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CNN's Fareed Zakaria highlights Taiwan as 'bright spot' for democracy

Zakaria warns 'democracy at the mercy of an authoritarian behemoth is fragile at best'

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Fareed Zakaria. (Twitter, Fareed Zakaria screenshot)

Fareed Zakaria. (Twitter, Fareed Zakaria screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Monday (Sept. 27) highlighted Taiwan as an unusual "bright spot" in the world amid the "backsliding" of democracy during the pandemic.

During the Last Look segment of an episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS that aired on Monday, the CNN host cited the latest Democracy Index report by the Economist Intelligence Unit as ranking Taiwan as the No. 11 democracy in the world and the most democratic country in Asia. Zakaria pointed out that this was a leap of 20 spots since 2019, far larger than that of any other government.

He noted that Taiwan's high score was in large part due to the 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, which saw a turnout of 75%. Taking a jab at Trump, Zakaria said: "in contrast to another 2020 election, Taiwan's election loser graciously and quickly conceded, calling for unity."

He said that the success of Taiwan's election was a "testament to Taiwan's democracy." Zakaria observed that the country's electoral system is relatively new, with citizens only being able to directly choose representatives since 1992.

Zakaria asserted that over the past 10 years, power has "increasingly been consolidated in the hands of the people." He pointed out that since 2012, Taiwan has digitized its interface between the government and the people in a central web portal, www.gov.tw.

Unlike their communist neighbor across the strait, Zakaria noted that essentially all Taiwanese can access the internet "without censorship." He reasoned that it should come as no surprise that Taiwan has one of the freest online environments in the world, rated No. 5 in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2021 report.

Zakaria also mentioned the Sunflower Student Movement of 2014, a grassroots response to the proposed Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) with China. After taking to the streets and occupying the Legislative Yuan and Cabinet over the course of 23 days, the protestors succeeded in halting the trade pact.

In contrast to the chaos seen in many countries during the pandemic, Taiwan's response to the COVID crisis has "boosted public trust in the government even further," said Zakaria. He compared Taiwan's 16,000 COVID cases to Australia, which has a similar population size but a case number five times higher.

He pointed out that the Economist Intelligence Unit has lauded Taiwan's pandemic strategy for avoiding the sorts of restrictions that have degraded civil liberties in many other nations.

However, Zakaria said the democracy faces many challenges from China, such as that nation's interference in Taiwan's elections through "meddling and disinformation campaigns." Taiwan is also in many ways isolated from the world community because China forces countries and international governing bodies to choose between Beijing and Taipei, he noted.

He also addressed China's "constant threat of military intervention" in the form of Chairman Xi Jinping's (習近平) "belligerent language" as well as the constant intrusions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Zakaria added that Taiwanese "watched anxiously as China's supposed 'one country, two systems' model in Hong Kong was eroded."

In the wake of the brutal crackdown on Hong Kong and the imposition of the draconian National Security Law in 2020, over 88% of Taiwanese now reject the notion of imposing the "one country, two systems" model on their country, Zakaria said. He called Beijing's ever-tightening choke hold over Hong Kong "a bleak reminder to Taiwan and to President Biden that democracy at the mercy of an authoritarian behemoth is fragile at best."