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Q&A with Yi-huah Jiang

Oct 27 2021

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Former CASBS fellow (2015-16) Yi-huah Jiang has excelled as that rare combination of both scholar and statesman. After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the National Taiwan University (NTU), he earned a PhD in political science from Yale University (1993), then returned to NTU to teach and research for several years. His academic interests lie in political philosophy, democratic theory, general education, and Taiwanese politics. He is the author of the books Liberalism, Nationalism and National Identity and Essays on Liberalism and Democracy. He has earned the Distinguished Teaching Award from NTU and the Distinguished Research Award from the National Science Council of Taiwan.

In 2008, Dr. Jiang answered the call to public service, serving as Minister of Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, of the Republic of China (Taiwan) until 2014. During this time, he broadened his portfolio, to say the least, serving as Minister of the Interior (2009-12) and Vice Premier (2012-13) of Taiwan. Finally, Jiang ascended to the office of Premier of Taiwan in 2013-14.

Dr. Jiang currently serves as chairman of the Fair Winds Foundation and as Bauhinia Chair Professor at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan. We caught up with him to learn about the foundation, his analysis of current affairs, and more on his post-politics career.

CASBS: How did your becoming a CASBS fellow come about? How long had you known about CASBS and what did you know? 

Yi-huah Jiang: After I left public office in December 2014, I intended to take some time away and become a visiting scholar abroad. Professor Daniel A. Bell, professor and chair of the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University [and a two-time CASBS fellow], invited me to join the newly established Berggruen Institute in California as a visiting scholar specializing in comparative Chinese and Western political philosophy. Further discussions with the institute’s chairman and founder, Nicholas Berggruen, led me to apply as a 2015-16 Berggruen Fellow at CASBS.

I first became acquainted with CASBS in 1988, my first year of graduate study at Yale, when I read The Evolution of Rights in Liberal Theory authored by Ian Shapiro, a former CASBS fellow [1988-89]. I have long known CASBS as an interdisciplinary research center for outstanding intellectuals devoted to extending knowledge and finding policy solutions to contemporary societal problems. 
 

C: During your fellowship, you were an indispensable resource for understanding government, party politics, public policy, and societal issues in Taiwan, as well as cross-strait relations. At one point you delivered a presentation to the CASBS community to help you prepare for a number of media appearances and lectures at public affairs forums in Washington, D.C. How would you characterize the state of affairs in Taiwan today? Could you have predicted today’s state of affairs in 2015?

Y-h J: The current state of affairs in Taiwan concerns me greatly. Within Taiwan, the political division between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) has not eased. Since 2016, tensions with mainland China have also escalated, with communication channels, both official and unofficial, suspended and the Economist describing Taiwan as the most dangerous place on Earth.

In 2015, I predicted that cross-strait tensions would be inevitable after the DPP’s return to power in 2016. Under the DPP’s cross-strait and foreign policy, Taiwan has almost become a pawn amid the U.S.-China confrontation, and the Taiwan Strait is now more uncertain, volatile, and high-risk than it was in 2016. I also sensed that while intellectuals generally supported Hillary Clinton for president, the rise of populism should not be underestimated, and it was not impossible or unimaginable that Donald Trump could get elected. I also expected that no matter the victor, U.S.-China relations would worsen inevitably. During the primaries, presidential candidates liked to present themselves as tough on China, and “anti-China” became a major foreign policy theme for the United States.

However, I could not have foreseen that U.S.-China relations would deteriorate to the current confrontation on trade, technology, diplomatic, even military fronts, described by many observers as a “New Cold War.” Moreover, I could not tell that Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012, would abandon political reform and centralize power, now ruling Communist China with a tighter authoritarian grip.
 

C: You recently shared with CASBS director Margaret Levi that during your fellowship you started developing an idea that culminated in the launching of the Fair Winds Foundation in 2018. You serve as its chairman. We love that the first seeds of it were planted at CASBS. Tell us about this initiative, and how it’s doing in its third year of existence.

