The Heritage Foundation, led by its President Ed Feulner, along with partners at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and Taiwan’s Institute for National Policy Research (INPR), hosted a remarkable program in Taipei yesterday entitled “Democracy Building in Interesting Times.”
The first panel was chaired by close Heritage Foundation friend and Korean National Assemblyman Park Jin and was composed of Indonesian legislator Eva Sundari, Hong Kong Legislative Councillor and 2007 pan-democrat candidate for Chief Executive Alan Leong, and former Taiwan Legislative Yuan (LY) member Parris Chang. This panel set the tone with a consensus that the democratic ideal is alive and well in Asia.
There are problems and challenges to democracy in Asia, and those problems provided grist for the day-long conversation. The first panel focused on majority and minority rights in governance. Park Jin recounted his struggle, at times physical, to get the Korea–U.S. free trade agreement through his committee. Parris Chang, a long time Democratic Progressive Party stalwart, was very critical of KMT governance. Eva Sundari was passionate about the problems Islamist politics poses for religious minorities in Indonesia. And Alan Leong was extraordinarily articulate about the need for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Leong, in fact, opened his remarks by lamenting that he represented the only country on the panel that is “not yet a democracy.” But the discussion itself served as powerful testament to the proposition of free people addressing their problems like adults in representative government. In a region where there are several alternative, undemocratic models of governance, such context bears emphasis.
Other highlights of the program included Japan’s still rising LDP star and Diet member Yuriko Koike, who asserted Japan and Taiwan’s shared democratic values as the basis for prosperity and stability in the region; former Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Bergner, who regaled attendees with an account of the massive staff resources available to the U.S. Congress; and an enlightening discussion on press freedom with Yuli Ismartono of Indonesia’s TEMPO magazine, Antonio Chiang from the Apple Daily (Taiwan) and Kavi Chongkittavorn from The Nation in Thailand. Kavi, who is also chair of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, was critical of the quality of the Southeast Asian press, but he also had some choice words for the Western media, particularly concerning “romanticized” coverage of protests in Thailand last spring.
Former Philippines Senator, 2010 candidate for president, and current chairman of the Philippines Red Cross Richard Gordon offered a practical, humanitarian vision for civil society and led a very useful discussion on the topic with Parth Shah from India’s Centre for Civil Society, Junichi Chano from the Japan Foundation, and Lin Teh-chang from National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan.
Wang Jin-pyng, president of Taiwan’s LY and chairman of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, served as a patron of sorts for the January 10 program, offering welcoming remarks and hosting the VIPs to dinner afterward. The LY is steaming toward adjournment this week, thereby making the participation of members difficult. That the Speaker himself would make the time for the program under these circumstances was an indication of the value he places on it. His leadership and the work of INPR, headed by former Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao, made the event possible.
The Heritage Foundation plans to produce a transcript of the event proceedings. Please contact Nick Hamisevicz at [email protected] for more information.