Mike Kuan-Yu Shen is from Taipei, Taiwan. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from National Taiwan University. He is pursuing his PhD in energy, environmental & chemical engineering at Washington University. His research focuses on the fundamentals of spray pyrolysis in the application of material synthesis, specifically on cathode materials of lithium-ion batteries.
Mike is also interested in international relations. At the Academy’s Global Leadership Vision event he presented his view of modern Chinese history and the relationship between the PRC and ROC governments, titled “Taiwan and China, it’s complicated.” Mike pointed out the key political leaders and demonstrated the power transitions in the past decade. He ended his presentation expressing the need for a peaceful solution between the two governments.
“In the Academy, I have the opportunity to meet scholars from a variety of countries and different academic areas. The McDonnell Academy has built a solid bridge between me and the world. It has not only showed me the way to become a good leader in engineering, but also taught me how to communicate with people from different backgrounds. It is definitely a wonderful experience to work with a group of brilliant scholars and I have learned a lot.”
What I Think About Taiwan’s Future
Like many voices of Taiwan’s younger generations, I believe the future of Taiwan must be based on promising economic growth and a steady democratic society. More specifically, it must rely on business exchange and trade with China and other Asian countries. However, factors that may threaten Taiwan’s sovereignty should not be allowed, especially the uncertainties about China.
Taiwan’s politics have long been dominated by two major parties: the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As China still claims Taiwan as its territory, the policies and relationship with China remain the concern of most Taiwanese political leaders across elections. The KMT has been more closely tied with China, while the DPP has been pro-independent. The relationship with China has been critical to Taiwan’s economy and has swayed elections in Taiwan.
In 2008 and 2012, Mr. Ma Ying-Jeou from the KMT was elected twice as the president, and this ended an 8-year DPP ruling period. In contrast to the DPP’s effort to maintain clear boundaries between Taiwan and China, the KMT shows a more welcoming approach to cross-strait interaction. In the past six years, business trade and tourism between Taiwan and China have grown significantly, and Taiwanese are expecting a solution to the stagnant economy. Conversations and collaborations have never been this frequent between the governments of Taiwan and China. Nevertheless, China has never given up Taiwan’s sovereignty and threatens to use force on Taiwan, if necessary.
The shift in climate between the two countries led to a series of political movements in 2014. In the spring of 2014, the Sunflower Movement initiated by student groups occupied the Legislative Yuan, protesting against KMT passage of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) without clause-by-clause review. The demonstration revealed people’s fear that the economic growth brought about by trading with China might come with the price of weakening our own ground. Taiwanese again displayed their disagreement with the KMT government approach to China through their votes at the end of 2014 as Mr. Ko Wen-Je, a trauma surgeon, ran as an independent and won Taipei’s mayoral election. Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and its mayors are typically considered hot candidates for the presidency. The victory of Mr. Ko indicated the people’s wish for a new solution to current relations with China.
Taiwan is in a unique situation where history, politics, and economy are tightly bound to China. The majority of Taiwanese, especially the young generation who will lead the country in the near future, are clearly not willing to sacrifice Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy for the economy.
While trading with China brings along economic benefits, the Taiwanese government should also try to expand its economic exchanges with other neighboring countries such as Japan, India, and Australia. I expect more politicians like Mr. Ko, as Taiwanese voters are tired of choosing between pro or anti independency. Something in between will have to be developed as a new solution to Taiwan’s economic and political situation.