Y-h J: As I contemplated my future endeavors at CASBS, I knew that I did not want to return to politics, but I also could not become a pure academic again. My seven years in public office had a great impact on my own life. I hope to utilize this experience to help move Taiwan forward. I decided that the best strategy to achieve this purpose would be to establish a non-governmental organization, a non-profit foundation, in Taiwan. Without government bureaucracy and red-tape restrictions, the Fair Winds Foundation carries out a few major missions with energy and creativity, including cultivating future leaders, promoting civic education, and facilitating international exchanges.

Both at CASBS or in cafés around Palo Alto, I exchanged ideas with many friends, including Tai-chun Kuo (research fellow at the Hoover Institution), Paul Wang (venture capital entrepreneur), Hsing Kuo (entrepreneur in fiber optics), and Kuan Chung-min (now president of National Taiwan University). They genuinely cared about my future and generally supported my decision of not returning to politics. The summer 2015 to the end of 2016 was a preparatory period before officially setting up Fair Winds in Taipei. (Before launching Fair Winds, I also spent some time in Hong Kong, teaching at City University of Hong Kong.)

C: What do you envision for the Fair Winds Foundation in the next five or ten years?

Y-h J: It is my belief that once I set my heart on one goal and put in enough time – say, 10 years – it becomes a faith with the seeds to succeed. From its inception, the Fair Winds Foundation has held many events and established a strong reputation in Taiwan. CASBS, which emerged in the 1950s, continues to be an important inspiration for Fair Winds as it matures and develops.

In the next five to 10 years, I would like to further refine and strengthen Fair Wind’s efforts in three major areas. The first is informing the people in Taiwan about consequential global trends and challenges, including U.S.-China relations, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and crypto-currency, as well as the state of world affairs after President Joe Biden assumed office in the United States. The second is sharing Taiwan’s experience with the international community, especially from a civil society perspective. For example, we publish the online Taiwan Weekly newsletter, covering the latest political developments and perspectives. We also have spared no effort in organizing programs and conferences and regularly sending youth delegations abroad. The third area is leadership cultivation. Taiwan’s future rests upon its youth. It really takes a good 10 to 20 years to find young college students with talent and potential and train them into competent and globally conscious leaders.

C: Beyond conceiving Fair Winds here, you really must have enjoyed your time at CASBS. You are widely credited for serving as the connective tissue that helped facilitate CASBS’s fellowship partnership with the Taiwan government, reached in 2016. Under the Stanford-Taiwan Social Science (STSS) fellowship, which went into effect starting with the 2017-18 academic year, Taiwan supports one fellow per year. What inspired you to play a role in establishing this relationship?

Y-h J: I was deeply honored to be the first Taiwanese fellow at CASBS with the recommendation of the Berggruen Institute. But I understood that many Taiwanese academics and scholars are not sufficiently financially established or well-connected to pursue such an opportunity. Through conversations with diplomatic officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, I considered and pursued the possibility of securing government funds from the Ministry of Science and Technology to support international study and exchanges by offsetting living costs. In addition to existing fellowship cooperation with Stanford, I am gratified that our government now supports one Taiwanese CASBS fellow each year.

I must recognize the profound vision of Director Margaret Levi. While CASBS had thrived for more than 60 years, it had primarily attracted American, Canadian, and European fellows from distinguished institutions. Very few fellows hailed from Asia. In our discussions, Margaret agreed that we could take advantage of the Center’s strategic location in California and affiliation with Stanford University to globalize and diversify its source of international fellows. Many scholars in Asia are profoundly interested in interdisciplinary advanced studies but lack institutions of CASBS’s caliber. I offered to assist with Taiwan as a starting point and suggested that CASBS seek to establish connections with either governments or universities in order to ensure the quality of applicants. I am so glad that today CASBS maintains fellowship partnership programs with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore and continues to expand its connections with Asia. 

