Taiwan & Oklahoma: Welcome Prosperity

Taipei, Taiwan — Even in Taiwan, with one of the most resilient economies in the modern world, in this time of financial uncertainty there is some anxiety.  Foreign exchange reserves here fell for the third consecutive month in September, with a drop of $957 million (U.S.) from August’s $281 billion.  Still, the country retains the world’s fifth largest foreign exchange holdings, according to the Central Bank of the Republic of China (in Taipei).

Taiwan is also one of the most reliable and mutually beneficial U.S. trading partners. Taiwan is friendly to the America, and actually enjoys trade surpluses with our country and with mainland China.

Bilateral trade with the U.S. amounted to $56.9 billion in 2005. American exports to Taiwan reached $22 billion, with a relatively modest $34.55 million of that coming from Oklahoma. But there’s certainly room to improve that data.

Oklahoma remains a major agricultural producer, even in the increasingly competitive (and integrated) world economy.

As Dr. Vince Orza pointed out in a speech to members of the Associated Builders and Contractors last week, the Sooner State is not only booming in the energy sector, agri-business has enjoyed a solid surge in prices and profits in recent months.  Taiwan is the 5th largest importer of agricultural good from the United States, and procured millions of metric tons of grain and millions of leather pieces from the U.S in both 2006 and 2007. Oklahoma shared in those sales. Taiwan-Oklahoma trade expansion should be a priority for both.

The recently-elected government of Taiwan invited this writer and other reporters to visit the island Republic for a national conference focused on island entrepreneurs and trade opportunities, and to attend the "double 10" celebrations on Thursday and Friday. "Double 10" commemorates the mainland China origins of Taiwan’s liberties.  On October 10, 1912, Dr. Sun Yat-sun and his allies declared a Republic and displaced the ancient imperial regime of China.

Later, nationalist elements were pressured off the mainland by communists, leading to an exodus of the nationalist army and its supporters.  After the decades of authoritarian rule that followed, Taiwan gradually transformed into a true multi-party democracy, proving that representative government can work in an Asian context.  Taiwan has now had two peaceful transfers of presidential power, the most recent bringing the Nationalist Party (the Kuomingtang, or KMT) back to power under Ma Ying-jeou.

He was scheduled to visit the Taiwan Business Alliance Conference on Tuesday; visitors hope also to see Vice President Vincent Siew, who was Taiwan’s premier when I interviewed him 10 years ago.  In various high-tech and computer sectors, there are scores of undeveloped opportunities for mutual benefit between Taiwan and Oklahoma.

Despite great differences in culture and tradition, Taiwan with its vibrant political system is the Asian nation most like ours, and not only in economic terms.  This week’s "family values" conference in Taiwan is designed to support greater respect for elders, and make elementary school children more appreciative of their country’s history.  Speaking of education, modest forms of school choice are percolating on the island, already one of the most educated nations in the world.

Taiwan, like Oklahoma, is a relatively young "state."  We just celebrated our centennial. The Republic of China will celebrate its first 100 years in 2012.  And, as with us, there are political growing pains.  Immediate past President Chen Shui-bian is embroiled in a serious scandal involving apparent financial chicanery that only ended when he left office last spring.  The China Post, Taiwan’s largest English-language daily newspaper, editorialized Sunday that Chen not only violated his oath of office, "but also abused his position of power to enrich his family members and himself."

All of this — the good, the bad and the ugly — gets a full airing in the country’s news media.  Freedom House’s 2008 ranking listed Taiwan as having the freest media in Asia for the second year in a row. That gets it a global ranking of 32nd, while China’s state-controlled media comes in 181st out of 195 countries.

Taiwan and mainland China continue to have troubled relations, despite deep economic connections.  For Taiwan’s part, President Ma got good news this week when the U.S. government approved a major multi-billion sale of advanced weaponry; arms Ma said are purely defensive.  His spokesman told reporters on Saturday, "A strong defense and peace in the Taiwan Strait are necessary for Taiwan’s prosperity."  Among those praising the sale is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Tulsa, co-chairman of the Senate Taiwan Caucus and a firm friend of the country.

In the Crown Heights neighborhood where I live in midtown Oklahoma City, the pineapple is a sign of "welcome" or hospitality.  Here in Taiwan, where it is an important agricultural cash crop, the luscious fruit is considered a sign of prosperity.

This week, the confluence of those ideas seems apt. In facing an ever-challenging future, people in both Taiwan and Oklahoma should welcome prosperity.

About the Author:
Since 2002 Patrick B. McGuigan has regularly contributed commentaries and news stories to Tulsa Today, and previously served as our state capitol editor.  He is the managing editor for The City Sentinel, an Oklahoma City weekly paper and continues as a contributing editor for Tulsa Today.

Additional Photo Information:  Photo #3 shows the 1,644-foot-tall Taipei 101 building, home to the Taiwan stock market.  The building boasts the world’s fastest elevator, from zero to the 89th-floor observation deck in only 37 seconds moving speeds that exceed 36 miles per hour.