In the nine years since this magazine has been in print, this is our first time interviewing a Premier. In a nearly two-hour off-script interview, Premier William Lai, was clear about the government’s thinking, and conveyed his mastery of the daunting policy challenges facing his cabinet to the whole interview team. Regarding issues such as low salaries, energy transition, and the low birthrate, Premier Lai expounded upon his vision for the government in light of almost one year of observation, and highlighted his determination to use various policies to improve Taiwan’s investment environment.
Taiwan is not easy to govern at this stage, no matter who is in charge. Given the tumultuous international situation and divisive internal politics, as far as politicians are concerned, heading the Executive Yuan (Taiwan's cabinet) is always a thankless job. Apart from the need for conscientious policy, we must face geopolitical disputes such as the trade war. While the outcome will involve some degree of luck, neither can we let our guard down.
While interviewing Premier Lai about his experience, we also looked at his administrative style. Upon assuming office, Lai conferred with relevant government departments about economic development and worked to improve communication with local governments. We can see that he takes a unique approach to grassroots issues in his hands-on efforts to increase salaries as well as reduce income and wealth disparities.
Premier Lai implores us to face problems “honestly,” formulate “pragmatic” strategies, and promote “practical” implementation. After all, concerns over the “five shortages” (land, water, energy, expertise, and jobs), as well as Taiwan’s growth momentum after escaping its dependence on Chinese markets, have not been dispelled over the past two years. Formulation of development policies, and the true implementation of policy goals and visions, requires honest communication between the government and industry.
To be sure, in the era of media development and diversity, administrative achievements are much less likely to arouse public interest than a picture and a few words. After all, Taiwan has long veered from the “enlightened leader” model in which the president receives upwards of 95% of the vote. In democratic polities, policy choices must be studied and challenged, and the best administrative teams must be found from within the parties to meet public demands.
Thus, in Taiwan, the constant stream of polls, showing wild swings in public opinion, has become the primary source of pressure on governments at all levels. If public opinion, like water, lacks core ideals, blindly pandering to the polls may earn short-term public support, but it often leads to a dead end. Insisting on immediate implementation of ideals at any cost, however, leads not only to an inability to grasp the situation and make appropriate adjustments, but also to public opposition.
Therefore, a leader must strike a proper balance between ideals and public opinion: pragmatism. To pass and implement the right legislation for Taiwan, the government must take a pragmatic approach, lest it end up squandering public resources. Only pragmatism can earn public trust, and strengthen investor confidence – both domestic and foreign – in Taiwan’s sustainable development. Hopefully, despite the many challenges it faces, the pragmatic Lai cabinet can carry out policies that strengthen Taiwanese industry, laying the foundation for a bright future for this country and its people.