The Mainland Affairs Council has reiterated the government’s position that there is absolutely no room for cross-strait cooperation on South China Sea sovereignty issues, in response to reports of a dialogue that is to be held in the US on China-US maritime issues and international law, organized by the National Committee on US-China Relations and China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies.
Meanwhile, the government is promoting its New Southbound Policy and is expected to increase the policy’s budget to more than NT$70 billion (US$2.3 billion) over the next year, and establish a national-level think tank to oversee related affairs.
The government is to hold the regional Jade Mountain Forum on Oct. 11 and 12, at which President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is expected to announce the creation of a Taiwan-Asia exchange foundation that is to start operating in January.
Given that the government is putting more energy into the policy, it might want to revisit Taiwan’s image problem in Southeast Asia.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently said that drug trafficking is an organized crime, and that if the upstream drug manufacturing in Taiwan, China and the Philippines can be stopped, there would be no drugs to traffic.
Representative to the Philippines Gary Lin (林松煥) said that the majority of the drugs sold in the Philippines are manufactured in China and all the main drug dealers are Chinese.
However, Taiwanese have also become involved, with some going to the Philippines to sell drugs, work as couriers or manufacture narcotics, while others have been using fishing vessels to smuggle drugs, he added.
Some Taiwanese are engaged in illegal activities in Southeast Asia, such as drug trafficking and fraud, and every time they are arrested by local authorities, it stirs up human rights concerns in Taiwan.
Fisheries conflicts also flare up occasionally and never fail to wind Taiwanese up to protest in a fit of patriotic fervor.
A Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat firing on the Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 in 2013, killing the vessel’s captain, led to heightened tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines. The administration of then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) held a series of military exercises aimed at showing Taiwan’s military capability to protect its fishermen.
It was right for the government to support its people after a Taiwanese was harmed by a foreign power. However, there have been other incidents when relations with other nations became strained due to the illegal activities of Taiwanese in those nations.
A few days ago in Taichung, a woman speaking with a Vietnamese accent was involved in a traffic argument and was heard shouting: “You Taiwanese are always taking advantage of us Vietnamese.”
Late last month in Hsinchu, a police officer shot a Vietnamese migrant worker nine times, after he allegedly tried to escape.
The worker’s father, who came to Taiwan to collect his son’s remains, asked the government: “Where are your human rights now?”
Individual cases aside, it is worth looking into why Vietnamese have a bad impression of Taiwanese.
In 2014, when Vietnamese were protesting China’s oil drilling activities in the South China Sea, Taiwanese businesses in Ho Chi Minh City were looted. The rumor that Taiwanese bosses had been mistreating Vietnamese workers could have been the cause of the incident, causing anger to smolder under the surface.
What was supposed to be a win-win situation with the previous push into Southeast Asia and with the New Southbound Policy has ended up in Vietnamese resenting Taiwanese.
Taiwanese businesses looking to expand overseas tended to overlook Southeast Asian nations. Efforts have been made to change this mindset, such as the initial southbound policy and the current New Southbound Policy, but there is still much to be done.
The latest initiative to establish a Taiwan-Asia exchange foundation gives cause for optimism. Considering the peculiarities of Taiwan’s international situation, it is inappropriate for the government to be directly involved in the foundation. However, with a non-governmental organization working in tandem with the government, it is possible to turn a largely passive approach into a proactive one. The need to introduce changes into the nation’s overseas trade offices is something that cannot be ignored.
Southeast Asian students studying in Taiwan and the children of Southeast Asian spouses married to Taiwanese can be invaluable in helping develop local connections for Taiwanese businesses operating in the region. The government should develop a long-term plan for this.
China presents a problem for the government’s push to encourage more engagement with Southeast Asian nations, but Taiwanese have not made things easy for themselves either.
In the past few years, there have been a string of incidents in which Taiwanese were deported from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia for suspected criminal activities, and the government has had to fight with China to have them repatriated to Taiwan.
It has rightly done so for the sake of maintaining the nation’s sovereign rights and protecting the rights of the suspects. Unfortunately, it has left a bad impression of Taiwanese in the nations involved. The nation is now in a better position to fight international crime to make sure that such incidents do not repeat, or do not happen so often.
Meanwhile, the number of Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan has been increasing. The way they are treated here will have a considerable effect on the impression of Taiwan in their home nations.
One crucial metric to measure the success of the New Southbound Policy is how much the nation will improve its impression among Southeast Asian nations. As far as what Duterte has said, it is not such a big problem that some Taiwanese have tarnished the nation’s reputation: The important thing is what the government will do to improve the situation.
If the government is unable to change the negative impression Southeast Asians have of Taiwanese, then trying to establish goodwill toward Taiwan in Southeast Asian nations will be an uphill battle, let alone trying to convince those nations that Taiwan could be a valuable business partner.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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