Re-energizing southbound policy - Taipei Times
Fri, Aug 10, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Re-energizing southbound policy

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏

Two years ago, my article on the New Southbound Policy in the Taipei Times articulated its significance and implications, while pointing out possible challenges and hazards in terms of policy implementation and concrete deliverables (Prospects and risks of new policy,” Sept. 19, 2016, page 6).

Two years later — with the efforts of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration — forums, commercial exhibitions, exchange visits, bilateral cooperation and other initiatives have been launched. Official statistics indicate that the policy has gradually made significant progress in several areas.

An opinion poll in May showed that the policy had a 47.7 percent approval rating, the highest rating among Tsai’s policies. Most media interpreted this as an indication that the New Southbound Policy is well perceived by the public.

However, this interpretation seems to underestimate Taiwanese expectations of the Tsai administration. With a budget of NT$3.2 billion (US$104.5 million) for this year, a policy receiving an approval rating of less than 50 percent can hardly be said to be a satisfactory result.

Why has the policy — supposedly a signature initiative of the administration — become another mediocre and tedious bureaucratic routine, without any compelling appeal to most people? Why does the policy have a low “sense of existence” among Taiwanese?

The reason for this is not simply a lack of “policy visibility” in mass media, but can be attributed to a failure to invoke enthusiasm to explore the plentiful possibilities in the region the policy covers.

Any government policy is doomed to fail if it merely relies on public sector effort. Motivating and encouraging private-sector participation and collaboration is crucial for any public policy to succeed. The New Southbound Policy is no exception.

Unfortunately, its implementation seems to have falled into the trap of “bureaucratic cliche,” implying that if the policy’s title was changed, it would not be significantly different from other initiatives.

Needless to say, most of the New Southbound Policy’s initiatives are unable to stimulate passion and voluntary participation among Taiwanese.

It is regrettable, given that the design of the policy was ambitious and farsighted, with an ultimate goal of fostering “economic community” between Taiwan and the nations covered by the policy.

To facilitate its long-term sustainability, generate tangible deliverables and garner substantial domestic support, some adjustments should be made.

First, the political resolve to carry out the policy from the top seems insufficient. The political determination from the top to mobilize this gigantic bureaucratic system has only changed the distribution of funding, but has not actually boosted bureaucrats’ recognition of the policy.

If the policy is one of Tsai’s top priorities, she should take a leading role by regularly expounding on its importance, which would significantly enhance recognition among officials.

With consistent political impetus from the top, it would be easier to overcome bureaucratic indolence, while inducing more support and enthusiasm.

Second, the policy cannot be successful without human connections. However, current practices obviously lack the “sensitivity of the human touch.”

One key feature of the policy that is distinct from its predecessor, the “Go South” policy, lies in its emphasis on “people-to-people” connections.

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