C: The consensus here at CASBS is that the partnership is terrific! All of the STSS fellows we’ve hosted so far – Hsienming Lien in 2017-18, Tai-Li Chou in 2018-19, and Su-Ling Yeh in 2019-20 – have been wonderful CASBS community members, enriching social and intellectual life on the hill. And this year’s fellow, Sufen Chen, who we’re just getting to know, appears to be following in that tradition. You recently met with Ming, Tai-Li, and Su-Ling. Is there a similar consensus among the Taiwan-based fellows? Is there anything they (and you) take away from their CASBS experience that they integrate into their interactions in Taiwan upon their return?

left to right: Yi-huah Jiang, Tai-Li Chou, Hsienming Lien, Su-Ling Yeh
left to right: Yi-huah Jiang, Tai-Li Chou, Hsienming Lien, Su-Ling Yeh

Y-h J: It was so great to have met recently with CASBS alumni in Taiwan. For us, the CASBS experience, as well as our year-long stay in the San Francisco Bay Area around Silicon Valley, is quite significant. Needless to say, Silicon Valley is a most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial engine of the United States, and words cannot express the academic and intellectual inspiration that we drew from CASBS and Stanford University.

Though there is a general desire to establish an institution similar to CASBS in Taiwan, at least in the short-term there are challenges and limitations to overcome. The CASBS experience, facilitated by its beautiful setting, surrounding social conditions, great staff, well-equipped offices and cafeteria, and intellectual culture would be quite costly to emulate or replicate. Raising funds from the private sector here is much more difficult than what is sometimes possible in the United States.

In order to provide more CASBS fellows and alumni the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Taiwan, we hope to organize small- or medium-sized fellow reunions in Taiwan, which may feature interdisciplinary seminars and distinguished speakers. As our alumni base in Taiwan grows from five to ten in the future, more people here will know about CASBS, and our network base, as well as the spirit of the interdisciplinary discussion and cooperation, will exert greater influence.

C: This is exciting! So, you see prospects for deepening the partnership.

Y-h J: My understanding is that, at minimum, Taiwan’s current arrangement of sending one person every year to CASBS will endure. The program has delivered great value yet does not require excessive funding. It is a crucial foundation upon which CASBS may expand its connections with Taiwan.

In terms of deepening the Center’s relationship with Taiwan, we hope to organize additional week-long conferences on important cross-cutting issues every year featuring CASBS fellows and alumni (from various countries of origin) once the pandemic subsides. We certainly welcome CASBS’s recommendations of keynote speakers and attendees. We also hope to fund the programming in Taiwan with help from the government, universities, as well as private organizations and individuals.

C: You’ve returned to teaching, now at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan. Among other things, you’re working on two books. What are they about?

Y-h J: I am currently in the prep and planning stages of two books, one on Taiwan’s democracy and the other on my public service. (At least at first, they will be published only in the Chinese language.)

The first book will examine in depth Taiwan’s democracy from a broader theoretical and practical perspective, not unlike what Alexis de Tocqueville endeavored in Democracy in America. The postwar experience of Taiwan, which arguably has achieved stability and high-quality governance, is distinct from the development of Western democracies and particularly valuable to other developing countries. Taiwan’s example of multi-party democracy is also meaningful to other ethnic Chinse societies, like mainland China, where liberal democracy is generally perceived as foreign and incompatible with traditional values.

Certainly, I am not saying that other ethnic Chinese societies can easily emulate Taiwan’s example. But when the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, or Singapore examines the issue of democratization, they will think about or draw inspiration from Taiwan as they face similar uneasy challenges such as making Western liberalism compatible with Confucian values and transitioning an authoritarian socio-political culture to a more liberal and egalitarian one.
 

C: Is there something you’ve read in the past year or two that influenced the way you look at or think about things?

Y-h J: No recent reading have changed my fundamental worldview. But one notable book that stands out is [1973-74 CASBS fellow] Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides’s Trap? Alison’s book accurately examines the current state of world affairs, focusing on the confrontation between the United States and China, and assesses whether a war between the two powers may be avoided. Many who may not have read the book quickly jump to the conclusion that the author believes war is inevitable. This characterization is misleading because Allison suggests various strategies for the two countries to avoid military conflict. He stresses that full-on confrontation would spell catastrophe for the world order.

I would add to Allison’s analysis that as the existing superpower, the United States must find ways to accommodate China’s rise and recognize that China has its own core strategic interests. This is a reality as the world turns bipolar, even multi-polar, again, evidenced by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to focus American foreign policy on countering China, although it may feel embarrassing or upsetting to Western readers. It is also regrettable how many Western politicians misunderstand China’s nature, even purposely maneuver popular fears of China to harvest political gains. While Chinese foreign policy remains guided by nationalism and attempts to earn its due respect after a century-long humiliation, since ancient times China has at most dominated East Asia through its tributary system. China has never sought to conquer or control the whole world. I sincerely hope that Western leaders will not exaggerate the political ambition of China and proceed with a mistaken strategy that makes the current situation even worse.

