Sun, Nov 05, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Relationships of cooperation

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Tuesday announced that the government would soon grant visa waivers to citizens of its six diplomatic allies in the Pacific.

Granting visa waivers to its allies should be expected, especially as Taiwan only has 20 remaining allies — which China has been ramping up efforts to poach — but the gesture is symbolic at best, as the nation is unlikely to see an increase in visitors from these countries.

The US’ Visa Waiver Program, of which Taiwan is a member, was designed to accommodate business travelers who would otherwise have to fill out lengthy paperwork just to make short visits to branch offices or to attend conferences. The program also helps generate tourism as travelers are more likely to visit a nation, and visit more often, if there is no need to apply for a visa in advance of travel. Last year, nearly half a million travelers from Taiwan visited destinations in the US.

However, Taiwan is quite different from its South Pacific allies in terms of its abilities to benefit the countries that grant it visa-free travel.

Taiwan has a population of more than 23 million whose average per capita GDP (purchasing power parity) is about US$50,000 annually. By contrast, Taiwan’s ally Nauru, a country that is facing bankruptcy after failed government investments aimed at diversifying its mining-based economy, has a per capita GDP of US$15,000 annually, while Kiribati, another ally, has a per capita GDP of about US$5,700.

These allies are important to Taiwan in that they provide a basis for the legitimacy of the nation’s sovereignty claims, as well as providing an excuse for transiting through the US when Tsai makes official visits to allied states, but they are unlikely to generate tourism revenue for Taiwan.

While visa waivers for the nation’s allies are unlikely to bring any significant benefits to either Taiwan or its allies, they remain an important gesture that shows the nation’s appreciation for allies’ continued support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations.

Nevertheless, Taiwan will need to substantiate that appreciation in other ways.

While in the Marshall Islands on Tuesday, Tsai said she wants to develop relationships with allies that are reciprocal and mutually beneficial. Tsai talked about her commitment to helping the Marshall Islands with sustainable development, citing work with the country’s pig farmers and describing plans for “green” farms where waste produced on the farms is recycled and reused. This commitment to efforts that demonstrate a respect for and understanding of allies’ unique concerns and cultural values is what is needed to succeed where China has failed with its financial incentives.

Environmental issues are of particular concern to small island nations, where resources are scarce and the effects of climate change are immediately seen in receding coastlines.

In 2015, Cyclone Pam caused devastation throughout the region, with flooding in many areas and widespread destruction of coastal infrastructure. Taiwan has assisted with disaster relief and infrastructure development in the past, such as helping Kiribati deal with a drought last year and strengthening the runway at the country’s main airport.

Although Tsai has said that the days of “checkbook diplomacy” are over, the nation might still need to be vigilant in terms of assisting allies with economic development.

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