EUBULLETIN talked in an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with former Prime Minister of Taiwan, Mr Jiang Yi-huah, among other interesting and important issues, about the triangular relationship between the European Union, Taiwan and China and also about the EU’s important role in trying to push China to make a substantial progress in the area of democracy and human rights.
EUBULLETIN: The European Union is Taiwan’s fourth largest trade partner after China, the US and Japan. We could then perhaps say that both China and the EU are among the most important partners for Taipei. As a former Prime Minister of Taiwan, have you ever looked at your country’s relationship with the EU and China from a triangular perspective?
Jiang Yi-huah: I would like to say something about the triangular relationship between the EU, Taiwan and Mainland China. Generally, I think that Taiwan has been enjoying very good relations with the EU and the Taiwanese government appreciates very much all the different kinds of help that the EU as an entity has given to Taiwan, especially in international participation and also its humanitarian assistance all over the world. However, China’s political, military and economic power has been rising and thus more and more countries all over the world, on the one hand, want to be more engaged with Mainland China to get the opportunities offered by its huge market, but, on the other hand, many countries are becoming more and more worried about the growing influence of Mainland China.
But I want to say that Taiwan can provide a different opportunity for the rest of the world to think about how to engage with Mainland China. Because, you know, in Taiwan, we are a typical Chinese society and a Chinese country, but the values that Taiwanese people cherish so much is freedom and liberty and democracy – it’s quite different from the system in Mainland China. With the rise of Mainland China, people will worry about whether or not succumb to Mainland China in terms of our basic values, whether or not they will have to compromise their liberal democracy in order to get to the market of Mainland China.
EUBULLETIN: Yes, most Europeans would perhaps agree with your observation and most policy-makers in Brussels and in capital cities around Europe do privately admit to be faced with this dilemmatic situation. But what is your answer – what would be your advice to them?
Jiang Yi-huah: And my answer is that we don’t need to, and we cannot sacrifice about the liberty and democracy to get an access to the Chinese market. The reason is that Taiwan, which has become a fully liberalized and democratized country, has proved very clearly that liberal democracy is possible in the Chinese world. So, there is no reason to doubt that for Chinese culture, liberal democracy is not possible – it is possible! On the other hand, we should also remember that in the territory of Mainland China, there are so many people, maybe you can call them human rights activists or liberals, who are so eager to fight to have more democracy and more protection of human rights in their own country.
I think that the rest of the world should cooperate to assist those people who are so eager to promote democracy in Mainland China and that can help change the nature of the Chinese regime to make it less authoritarian as we can see it today. And I think that this would be a good development not only for Mainland China but also for the rest of the world. I think if China could become a democratic society and country, this would be good news not only for East Asian security but also for the rest of the world. I think instead of having a giant, which would enforce communist values, we prefer to have a good friend whose influence rises in this region but who also embraces the value of liberal democracy. And I think that this can be done by our efforts together.
EUBULLETIN: In recent years, notably during the economic crisis, the EU has on several occasions approached China looking for investments, asking it to buy European bonds etc. Don’t you think that the European leaders may have in some instances somehow compromised on the value of human rights for the sake of an immediate economic benefit?
Jiang Yi-huah: Yes, I think that this is a very important issue. As I said before, China represents a huge market for exports and not only for the EU, but maybe also for the United States, Japan and Korea, and Singapore – all the important countries want to get an access to the Chinese market. But the point is whether or not we should sacrifice or compromise on the value system that we hold dear. Because I am a political theorist and I always believe in a value of equality, democracy and freedom – I simply think there is some kind of boundary that we cannot cross.
We have to be very, very persistent in our basic values, such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the respect for human rights. As we can see, the Mainland China’s progress in these areas is far from satisfactory. And I think the point is that if the EU countries want to engage more and more politically with Mainland China, the EU should also consider how to push Mainland China toward the right direction to make a progress in human development.
EUBULLETIN: Are you talking about education? In fact, you have recently attended the annual Forum 2000 conference whose theme this year was ‘Democracy and Education’.
Jiang Yi-huah: Of course, education is one of the important channels. We don’t agree that education in China nowadays is a good one because education is a tool of political propaganda. They always want their people to believe that one-party rule, by the Communist Party, is the only option for the Chinese. They also want to reject the influence of the so-called Western ideology, which means liberal democracy, to enter into Mainland China. But I think that it is very, very authoritarian in nature.
The EU is respected by the rest of the world, by all the human beings, not only because of its economic prosperity but because it’s insistent on the basic human value. And I think the EU should try to change China – in that regard it’s better than being influenced by the Chinese. I believe that the EU countries should not accept the so-called Chinese model. You know the official ideology of Mainland Chinese government is the so-called China model – meaning socialism with Chinese characteristics – by that they want to emphasize that there could be a combination of a political authoritarianism and free market. But I don’t think that this is quite what Chinese people really want because, as I said earlier, there are so many dissidents in Mainland China who want to struggle for more freedom and equality and democracy – and their voice should not be overlooked!