May 5: A Book Talk with Richard Bush on “Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life”

May 5: A Book Talk with Richard Bush on “Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life”

Wednesday, May 5, 2021 from 9:00 AM-10:00 AM (EST)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual book talk with Richard Bush on his new book, “Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life.” Over the past three decades, Taiwan has distinguished itself as one of the world’s most vibrant and successful democracies. Nevertheless, the island state faces a lengthy—and growing—list of challenges, both internal and external. Domestically, Taipei struggles to contend with issues linked to its aging population, polarized political system, and rising income inequality. Externally, these problems are compounded by China’s increasing military and political pressure, as well as Beijing’s efforts to isolate the island diplomatically. In “Difficult Choices,” Bush provides a deep and probing exploration of these issues, offering recommendations to Taiwan as it attempts to plot a course towards a more secure and successful future.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, May 5 at 9 AM (EST). Questions for the author may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

The Author:

Richard Bush is a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies (CEAP) at Brookings. From July 2002 to June 2018, he served as the Director of the center, and from 2013 until 2020 he served as the inaugural Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies. He also holds a joint appointment as a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center. Prior to joining Brookings, Bush worked for almost five years as the chairman and managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan. He has also served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs and the National Intelligence Council. In addition to “Difficult Choices,” Bush is the author or editor of several books on China and Taiwan, including “Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait” (Brookings, 2005), “Perils of Proximity: China-Japan Security Relations” (Brookings, 2010), and “Hong Kong in the Shadow of China: Living with the Leviathan” (Brookings, 2016). Bush received his undergraduate education at Lawrence University and did his graduate work in political science at Columbia University, getting a master’s in 1973 and his doctorate in 1978.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of GTI, Senior Fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and Visiting Scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a Senior Research Fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007- to July 2011 and a Special Associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Hsiao received his J.D. and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a B.A. in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary

On May 5, 2021, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual book talk with Richard Bush on his new book, Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life. GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao interviewed Bush and moderated the discussion.

Hsiao began by asking Bush why he decided to write the book. Bush explained that he has witnessed Taiwanese democracy since its beginnings and is now concerned that the challenges to Taiwan’s political system are mounting, especially with regard to China. Hsiao then asked about the origins of the terms “good life” and “difficult choices” used in the book’s title. Bush described the “good life” as the social, economic, and political modernization in Taiwan that was largely driven by the Taiwanese people. As for “difficult choices,” he pointed out several of Taiwan’s domestic issues, including its aging population, the retirement of the generation that led Taiwan’s economic modernization over the last three decades, economic competition, and a predatory China just across the Taiwan Strait. Expanding on the good and bad news for Taiwan today, Bush argued that the Taiwanese people have developed a broad consensus on Confucian and modern social values, democracy, and Taiwanese identity. In terms of good news, Taiwan’s relative economic strengths have kept it competitive internationally. Elections continue to represent the will of voters in Taiwan, and the US remains strongly committed to Taiwan. Bush then summarized the bad news for Taiwan: China is continuing to gain military strength, economic interdependence between China and Taiwan remains high, domestic economic inequality is high, confidence about future prospects is in decline amongst youths, taxes are too low to fund certain social programs, and the political system is increasingly polarized. Therefore, Taiwan needs to carefully consider its domestic policies to ensure its continued survival.

Hsiao continued by asking Bush about his inclusion of domestic issues, such as demographic trends and taxes, in his analysis of cross-Strait relations. Bush explained that budgets, for example, are excellent indicators of the government’s priorities. On the topic of the economy, Hsiao asked Bush about the case he makes regarding Taiwan’s “two economies.” Bush described the contrast seen in various parts of Taiwan: major roads in Taipei are littered with upscale stores and restaurants, but nearby are small, low-tech operations that cater to the working class. While Bush emphasized that there are many shades of gray in between, he argued that one segment of the Taiwanese economy is deeply integrated internationally and the other segment is localized. Furthermore, he argued, these two segments have differing policy preferences towards China: the wealthy, interconnected group is more reliant on the Chinese economy, whereas the poorer, localized group tends to have a more self-sufficient mindset.

When questioned about the difference between Taiwan’s legal and political identities, Bush answered that Taiwan’s legal system is difficult to change, which effectively reinforces the political status quo. Since Beijing has been very clear about the legal identity it seeks to impose on Taiwan, Bush argued that Taiwan must be ready to counter with its own legal self-definition. Bush then recalled some of the history of Taiwan’s legal definition of itself—emphasizing “Taiwanization,” or the emergence of a separate Taiwanese identity in Taiwanese politics. Asked about the consequences of political polarization in Taiwan, Bush replied that failures to compromise can be damaging, adding that the public in general wants their leaders to be centrist and flexible. Bush also commented on the danger of misperceptions and miscommunication between Taiwan and China—specifically citing China’s belief that the DPP’s legal aim is to achieve de jure independence, Beijing’s stubborn attachment to the “one country, two systems” model, and the indeterminate role of the United States in terms of political and military support.

Bush finished his talk by taking questions from the audience, covering US strategy toward Taiwan, clarifying his comments on Taiwan’s dual economy, and discussing the future of Taiwanese electoral politics.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2021 Intern Gavin Stark.

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