Sun, Nov 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Tsai brings Taiwan to the world

By Jeniffer Yuan

While diplomatic ties may be founded on official agreements between heads of state, real bonds between countries are usually forged through acts of goodwill and friendship, by people recognizing each other through mutual exchanges.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) recent tour of the South Pacific has been the topic of much discussion and many headlines.

Ranking 15th in US magazine Forbes’ “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2017” list, Tsai has proven to be a steady force of change for her country, fulfilling promises she made during her campaign with her many economic initiatives and financial reforms.

One of those initiatives is the New Southbound Policy, a revitalization of an old strategy for Taiwan to shift its focus to its neighbors in the south — this time with more vigor, as the administration moves to not only extend Taiwanese business and investment, but also its cultural awareness, southward.

Looking back to August last year, the government approved, as part of the policy, a visa waiver program for Thailand and Brunei, adding these two countries to the growing list of Southeast Asian countries that are visa-exempt, such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Just this past week, holders of Philippine passports were also granted a visa-waiver for up to 14 days.

The plan appears to be working. According to the latest statistics from the Tourism Bureau, from January to August, the number of visitors from Southeast Asia increased by 38 percent compared with the same time period last year.

During Tsai’s diplomatic tour through the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, she announced visa waivers for these countries, as well as for Kiribati, Nauru and Palau.

With the successful increase of Southeast Asian nationals visiting the country, there are high hopes for increased exchange between Taiwan and these six diplomatic allies.

Clearly, the purpose of the trip was not only to strengthen the friendship between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies, but also to extend the ties beyond just diplomacy. Through increased tourism, the nations can gain a better understanding of each other’s cultures.

During her visit to the Marshall Islands, for example, Tsai mentioned Taiwan’s shared Austronesian roots with the citizens of the South Pacific islands, validating the Taiwanese Aboriginal identity, as well as positioning Taiwan amongst its friends in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Not only do Taiwan and these countries share a common ancestry, they also share common goals, especially about the environment.

Marshallese President Hilda Heine has expressed her concern over the increased tropical storms and flooding caused by climate change. Being an island nation, Taiwan naturally has similar concerns and has over the years helped the Marshall Islands create more eco-friendly facilities.

With the tour coming to a successful end and the news of Taiwan joining the US’ Global Entry program, this administration is not only letting Taiwan step out into the world, but has also opened Taiwan’s doors and let the world step in.

Jeniffer Yuan in an international political researcher.

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