Tsai Ing-wen Expresses What She Means by Thinking about Taiwan, Let's Join Her.

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Monday August 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

With the presidential race over, many have asked what I plan to do next. For them I always have but one answer: think hard about Taiwan. Most respond to this with more than a little curiosity and skepticism. What exactly, they ask, is thinking hard about Taiwan?

Walking along the street one day, I saw a young motorist stopped at a red light reach down from their motorcycle, pick up an empty plastic bottle and put it in a nearby trash can, all done without a second thought. The whole incident couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, but I was completely moved. Rest assured, this wasn't the first time they had done something like this. It was clearly the type of action they had built into their life. And it's the little things like this, added up, that make Taiwan just a little bit more pleasant. That person probably wasn't thinking about very much when they picked up that bottle, but from my point of view, they were doing precisely what I call thinking about Taiwan.

Another time, I was watching television and saw a young sports fan that went around to events in full Techno Prince Nezha gear with a Taiwanese flag draped across his back to show his support. He wanted to remind everyone that there's wonderful country they might not know about called The Republic of China, which they may know as Taiwan. Some might say this type of thing can't really compete with an official government campaign, but if you ask me, that young fan was thinking about Taiwan.

I'm also acquainted with a few seniors who, despite being retired, are still interested in doing something for their country. They've taken up as their cause some less privileged students who leave school every day without any family to walk with them, arriving at a home without so much as a desk they can use for their homework. These seniors work hard to find the resources and people that could make a difference in the lives of these children as they grow up. All across the far-flung and remote areas of Taiwan they've set up after-school centers to give these kids a place to go; a place where they'll see that since this country hasn't given up on them, they aren't allowed to give up on themselves either.

These dedicated seniors are what I mean by thinking about Taiwan.

Speaking from experience, thinking about Taiwan actually feels great. Our politics, however, full of distractions on one side and a sense of helplessness on the other, has mutated this simple act into something dark and needlessly complex. Thinking implies more than a yearning. Thinking about Taiwan means putting our country at the front and center of your mind. With Taiwan on your mind you can begin to consider and tackle our country's most pressing needs. And this thinking needs to be covering not only the broadest scope, but also exploring the depths of our problems as thoroughly as possible. In the past, we believed the government would always find a way to help us with this thinking, but in recent years we've seen with our own eyes that this faith was perhaps ill-founded.

If no one will come to help us think, we must begin to think for ourselves. We must roll up our sleeves and come to our own conclusions. This is what I call thinking about Taiwan.

It is a mystery to no one that Taiwan is a country with no shortage of problems. Domestically, the issues deserving of our immediate attention are myriad. With our present set of economic troubles, our top priority is discovering what new models will fuel our future development. At the same time, we must never shirk our duty to ensure our equal and just society co-exists alongside this growth, without getting in its way.

Our democratic framework is too not without its flaws. The never-ending partisan rivalry has created a situation whereby consensus-based solutions are never arrived at. To make matters worse, the final, unprejudiced arbitrator of our government, the judicial system, similarly fails in their goal of inspiring public confidence. Our democracy is like a jigsaw puzzle missing a crucial piece. People talk past each other, holding fast only to their own beliefs. The result is that our communal sense of trust deteriorates just a little more each and every day. If we continue along this path, it will surely be the end of us.

In the future, our relationship with China is obviously something we will also have to think hard about. Many have the distinct impression that China is a place full of unknowns. They also believe China believes in nothing if not the rejection of our sovereignty. At the same time as we, with no illusions, see ourselves increasingly dependent on China, we must also think hard about our long-term strategy of dealing with China. To do this we must better understand China itself. We must free ourselves from the constraints of the narrow framework established in past discussions of Cross-Strait Relations. We must see the problem with fresh eyes and with new ideas informing our understanding. We must see how the rest of the world sees China and how China sees the rest of the world, including us. Finally, we must deepen our understanding of both the people and the government of China, while not neglecting the many businesses operating in China founded by our fellow citizens.

As a separate issue, we must think hard about Taiwan's place in the world and how changes in the international community will come to affect Taiwan. From the European debt crisis and the 2008 financial crisis, to the American presidential election, China's economic slowdown, a recession among the BRIC countries and the Arab Spring, these events all around the world have a unique meaning for Taiwan. It is our duty to think hard about what that meaning is.

And of course, we have our own social welfare issues to think hard about. Our social safety net as it stands now is incomplete. Those at the margins of our society lack the care and dignity they deserve. Looking forward, if our systems are not rigorously and carefully planned out, if we don't determine the best policies and programs, our nation's finances will be depleted without delivering services with a level of quality we can all stand behind. At the same time, we must learn how best to empower the greater society in this plan, harnessing our communities as an additional branch of government to work with us on issues such as health care, social services, employment and business within a united framework.

Last, but not least, we must think hard about our culture. What exactly do we create? What is it that makes Taiwan special?

When I tell people about the online forum I've started, Im usually urged to think twice. I'm told that with information everywhere around us, no one's looking to get flooded with even more information. Then people insist that things online have to be fun and relaxing, otherwise they face certain death. Believe me, this is nothing I haven't heard before. And despite this, I'm optimistic. I've always believed that there's a real yearning for rational discussion in Taiwan. I believe that between all the gossiping and joking around online there's still plenty of space waiting to be found by us.

This space is for our thoughts. It is for our hopes and dreams. Thinking Taiwan isn't just an online forum, I want it to become a movement: a movement built on welcoming, strong, serious and critical thinking.

To start a serious online discussion forum in this day and age may be naive, but I'm willing to give it a try for my country. How long has it been since you've thought hard about Taiwan? Come on in and share your ideas. Let's think about Taiwan together.