Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Southbound policy’s biggest threat

The government’s New Southbound Policy will continue to develop and hopefully bear fruit over the course of this year. It is a vision of increased regional engagement that specifically does not include China.

This is in contrast to a global strategy developed by China that is already paying dividends. According to a new report by a US research firm, the Eurasia Group, the success of China’s model is the largest global risk for this year.

Essentially, the report predicts China’s increasing ability to dictate the terms of the international world order and the way trade and business is carried out.

It says this is due to China’s growing political and financial clout in actual terms, but also in relative terms to the perceived withdrawal of the US, under US President Donald Trump, from the role of promoter of US-led multilateralism.

This causes concerns about the creation of a power vacuum in the world generally, but also — and most pertinently to Taiwan and its New Southbound Policy — in Asia. This vacuum is one that China is certain to want to fill.

The New Southbound Policy is about exporting Taiwanese values, goodwill and understanding, as well as technology, to create a relationship between Taiwan and targeted countries that will be more conducive to trade and investment.

It is an attempt to cultivate a network of nations bound by cultural exchanges and mutual benefit. It is built upon tried and tested forms of soft power development.

By contrast, China is exporting the opposite: A purely transactional approach — the only political value of which, according to the report, is the principle of non-interference in other countries’ affairs.

“No country today has developed as effective a global trade and investment strategy as Beijing. China is writing checks and creating a global architecture while others are thinking locally or bilaterally,” the report says.

The problem for Taiwan is that Beijing is in a very strong position. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is — according to many accounts — the strongest leader the nation has had for decades, and the anticipated political liberalization driven by a rising middle class has failed to materialize. This comes at a time when the US has possibly its weakest leader in decades.

In addition, there is a perception that China’s political model, regardless of domestic challenges, is stronger than ever, just as the US political model is perceived as having been weakened, the report says.

This is increasingly leading to a situation in which Chinese economic and political influence are becoming dominant in more countries.

The question is, will Taiwan’s approach in the region be sufficient to counter China’s efforts? It will be difficult for the government to provide inducements more attractive than what China has to offer.

Any reluctance based upon China’s authoritarianism is decreasing, too. According to the Eurasia Group, the attractiveness of Western liberal democracies has faded since the global financial crisis of 2008, and China is offering a viable alternative. While the firm concedes that China’s model will not be appealing to Western nations, it is a “plausible alternative” for many others.

The report concludes by saying: “With Xi ready and willing to offer that alternative and extend China’s influence, that’s the world’s biggest risk this year.”

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