Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen appears to be the sort of trustworthy and rational person Taiwan needs as a leader. She was my English student.
Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was my English student in the early 1980s, when I was a struggling Chinese-language student at the Stanford Center in Taiwan and concurrently an instructor at Taiwan’s government-run 語言訓練測驗中心 (Language Training and Testing Center). Tsai struck me as a rather reserved but intelligent student who spoke English quite well.
A few years later, around 1990, when I was working for the US State Department in Taiwan, I again met Ms. Tsai when she was with Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission.
The US Combat-brand roach hotel, the famous “you can check in, but never check out” product that nailed cockroaches dead, was imitated in Taiwan in a number of innovative and clever ways that skirted Combat’s patents. Combat, seeing its profits in Taiwan suddenly plunge, filed a complaint with the US foreign service.
I remember accompanying another American diplomat to Tsai’s office near the Taiwan University campus. We demonstrated several of the plastic, made-in-Taiwan knockoffs that were similar to the Combat products. Tsai and an assistant patiently examined the Taiwanese products and then replied that they found no evidence of infringement of Combat’s intellectual property rights.
She apparently had no recollection of me, but I again had an impression of Tsai as a person who, if not so friendly, was very professional and businesslike.
Tsai appears to be the sort of trustworthy and rational person Taiwan needs as a leader. She will undoubtedly have a difficult job managing Taiwan’s complicated relationship with China, which is an unfortunate legacy of the years of authoritarian rule by the ruling Nationalist party. She will also bear the burden of Taiwan’s sputtering economy, which has been in the doldrums for decades, mainly because it has failed to make a transition from contract manufacturing to high value-added services.
Before filing this blog, I decided to speak with a friend who works for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) about his expectations for Tsai.
My TSMC friend rather ironically said he hopes that Tsai will adopt policies that favor smaller, more entrepreneurial companies in Taiwan. He also hopes that Taiwan’s new president will take a longer-term view than her predecessor to make Taiwan a place in which people can confidently build careers and families.
The earlier Nationalist policy of enhancing trade ties with China will only provide short-term gains, he said.
I also feel that Taiwan has an entrepreneurial culture that has been a victim of its own success in recent years. Taiwan’s big companies dominate the electronics industry, rather unfortunately stifling creativity.
Despite its various problems, Taiwan has an important opportunity to demonstrate the value of democracy to the Chinese-speaking world. For years, I’ve heard from Nationalist party stalwarts that democracy isn’t suitable for Chinese. I’ve heard the same thing from members of China’s Communist party.
I don’t think political leaders can create jobs or business opportunities. However, they can help to create environments that foster business development. I hope that Taiwan’s new president will help to build an environment that favors new, entrepreneurial businesses and ties with a wider number of countries including Japan, South Korea and India, just to name a few.
Taiwan faces a number of challenges, but it’s encouraging to see young people here taking innovative approaches to the problems they face.
Three cheers to President-elect Tsai and the people of Taiwan! All the best with the next four years.