Taiwan is the Future of China'

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Jimmy Lai, the maverick media tycoon behind Hong Kong's Next Media empire, moved to Taiwan recently to start the Taiwanese edition of the popular Next magazine. He spoke to TIME reporter Isabella Ng from his new office where he is setting up his new team. Edited excerpts: TIME: How do you find living in Taiwan?Lai: It's very good. I like it. I find it more relaxing than Hong Kong. You never stop there. Here I can take a walk around where I live. The kids also enjoy the schools here. TIME: Why do you want to set up shop in Taiwan?Lai: Taiwan is very important to China because the island state has the only democracy in Chinese history. I also believe it is going to affect China's political development. Hong Kong's influence on China has mainly been on the economy. China has now reached the stage where political restructuring is needed. Now, Hong Kong in no way can influence China on political reform. But Taiwan can. So if there is a place like Taiwan that can have a much bigger influence on China than Hong Kong, I want to be there. Taiwan will be the future of China and it will be the powerful catalyst for China to follow its footsteps. And I want to be part of it. Besides the Taiwan stock market is going down and it's a good time to invest. TIME: What makes you have such a high opinion of Taiwan?Lai: When, as a Chinese person, I see democracy on Chinese soil, I just can't help myself from calling Taiwan the democratic paradise. I am romantic and I just can't help it. TIME: When did you decide to move to Taiwan?Lai: When Chen Shui-bian became the President, I was sure that Taiwan would be the future of China. TIME: Are you giving up Hong Kong?Lai: No. Hong Kong is my home and my business is still there. But Hong Kong's market is saturated. It's hard to do any new business there. TIME: Did you lose out in the Hong Kong market?Lai: adMart [Lai's Internet-based grocery and electronics home-delivery service] has taught me a good lesson, an expensive lesson. But it was worth it. Like others, I was caught in a media frenzy, and I was wrong. Some e-businesses are viable and some are not. I am just thankful to get back on the ground. TIME: What is the future of Taiwanese media?Lai: Taiwan had always been a closed society, and the news had catered for politicians and the elite. All the news on the front page, for instance, was about government policy and other political news. But Taiwan is now evolving from a mainstream society to a democratic society, and a market-driven and individual-oriented society. Ordinary Taiwanese can now choose the type of information they want to receive. The media has been more open than before. TIME: Is it very different from Hong Kong?Lai: Yes. Hong Kong has always been an open society. TIME: And how are you going to tackle the Taiwanese market?Lai: We know that we can't just transport what made us successful in Hong Kong, to Taiwan. The only thing we can do is to give the magazine a modern touch and to make reading news an efficient and convenient business. We want to offer news that is more up close and personal than simply making readers read what we think is important. We are also hoping to change the Taiwanese media from leading the people to following the people. I think we can bring these changes to Taiwan. TIME: Do you think you will be successful?Lai: I don't know but I will try. To create a miracle you have to forget about the past. I can't create the future if I have the baggage of the past. The future has to be created with different innovations, different ideas. One thing I always believe is to work through trial and error and from that I always find new ideas. TIME: What's the most difficult thing for you as a Hong Kong businessman starting a media business in Taiwan?Lai: To make sure we bring changes to the Taiwanese media without hurting their feelings and without offending the readers. TIME: Does this involve your new staff?Lai: Exactly. That's why we have to organize seminars and training sessions so staff can understand what's needed in a new, open society. TIME: As a foreigner, how committed are you to Taiwan?Lai: My biggest commitment was to move my family from Hong Kong to Taiwan before I started my business. I know I have to live like a Taiwanese and care about Taiwan before I can produce something that shares the same feeling with the Taiwanese. I am also planning to invest a considerable amount of personal money here; within the next 12 to 24 months, I will invest around $100 million. TIME: What is the country's future?Lai: I think Taiwan will be the most prosperous place in Asia in 10 years. It is going to be the place where the Chinese elite and intellectuals will come to. TIME: Some people in Taiwan liken you to an ambassador from Hong Kong.Lai: I am not an ambassador. I am an animal. And an animal will seek the best habitat. Taiwan is the first and the only democracy in China. You can see the future of China here. I can't resist that temptation. If I want to die, I want to die in a Chinese democracy. Though my dream is to be in Beijing in five to 10 years' time. TIME: Do you feel lucky being able to set up a media business in a once-closed, dictatorial society?Lai: Of course I got lucky otherwise I would not be here. How can a media business call itself a media business when it's under the control of the government? It's a mouthpiece, not a media outlet. And I don't want to be a mouthpiece.