If only the Taiwanese spoke English

If only the Taiwanese spoke English

By M.D. Nalapat | 29 July, 2012
Ma attends the Taiwan Air Force’s commissioning ceremony at Songshan airport in Taipei earlier this month. REUTERS
For a people that have had close contact with the US for six decades, it is dismaying that so little English is actually spoken in Taiwan.

Democracy may be defined as a state where the government is afraid of the people and where the people are certainly not in awe of or afraid of their government. Judging by this yardstick, Taiwan has become a full democracy. Unlike in South Korea, where the state can still send people to jail for saying that North Korea's Newly Beloved Leader Kim Jong Il has a pleasant smile, the one blot on Taiwan's democratic credentials is the apparent witch-hunt carried out against former President Chen Shui-bian. He was jailed soon after his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost to the Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in 2008, and has been slapped with charges that could keep him in jail for a further 13 years. Amazingly, Swiss banking secrecy laws were breached in the Chen case to hand the prosecution details of external accounts. What is still unclear is if these were personal, or secret service funds intended to continue the numerous China-targeting programmes that Chen backed. During the eight years of DPP rule (2000 to 2008), Taiwan became a place where foes of Beijing were welcomed, including Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan independence activists. While proving a link between his arrest and his anti-China views would be difficult, certainly several influential individuals in Beijing would have received the news of his incarceration with satisfaction. The individual credited with adopting a "throw the book at him" line towards the former President was then National Security Advisor Su Chi, who in that role helped President Ma Ying-jeou to vastly expand links with China.

Should the peace hold across the Taiwan straits, the world would be a better place. President Ma himself is known to favour a "permanent peace" across the Taiwan straits, although as yet he has not made a visit to the PRC, unlike his predecessor as the KMT's standard bearer, Lien Chan. Officials within the Presidential Office are clearly worried about whether the Chinese would humiliate their chief by denying him the protocol privileges his VVIP status entitles him to. The view of this columnist is that such a fear may be misplaced. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not remained in office nor developed the economy so vastly by accident. They would be aware that an insult to President Ma would make millions of Taiwanese now friendly to China hostile to them, thereby ensuring the victory of the "Pan Greens" (hardline independence faction of the DPP) during the 2014 mayoral polls across Taiwan. However, President Ma has as much faith in the wisdom of unelected officials as does Manmohan Singh, and he has thus far followed a very cautious approach towards the option of a visit to the PRC, which if it were done would be the first since Chiang Kai-shek led his defeated army to Taiwan in 1949.

Four years of KMT rule have dispelled several of the war clouds that once hovered over Taiwan. However, there are those who point out that the island is much more than a Sinic entity. Taiwan has a global presence, thanks to its economic prowess, and hence needs not simply a "cross-strait", i.e. China policy, but a global strategy that leverages its strengths in all the continents. But to do that, the people of the island will need to become vastly more proficient in the English language. For a people that have had close contact with the US for six decades, it is dismaying that so little English is actually spoken in Taiwan. Hong Kong, not to mention Singapore, has far better English-language skills than Taiwan. Given the superb human quality of the population of Taiwan, it would take less than a decade for English to become universally known across the island. Should this happen, the ability of the Taiwanese to access information and deploy their skills would be vastly enhanced. This writer believes Churchill to be wrong in adopting an NSDAP-style racist approach towards the Anglosphere. With its three hundred million English speakers, India is as much a part of the 21st century Anglosphere as is the US. Should the Taiwanese take to English the way they have to the production of computer hardware, the island would join Singapore in becoming a part of the modern Anglosphere.


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