Taiwan beacon of light during time of darkness

Major report shows authoritarianism spreading worldwide along with Wuhan coronavirus, but not in Taiwan

Taipei 101 flashes sign "TWcanHelp." (Facebook, Taipei 101 Observatory photo)

Taipei 101 flashes sign "TWcanHelp." (Facebook, Taipei 101 Observatory photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In a world where the effects of COVID-19 are eroding freedom in an increasing number of democracies and creating more repressive autocracies, Taiwan is a beacon of light, according to the latest major report on the state of world governance.

The BTI Transformation Index puts together reports from 300 international experts at universities and think tanks, comparing their modes of government and economies. Produced by Bertelsmann Stiftung, it is an independent foundation based in Germany that was founded in 1977.

According to the report's executive summary, "Taiwan has remained a high performer in terms of democratic politics and liberal market policies. It continues to enjoy a high degree of stateness, meaningful elections, the absence of undemocratic veto actors, stable democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society, and does extremely well in guaranteeing its citizens political rights and civil liberties."

The report states that despite "China's increased pressure," Taiwan has done "quite well" economically under the stewardship of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), with GDP per capita growing from US$22,592 (NT$675,659) in 2016 to US$25,048 in 2018.

Taiwan's political and economic transformation (BTI Transformation Index screenshot)

"Overall, Taiwan remained among the world’s top 20 economies in terms of macro stability, international competitiveness and market-friendly policies, despite the worsening of cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s increasing political isolation since the DPP government came to power in 2016."

There is judicial independence, "while corruption is not a concern," according to the report. There is rule of law and full political participation, while "Freedom of opinion and freedom of the press are well established and are exercised unrestrictedly, with vigorous and diverse reporting on government policies and alleged official wrongdoing."

This rosy picture of Taiwan's blooming civil society is contrasted with the mega trends observed in many of the other 137 countries covered in the report. These trends show that freedom of opinion and freedom of the press have been "reduced" in 50 percent of countries, while global average scores for democracy are at their lowest level since the BTI survey began in 2004.

Looking at the situation in China, the report states the government has become even more autocratic. It has abolished presidential term limits and cracked down on political opponents, imprisoning millions of Uighur citizens and attacking pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

"The number of people who are governed poorly and less democratically is increasing worldwide," the report states. Meanwhile, "The fight against COVID-19 will further promote the trend towards a strong executive branch and will be instrumentalized by some heads of state to consolidate authoritarian structures."

Even so, Taiwan emerges in a strong light because of its generosity in donating personal protective equipment (PPE) to other countries battling the disease. The BTI report continues that because of its soft-power politics, Taiwan is creating a good name for itself, separate from China and its claims on the island nation.

"By convincing the world’s public that it rightfully claims sovereignty and that its diplomatic isolation deprives the international community of full use of Taiwan’s expertise and financial might, Taiwan enjoys a good reputation as political partner and engaged donor of development aid and humanitarian assistance."

The BTI report characterized 74 countries as democracies (including Taiwan) and 63 as autocracies. The share of democracies is 54 percent, a 3 percent fall compared with the 2010 report.