Thu, Apr 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Demonstrating Taiwan’s values

Taiwan once again showed its value as an open, welcoming and progressive member of the international community. According to last year’s Global Muslim Travel Index, the nation moved up two places to tie for third place with Japan and the UK on the list of Muslim-friendly, non-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member tourist destinations.

Taiwan, which scored 53 points, was surpassed only by Singapore (65 points) and Thailand (57 points).

This is good news not only for the tourism industry. It is also a positive development for the government’s efforts to disentangle itself from economic reliance on China as part of its New Southbound Policy, to differentiate itself from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in terms of religious tolerance and values, and to make life easier for the growing Muslim immigrant community.

With the dramatic fall in the number of Chinese tourists as the CCP clamps down on travel to Taiwan, making Taiwan more welcoming to visitors from other parts of the world is a big boost for tourism and local businesses.

According to the Tourism Bureau, there are more than 200 Muslim-friendly restaurants with halal accreditation nationwide.

There is also at least one washroom for ablution and a prayer room at transportation facilities and in 13 scenic areas nationwide, as the bureau seeks to make tourist areas more attractive for “halal tourism.”

Students at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology last year worked with the Taipei Department of Information and Tourism to devise Muslim-friendly tours, including halal-certified hot springs in Beitou District (北投).

There are also up to 60,000 Taiwanese Muslims, mostly descendants of Muslim immigrants from China. Add to these the growing number of new immigrants — there are almost 255,000 immigrants and workers with resident permits from Indonesia alone — and the nation has a sizeable Muslim minority.

At an Eid al-Fitr event at the Taipei Grand Mosque in July 2016, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) pledged to make Taipei a Muslim-friendly city. Indeed, Taipei is making efforts to improve access to Muslim-friendly medical care.

Last year, Taiwan Adventist Hospital received Majelis Ulama Indonesia Halal certification and is working with the city government to increase the number of Muslim-friendly hospitals in the city.

This week, Indonesian voters living in Taiwan formed long lines in major cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung to cast their ballots at one of 34 locations set up nationwide for general elections in Indonesia.

The government is tackling two major issues: One is economic disengagement from China along with more engagement with Indo-Pacific countries as part of its New Southbound Policy and in line with the US’ “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.” The other is trying to attract and retain more new immigrants as a way to mitigate the nation’s looming demographic crisis. Creating a more Muslim-friendly environment is part of this drive.

Finally, there is the potential for once more demonstrating to the international community the nature of Taiwan’s values and differentiating itself from China.

At a forum titled “A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region” last month, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) spoke of the importance of cultivating an open, tolerant society.

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