China and Taiwan: Different paths to development

"The latter should have received as much attention on its 70th birthday."


Two countries were born on Oct. 1, 1949. One was the People's Republic of China; the other was Taiwan (then called Republic of China). The two countries should have been accorded equal treatment on the occasion of their 70th birthdays. Yet on Oct. 1, 2019 PROC—now simply called China—received more attention in this country, official and otherwise, than Taiwan, which tenaciously clings to the name Republic of China. There were two reasons for this.

The first was the difference in world status between the two countries. PROC is one of the world’s largest countries, has the largest population on this planet and has the world’s second-largest economy. Taiwan is far smaller on all these counts. The second reason was the Duterte administration’s extremely differential attitude toward China and its disinclination to do anything that might offend Chinese president Xi Jin-ping. The paths to power of PROC’s and Taiwan’s leaders—Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek, respectively—were different. Chairman Mao’s path was the path of conquest: his communist forces, having recovered from the Long March, had vanquished the Nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang. The Generalissimo’s path was the path of invasion and occupation. Until the Nationalists streamed in from the mainland, Taiwan was a neglected and underdeveloped part of the Middle Kingdom.

Likewise were the paths to development taken by Mao government and the Chiang government. The Mao government pursued the classic communist approach to development—collectivization, State ownership of all factors of production and command-type economic decisionmaking. In contrast, the Chiang administration put in place a hybrid developmental approach—dictatorial politics and democratic economics.

Which approach to development was more successful is shown by the fact that, whereas Taiwan had achieved high middle status for two decades after the arrival of the Nationalist forces, it was not until the early 1980s that China, now led by pragmatic Chairman Deng Xiao-ping, undertook the policy reversal that gradually led to China’s having the fourth-largest, then the third-largest and, finally, the second-largest economy. By the late Sixties Taiwan had already achieved the economic success that China would attain in the late Eighties.

What is notable about this comparison of Taiwan’s economic achievement with China’s is that Taiwan in time was able to switch to democratic governance whereas today, 70 years later, free political activity remains prohibited and political power still rests with the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and, ultimately the 3-million-strong PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Taiwan continues to score economic gains in a political environment in which lawmakers punctuate their parliamentary discussions with chair-throwing and insult-exchanging.

Moreover, Taiwan is generally regarded as a well-behaved citizen of the international community and a fair-minded participant in the world marketplace. By contrast, China has been the object of complaints from some of its trading partners, including the US, for such bad trading practices as currency manipulation and export subsidization. And of course China has behaved in bully fashion where it has been able to; witness its conduct in the South China Sea.

All in all, Taiwan’s achievements during the last 70 years in virtually every aspect of human endeavor—economic, political and social—are more impressive than those of its co-birthday celebrant, China. It should have received as much attention and acclaim on the occasion of their joint 70th birthday.

Topics: China , Taiwan , South China Sea , Mao Tse-tung , Chiang Kai-shek , Republic of China
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