If Biden’s aim is to challenge China’s one-party system that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and modernized its infrastructure in record time — while the likes of democratic India still lack toilets for 50% of its population 70 years after independence — the way to do that is to show democracy can deliver. China’s performative success challenges democracies everywhere to get beyond endemic polarization and find a way to reach a governing consensus by other than authoritarian means or risk falling into second-class status on the world stage.
And it is here that Taiwan, represented at the summit by its digital minister, Audrey Tang, offers a double lesson for China as well as for all the sharply divided democratic polities across the West from the U.S. to France or Chile. For Tang, democracy in not just about periodic elections, but about inviting the broader civil society into governance through innovative practices that encourage and enable the reasoned processes of negotiation and compromise to reach consensus on an ongoing basis. This inclusivity combined with the “radical transparency” she promotes has gone a long way toward mending the breach of distrust between citizens and their institutions of self-government that so afflicts democracies elsewhere. In short, she has shown how the collective intelligence of digital connectivity can enhance good governance through “participation without populism.”