Sat, Dec 05, 2015 - Page 8 News List

The reshaping of Taiwan’s identity

By Zane Kheir

While Ma was busy preparing for a historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) proposed a “new southward policy” (新南向政策) not only to revive the foundation of the “go south” policy, but also to build new social and educational ties. Tsai has also taken the initiative to meet with Southeast Asian migrants, and women in particular, to show her commitment to make Taiwan more ASEAN-oriented if she becomes president. Tsai has also placed emphasis on “Taiwan’s new children” (新台灣之子) and said they would be valuable assets to lead Taiwan toward closer ties with Southeast Asia. Making allies with the nation’s rapidly growing migrant community was a smart move by Tsai and the DPP.

According to the National Immigration Agency, Taiwan now has more than 200,000 residents from Indonesia, 160,000 from Vietnam and 120,000 from the Philippines, mostly residing in cities and counties that are heavily affected by demographic decline. Most importantly, the number of schoolchildren with a non-Taiwanese parent has grown dramatically, with the Ministry of Education reporting that, last year, 10.28 percent of students in primary and secondary schools had a non-Taiwanese parent.

Just because Taiwan has a Chinese ethnic majority does not mean it is forever doomed to play second fiddle to China. Other nations and states in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore or Penang, have Chinese ethnic majorities, but maintain their own distinct Southeast Asian identities, characterized by migration. Taiwan has already proven itself as an attractive destination for Southeast Asian migrants. With the next election approaching, Taiwan is at a crucial juncture and needs to rethink how to characterize itself, as an offshore province of China, or as a diverse regional hub of migration.

Zane Kheir is a PhD student of Asian studies and migration at the National University of Singapore.

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