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China has the might, but Taiwan has democracy

Taiwan - the other China - invited our group of journalists from some 30 countries to witness its marvels, but instead we found ourselves embroiled in a row with the Philippines.
Taipei is demanding a formal apology from Manila for the fatal shooting of a 61-year-old Taiwanese fisherman caught in waters claimed by both nations, and the local papers were buzzing with this report the entire week we were there. 
 
Taiwan's demand for a formal apology and Manila's refusal to do so apparently stems from the Philippines' one-China policy, which recognises the People's Republic as the only bona fide China. 
 
In the "Penguin History of Modern China: Fall and Rise a Great Power (1850-2009)" Jonathan Fenby writes about the humiliation Taiwan suffered when it was expelled from the United Nations on October 25, 1971. "The Taiwanese walked out slowly while African delegates danced in the aisles … Britain, Japan and other countries lined up to upgrade their relations with Beijing."
 
Today, despite its de facto independence and freedom to maintain trade and cultural offices in 60 countries, including Thailand, Taiwan's future is becoming increasingly tied up with China. Of its 23 million people, at least a million Taiwanese are either working or living in China. Nearly 40 per cent of Taiwan's total exports go to China, which is one of Taiwan's three biggest trading partners. Taiwan, on the other hand, is only one of the top 10 trading partners of China. 
 
There are 616 weekly flights between the two nations and the largest number of tourists to Taiwan hail from the mainland. 
 
Cynthia Kiang, deputy director general of Taiwan's Bureau of Foreign Trade, told us that the government has had to introduce a quota of 5,000 persons for group tourists and 2,000 for independent visitors per day from China.
 
This is no surprise considering that China's population is 58 times larger than Taiwan's. The mainland's land area stands at 9.59 million square kilometres, while Taiwan is a mere 35,980sqkm.
 
Given China's rapidly growing global influence, as well as its politics and army - the worlds' largest standing army with 1.6 million personnel - it looks as if the day when Taiwan gets swallowed up by China is not that far ahead. 
 
But then again, is it?
 
Taiwan is a functioning democracy, while China is known for its draconian and repressive rule under a one-party dictatorship.
 
So while the status quo continues being maintained, there is also hope that China will change its politics before "absorbing" Taiwan. How long Chinese people continue to be "successfully" repressed and have their freedom of speech limited is a matter of debate.
 
"The relationship between Taiwan and mainland China is much better now," said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Deputy Minister Lin Chu Chia. 
 
He insisted that despite China's growing trade, tourism and influence, Taiwan was standing firm. 
 
"Some say that China is trying to influence us [through] trade. In Taiwan, we know it's very clear that business is business and politics is politics. Taiwan is small compared to China but it is democratic and has soft power."
 
The deputy minister was not referring to the "soft power" of late singer Teresa Teng or its famous dumplings, but what Chinese tourists do after 9pm in Taipei.
 
According to Lin, many Chinese tourists return to their hotels as 9pm to watch Taiwanese political leaders get scrutinised on local television. 
 
Lin said the Chinese have realised that "it's very nice to have a democratic country".
 
"Taiwan has a very strong influence on this issue. As long as we don't use military [force], I'm not sure who has bigger influence. We may have a bigger influence than them."
 
I sincerely hope the story isn't just an urban legend.