FOR almost 40 years, Taiwan's leaders have channeled the island's political and military adversity into extraordinary economic achievement. By such measures as automobile and telephone ownership, work force still in agriculture (only 18 percent), infant mortality (8 percent), and university enrollment (25 percent of college-aged youths), Taiwan is a contemporary society. Its trade surplus alone with the United States, nearly $16 billion last year, is double the total two-way trade between the US and the People's Republic of China. Taiwan even has several automakers, rivaling South Korea's, but it lacks a global marketing strategy.
Taiwan still must bring its political maturity to the level of its economic muscle. Officially, the case for permitting an opposition party to organize and stand against the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) has been made for more than a year now. A Democratic Progressive Party, more a coalition of dissident voices than an organized opposition, was formed last fall. The KMT is making itself out as the initiator of political reform: ``The signs are all there,'' Premier Yu said a week ago: ``the emergence of a strong middle class, an educated public yearning for more political participation, and a society that has matured enough to handle the added responsibilities of democratic politics.'' For another rationale for reform, Taipei has only to look at Seoul, where a Cabinet shake-up occurred this week after the mishandling of student protests.