C: You entered national politics from academia, not the typical route. How did your background as a scholar influence your role as a politician? And today, how has your experience in politics influenced your post-politics life back in academia?

Y-h J: Academia and politics are indeed very different life trajectories. Academics are generally more idealistic and unwilling to compromise, while politicians have to deal with conflicting interests, distribution of power, and, inevitably, compromises. While political life was complicated, my academic background allowed me to retain basic core values and integrity in spite of special interests, partisanship, and corrupting influences.

Academic life, on the other hand, is simpler, and scholars often impart theories and models that are distant from practice. I use my practical experience in my instruction and research and let students learn about how politics works in the real world. Students often credit me with sharing valuable real experiences in the classroom, which may not be readily available from other professors.

C: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment during your tenure as premier?

Y-h J: During my tenure as premier, I launched the master plan to streamline and reorganize the central government, enhanced welfare benefits for poor as well as physically and mentally challenged people, and revised the capital gains tax to create a fairer society. It was also under my tenure that Taiwan successfully signed trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand, major breakthroughs considering Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation.  

But I will probably be most remembered in history for how I decided to clear the protesters who stormed and attempted to occupy the Executive Yuan in March 2014. On March 23, 2014, protesters of the Sunflower Movement stormed the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and threatened to paralyze the government. They used hydraulic shears and crowbars to destroy roadblocks and overwhelmed the police with large numbers. They violently demolished the doors and windows of the Executive Yuan, arbitrarily seized office items, and ransacked internal facilities. Then, using “civil disobedience” as a defense, the protesters claimed that all criminal activities were only a “legitimate peaceful demonstration.” While I understood that participants in the Sunflower Student Movement (opposed to passing the cross-strait agreement on trade in services) generated great sympathy in Taiwan, I also knew that the protesters had gone too far when they attempted to paralyze the Executive Yuan after occupying the Legislative Yuan. The action could not be rationalized as legitimate because it was violent and contradicted basic principles of democracy and the rule of law. Just as supporters of President Donald Trump, who violently attacked the United States Capitol earlier this year, are being brought to justice, so, too, some of the rioters of the Sunflower Movement have been judged guilty for their violence. I will never regret my (consequential) decision to defend the rule of law in Taiwan. No matter how the supporters of the Sunflower Movement try to glorify their unlawful intrusion and occupation, I believe that it crossed the red line of the rule of law and democracy. Protecting the central government from occupation and paralysis was the right thing to do.

C: Interestingly, you are not the only former high-ranking politician we’ve welcomed. Alejandro Toledo, former president of Peru, and Toomas Ilves, former president of Estonia, have spent a year on the CASBS hilltop as well in recent years. Any encouragement or advice for former or current world leaders and other high officials who may enjoy stepping away from the spotlight for a year and becoming CASBS fellows?

Y-h J: To be frank, most politicians taking a break or retiring from public service probably first turn their thoughts to policy schools like Harvard’s Kennedy School rather than CASBS, a place for pursuing advanced study. The environment at policy schools is more practical and allows politicians to develop useful networks and exchange experiences before returning to public service or engaging in consulting of some sort. I find CASBS to be more advanced and sophisticated, aimed at intellectuals with previous academic achievement. This is best exemplified in CASBS’s weekly fellows research seminars, which tie together broad disciplines like anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, facilitating deep intellectual discussions. CASBS is really meant for academic and research-oriented scholars excited about interdisciplinary interaction and activity, which is essential for fellows as they draw upon and contribute to this intellectual community and provide thought leadership that will influence those who go on to influence policy. I believe that former high-ranking politicians will find CASBS a stimulating and inspirational place if they are intellectuals by nature. CASBS may not be the place for cultivating political connections, but it’s certainly a paradise for contemplation, deep dialogues, refreshment of mind, and generation of novel visions.