In bad news for Taiwan, the government said Thursday that export orders fell for the third time this year. The good news was that Taiwan released economic data at all and on time, a sign of its democratic openness.
In contrast, China decided to delay the release of the latest figures for its economy – the world’s second largest – on Monday. The official silence was perhaps intended to prevent disappointing figures from embarrassing Xi Jinping this week as he secures a third term as Communist Party leader during a party elite gathering. Many estimates suggest that China’s per capita gross domestic product could fall, while Taiwan’s is expected to become the highest in East Asia this year.
Taiwan is still struggling as a young democracy – its first direct presidential election was held 24 years ago. Still, people have embraced the need for transparency and integrity in government, starting with economic data. In contrast, Mr. Xi has “reversed course from his predecessors’ emphasis on humility and openness to focus on national pride and self-sufficiency,” as the Wall Street Journal puts it.
Official secrecy has increased under Mr Xi’s decades-long tenure. A new law severely limits the release of government data, while academic exchanges with other countries have been severely curtailed. Party censors are more diligent in ridding social media of government leaks.
Taiwan has now emerged as one of the most open societies in Asia – despite China’s attempts to spread disinformation among the Taiwanese. In an Oct. 10 speech, President Tsai Ing-wen said her government would respond to Beijing’s “attempts at sabotage with a more transparent and democratic approach.”
Because of confidence in Taiwan’s business environment, the country remains a world leader in advanced computer chip manufacturing. It also beats China in global indices for economic competitiveness, online freedom and ease of doing business. China is heavily dependent on semiconductor imports from Taiwan for its high-tech industries and may be reluctant to invade the island.
This so-called silicon shield relies on Taiwan’s democratic values, such as its openness to alternative politicians at every election and honesty in economic information. This open-mindedness also promotes creativity in science and technology. According to the Global Competitiveness Report, the country ranks high in “ability to innovate”.
A high level of trust in the government helped Taiwan handle the pandemic well. “Because we trust people a lot, sometimes people trust back,” a BBC official said.
Openness has served Taiwan. In July, the United States began talks on a free trade agreement with the island. Despite China’s attempts to isolate its neighbor, Taiwan has more than 60 trading partners.
As a model of governance, Taiwan is surpassing the model touted by China’s ruling party this week. The world just needs to determine which country is releasing economic data, good or bad, and on time.