APEC held its 4th Ocean-Related Ministerial Meeting in Xiamen, China, on Wednesday and Thursday last week. The theme of the event was “towards new partnership through ocean cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” and included a one-day “Blue Economy Forum,” with cooperation in the maritime economy firmly on the agenda.
The conference and forum also point toward a new way forward for Taiwan. The sea is a treasure house that holds hope for mankind’s survival and development. As we enter a new round of global competition, the sea occupies an important strategic position and is sure to be a point of contention between powerful nations.
Being an island, Taiwan is surrounded by sea and has six times as much maritime territory as land, and plentiful marine resources. All contact with the outside world is made via sea and for many years the nation’s outstanding strategic location has made it an object of contention for military commanders.
Unfortunately, Taiwan’s fishing industry has become marginalized since World War II, and little attention has been paid to developing the culture of fishing villages. No longer able to gain experience and wisdom about the sea from life in fishing villages, the general population knows little about the sea and few people have retained the skills of their seafaring forebears. Taiwan can choose to be an “island nation” or a “maritime nation” and this decision will have a deep impact on the nation’s future generations, so it should be given due consideration and not be bogged down in political disputes.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has often said that, in view of China’s power and influence in world politics and the global economy, Taiwan should reach out to the world via China. Although taking this route might serve as a shortcut and might lift Taiwan’s GDP to record highs, it would also allow China to control our sovereignty, and, in effect, put the fate of the nation into the hands of others. That would be unfair to the future generations, who should by rights enjoy even wider options than today.
Past experience proves that Taiwanese are fully capable of reaching out to the world across the sea and that they know how to conduct profitable business with other nations. Plenty of adventurous Taiwanese have gone to far-off lands with nothing but a suitcase, making the Taiwan Miracle possible. By reaching out to the world economy, the nation can obtain more resources and attract bigger markets.
Taking farming and fisheries as an example, Taiwan’s excellent production allows it to produce high-quality goods, but its production costs are also relatively high, so it must aim to market its goods at the top end of global consumers.
Consider how products like Japanese taiyo no tamago mangoes, Okoyama musk melons and ruby tomatoes, New Zealand kiwifruit and Alaskan wild salmon are sold at high prices all over the world, with demand often outstripping supply. Taiwan should adopt a similar strategy. If producers view top-end Chinese consumers as just one of their target groups for worldwide marketing, they will not be at China’s beck and call.
Notably, there is a worldwide trend for consumers to seek out aquatic products that are certified as coming from ecologically sustainable sources, and this trend is both a business opportunity and a challenge for Taiwan. The nation’s food producers are often beset by overproduction relative to demand.