What can Singapore learn from Taiwan

Görlach Global: Singapore or Taiwan as an alternative to Hong Kong?

The People's Republic of China is unwaveringly continuing its course against the - actually - independent city of Hong Kong. Leaders of the democratic party Demosisto were arrested on Monday, including the activist Joshua Wong, who is also known in Germany. He and two other Democrats, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, are now awaiting their verdict, which is expected for next week.

Demosisto disbanded immediately in July after China criminalized pro-democracy thinking in Hong Kong through a so-called "state security law". The Beijing regime is also not afraid to kidnap democratic activists. Given these developments, Hong Kong can no longer be the financial center it was in the past.

Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam and Joshua Wong (from left) before their trial on Monday

Singapore in the better situation

Singapore and Taiwan are alternatives. Singapore seems to be in the better position here, as the small country has long played the role of another financial hub in Asia. However, there is worrying news coming from the country, which is also not a Democate. Even in this de facto one-party state, activists who campaign for human rights must fear being imprisoned for nothing.

This is what happened to Jolovan Wham, who primarily campaigns for the rights of guest workers living in Singapore. He had stood for a short time in the spring and held up a cardboard box with a smiley face scrawled on it. That was enough for the authorities to arrest the 40-year-old.

Singapore skyline

Singapore is facing a directional decision. As a partner of the free world, it could use the moment that has arisen as a result of the developments in Hong Kong: more rule of law and more democracy can attract talent and money - a worsening of the already not lax situation in the country may have the opposite effect. The majority of Singapore's population is Han Chinese, many of whom have ties to the People's Republic. The country is also a partner of Taiwan and, for example, maintains military exercises with the island democracy, which the Chinese ruler Xi Jinping has repeatedly threatened with military force and annexation.

Taiwan as a partner of Singapore

Taiwan itself currently seems to lack the ambition and dynamism to become an adequate replacement for Hong Kong. The threats of war from Beijing are scarcely encouraging investors to move from Singapore to Taipei. It would therefore be for everyone's benefit if Singapore were to move step by step towards the league of free democratic countries.

It makes no sense for the country to be as restrictive as the People's Republic, but a gradual democratization that was originally hoped for the People's Republic through Hong Kong could catapult the country forward. Taiwan can then be a good partner again. The country was also a dictatorship before 1990, which then peacefully transformed into a democracy.


Alexander Görlach is Senior Fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge at the Institute for Religion and International Studies. The PhD linguist and theologian was also a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University from 2014-2017, and a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University and the City University of Hong Kong from 2017-2018.