[Webinar Series: Leaders Shaping the Future of the Indo-Pacific] Conversation with Minister Audrey Tang
[Webinar Series: Leaders Shaping the Future of the Indo-Pacific]
Conversation with Minister Audrey Tang
Friday 15 Jan 2021
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Tokyo Time
Ms. Aiko Doden, Special Affairs Commentator for NHK World interviewed Minister Audrey Tang on the Taiwan model, an all-society model, that stems from the collective memories of SARS in 2003. Minister Tang mentioned that the model was based on people-public partnership, as the best ideas, such as visualization and “humor over rumor” came as from the social sector.
Ms. Doden began by asking about the Minster’s active use of IT not only to contain the virus but as a social fabric that shapes Taiwanese democracy. Taiwan’s democracy has been operated under normal circumstances amid the pandemic, with only 842 confirmed cases of the virus and 7 deaths as of January 15, 2021, making it the safest country in the world She mentioned that the modus operandi was to “fight the pandemic without lockdown and the infodemic with no takedown.” Minister Tang named the lessons to be learned from the Taiwan model to be “fast, fair and fun.” “Fast” is represented by the speed of policy implementation and the daily press conferences communicating updated information and answering every question from journalists. The model also ensures fair and equitable access to PCB testing and “humor over rumor.”
Asked about the need for conscious understanding that protecting yourself means protecting others, loved ones, and society’s essential workers, Minister Tang elaborated on the successful use of the single-payer national health insurance (NHI) system, which allows access to less expensive masks, diagnosis and drive-through tests compared to those available in other jurisdictions. Collective understanding from the SARS experience encourages people to reminding each other the importance of wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. Taiwan’s healthcare system covers 99.99% of its citizens and residents, who trust the system and know that they can obtain firsthand updated information as well as access their personal medical records. The distribution of vaccines is also likely to be built on the single-payer NHI system to ensure equal access. The scheme will be enabled by IT.
However, Minister Tang says that IT is not the magic wand. Trust between the government and people is the integral part of Taiwan model. IT only connects devices together, while “digital” connects people together. She believes that civil participation is key to the successful use of IT. Asked her opinion about how some people are still skeptical about the use of IT because of its downsides, including increased digital divide and polarization induced by social media, she pointed out that the spirit is to bring IT to people, not make them adapt. For example, in promoting the effective wearing of masks, while there were suggestions of using mobile payment to receive masks, she chose to use the NHI system, with which three-fourth of the population was already familiar with. Elderly people might not be effective with mobile phones, but they knew how to access the NHI system and fill out prescriptions.
Ms. Doden went on to ask Minister Tang about balancing inclusion and diversity. To her question, how do you find the balance and respect the views of the minority; she offered an explanation of how Taiwan implemented marriage equality. Finding that there was consensus on by-law marriage between same-sex individual but not on the in-law relationship, Taiwan innovated by keeping the families from both sides of the civil partners from having the relationship of in-laws. The key is to find common values that bring people together.
Minister Tang’s definition of “inclusion” is that diverse views and voices of the people are adopted in way that takes the sides of all. Instead of just saying that there is a broad representation of views, she lets the representative of each view tour around all of the other views so that they can take all the sides. Inclusion and diversity are important to Taiwan, where there are over twenty national languages and more than twenty ways to interpret histories. People can agree to common values, such as universal access to education, a single-payer healthcare system, and protecting human rights. By acknowledging transcultural identities, people are not bound by the culture they are born into but can also choose other cultures to side with. Taiwan’s polices are not made at the expense of another culture.
The Minister has always been guided by her mother’s teaching: Each and every culture has its own unique values. One is neither inferior nor superior to others. Taiwan is a transcultural republic of actively participating citizens. Minister Tang’s earliest memory is of her mother cofounding an environmental group, the Homemakers’ Union, which later formed a consumers’ cooperative working for participatory accountability and environment-friendly farming.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing us as we live the new normal? To Ms. Doden’s final question, Minster Tang mentioned the importance of ensuring broadband as a human right. Its absence in many jurisdictions has posed a challenge to the healthcare system and learning; and civic participation has suffered. Broadband increases opportunities presented for cross-discipline trans-cultural cooperation and adds to knowledge sharing. A paradigm shift to fight the pandemic is possible. The Taiwan model shows the direction of transcultural, international and intergenerational solidarity.
Following the initial conversation between with Minister Tang, Ms. Doden took up questions from the audience and discussed issues including the roles of digital technology and innovation can play in building a resilient society or in solving climate change and other global issues, whether or not a global regulatory regime would be needed to protect the rights and justice of citizenry in a world where a just a handful of firms have strong control over information, the importance of local initiatives and their linkages with global initiatives, how local initiatives can empower citizens, the challenges of information literacy competence, including listening at scale, the reverse mentor system, the use of AI conversation tools to crowdsource information and selecting not the ideas that gain the most votes but those that resonate with the most diverse groups of people in decision making. The conversation concluded with the acknowledgement that the pandemic was a wake-up call to planetary solidarity.