As the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan celebrates its centennial, we also take the opportunity to reflect on a century of great struggle and tremendous success. The ROC became Asia’s first republic on October 10, 1911 as the result of the efforts of founding father Dr. Sun Yatsen and other revolutionaries. The early decades were turbulent, but 1947 saw the promulgation of the ROC Constitution, which mandates a government of the people, by the people and for the people – the fundamental principles of democracy.
The ROC government relocated to Taiwan in 1949, one year after the independence of the State of Israel.
Ten major construction projects of the 1970s led to the island’s “economic miracle,” which transformed an agrarian economy into one based on services and knowledge. The development of democracy and social rights accelerated when martial law ended in 1987, resulting in the lifting of bans on new political parties and newspapers. The next steps came when the ROC’s first direct presidential election was held in 1996 and the first transfer of power from the ruling party to an opposition party occurred peacefully in 2000.
IN THE international sphere, the ROC on Taiwan endured several trying decades after it left the United Nations in 1971 and the United States severed diplomatic ties in 1979. Since taking power in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration has worked strenuously to improve relations with mainland China, rebuild links with the United States and enhance the ROC’s peaceful image and world status. As a result, ROC citizens now enjoy visa-free entry to 123 countries and territories.
Moreover, the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and mainland China in 2010 has proven crucial for continuing Taiwan’s economic development.
ECFA allows the nation to tap the mainland market, participate in the regional economy and has led to trade negotiations with other countries.
Even the Japanese government was considering their investment to China through Taiwan.
Taiwan has also become known for taking the best elements of Chinese culture and blending them with distinctive local characteristics, yielding a mélange that is a primary reason more than 2.5 million tourists from mainland China have visited the island since agreements establishing closer sea and air transport links took effect in 2008. And there are 550 direct flights between cities of Taiwan and mainland China.
Taiwan’s unique social blend has led to the development of a cultural and creative industry that leads the Mandarin-speaking world. The island’s New Wave Cinema movement, for example, attracted international critical acclaim during the 1980s and gave rise to world-renowned directors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee. A more recent renaissance can be seen in movies like director Wei Te-sheng’s 2008 box-office smash Cape No.7.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s philanthropic spirit can be seen in the donation of more than NT $5.7 billion (US $196.6 million) – more than any other country in the world – by the Taiwan government and private individuals to victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11 this year in Japan. Another example of Taiwan’s humanitarianism is the work of vegetable vendor Chen Shu-chu, who was selected as one of the world’s 100 most influential people of 2010 by Time magazine for her large charitable donations.
Taiwanese citizens now enjoy a vibrant multiparty democracy, resilient economy and full freedom of speech, as well as comprehensive social welfare and human rights safeguards. When the fireworks explode on October 10, they will honor every individual who helped the nation reach such milestones, as well as illuminate a future of peace and sustainable development.
Taiwan and Israel share many similar situations: both are small but rich and beautiful democratic countries, surrounded by strong and hostile enemies that have developed into energetic hardware or software hubs in the world high-tech industry. I believe that our practical, win-win policy will lead our two countries and peoples into many more cooperative efforts in the future.
The writer is director of Information Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv.