Last week I was lucky enough to see the run-up to Taiwan's triple-tiered elections on Saturday, and see election day itself. Candidates for Wards, Councils and Mayoralties vied in a series of vibrant contests. Posters were everywhere. Rallies with huge, attentive audiences spring up all over the place (the picture here is of a DPP rally for the Mayoral election in Taipei). The opposition can win elections (and, indeed, there have been two peaceful transitions in national government from one party to another).
There are debates about their democracy, to be sure – whether there should be campaign limits, whether boundaries are correctly drawn (there were new boundaries for this week's elections, for example), whether there should be primaries to select candidates. But there is no suggestion that there should be a return to the bad old pre-democacy days on the island. Freedom, once given, is all but impossible to take away.
This is of real importance, not just within but also beyond Taiwan's shores. China's government often tells us that democracy is all well and good for the West, but is incompatible with Chinese society. Well, here is a vibrant Chinese nation conducting a robust and fair series of elections. Naturally, one hopes that the mainland can learn from Taiwan, with whom relations are happily improving.
There is also a point to be made about prosperity. Freedom, the rule of law, prosperity and free elections are most commonly found to be present together, or to be absent together. Taiwan's remarkably successful economy might be thought to have something to do with the greater freedom enjoyed by their people than exists elsewhere.
Taiwan is to be applauded for advancing their own democracy and the cause of democracy in Asia, even in the face of mainland China's occasional hostility to those values. Having seen with my own eyes the success of a vibrant liberal democracy in Asia, I hope that some in our Parliament heed the point that Taiwan's longstanding diplomatic semi-isolation ill-serves a place whose people who have wholeheartedly embraced the very values we wish others to endorse.
Alex Deane was a member of the 2010 UK delegation to Taiwan