Letter from Taipei

Last Saturday Taipei hosted the first Gay Pride parade to be held in the city since same sex marriage was legalised in Taiwan on 24th May this year. Following the introduction of the new law 5 months ago, more than 2150 same sex couples have married in Taiwan; around 200 000 persons took part in this year’s Gay Pride parade.

Taiwan is a beacon of respect for human rights, tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, peace and stability in South East Asia. With a population of 23.6 million people, Taiwan is an important partner for the EU and the US as a successful democracy that helps to promote our shared values in this part of the world.

Speaking with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, I asked him whether there was any support in Taiwan for the “one country two systems” concept, that the Communist Party in mainland China was advocating for their strategy of reunification. He replied that Taiwanese people are enjoying their freedom and their way of life; “This is a non-starter for our citizens,” he said, “We have our democracy. Why should people be asked to give up their freedom?”

According to the Mainland Affairs Council of Taiwan, almost 90% of all Taiwanese people prefer to maintain the status quo and reject the concept of one country two systems. They are of course aware of what is happening currently in Hong Kong, which was promised “50 years without change” under the joint declaration signed by Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping in 1984. But now, 22 years after the hand over of Hong Kong to mainland China to become a special administrative region of the country, there is massive popular protest against alleged interference in Hong Kong affairs.


Joseph WU Jaushieh, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister
Joseph WU Jaushieh, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister


Speaking in Nepal earlier this month, Communist China’s President Xi Jinping made reference to “Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” without mentioning any specific target for these remarks. The media has generally interpreted these comments as being directed against Hong Kong protesters. But the language used is exceptionally harsh, and comes as a reminder that China has not ruled out the possibility of using military force to bring Taiwan under the control of Communist mainland China.

Last week, Vice-President Mike Pence of the United States delivered a broadside aimed at mainland China, reprimanding the country for becoming ever “more aggressive and destabilising.” His remarks were balanced by the comment that “The United States does not seek confrontation with China. We seek a level playing field, open markets, fair trade and a respect for our values.”

Taiwan can only benefit from a trade deal being struck between China and the US, and the stabilising effect this would have on world business and trade.

An independent member of the World Trade Organisation since 2002, Taiwan had a total volume of trade of US$ 577 billion based on 2017, and the US was its third largest export market, and its fourth largest source of imported goods and services. With an annual GDP of US$ 589 billion based on World Bank 2018 figures, Taiwan is listed as the world’s 16th largest exporter of goods, the 21st strongest economy in the world, and is ranked as 13th in the 2019 Ease of Doing Business. The Netherlands seems to have got the message and is the biggest single source of foreign direct investment in Taiwan.

Increasingly the world is looking beyond business and trade results to define success, but nobody has yet come up with a “happiness index”. So the best I can do to assess Taiwan’s performance in looking after its increasingly diverse society is to record my personal observation that Taipei’s citizens seem to have lower levels of stress than their counterparts in Western cities; they are calm, polite, tolerant and clearly enjoy their freedom and their way of life. Which is exactly how it should be.