Thu, Jan 09, 2020 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan’s digital diplomacy gets a kickstart

Run by millennials, the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association is making a case for Taiwan on the World Wide Web

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Kuo Chia-yo, far right, runs a workshop in 2018 with youths in Kosovo to hear their ideas for an exhibition on their country’s future.

Photo courtesy of Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association

When a group of Taiwanese students in Norway sued the Norwegian government last year for changing the nationality on their residency permits to China, they naturally engaged a lawyer to fight their legal battles. But to win over the court of public opinion, they would need a very different kind of representation.

Enter the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association (台灣數位外交協會, TDDA). Founder Kuo Chia-yo (郭家佑), 28, tells the Taipei Times that the group will be helping the Taiwanese students with their digital outreach this year. It’s one of several digital diplomacy projects the non-government organization has taken on since its establishment in 2017.

Using new digital tools and social media, coupled with old-fashioned cultural observation, TDDA is spearheading a unique approach to boost Taiwan’s profile on the global stage, and broaden the nation’s constrained space for international exchanges. Its work is also filling a notable gap in Taiwan’s official approach to public diplomacy.

GRASSROOTS DIPLOMACY

“We’re not like a typical government project that goes out to promote Taiwan by saying we’re great or asking everyone to come check us out,” Kuo says. “Our approach is more like networking, to find things that we can do together with locals [of other countries] on social media.”

TDDA is a lean outfit, with only two full-time and eight part-time staff, but its reach is imaginative. Kuo, who now flits between Taipei and Ho Chi Minh City, has so far taken the organization to Kosovo and Vietnam.

In Kosovo, a landlocked state in Southeastern Europe, Taiwan has a natural friend in the shared experience of being a country with only partial international recognition.

In 2017, TDDA ran a social media campaign advocating Kosovo’s digital independence by having its own national Internet domain. A video of young Taiwanese declaring their support for Kosovo attracted 32,000 views on Facebook, gaining precious traction for Taiwan in the nation of nearly two million.

Last summer, the group worked with the Kosovo Cultural Exchange Association to produce an exhibition on visions of Kosovo’s future at the national museum in the capital Pristina. The project involved Taiwanese designers and interactive digital exhibitions such as a “democracy wall,” where visitors voted for the social changes they most desired to see in Kosovo.

In Vietnam, TDDA has set up Taiwan Corner, a cafe and exhibition space, and produced an Internet medical talkshow series featuring a panel of Vietnamese doctors talking about medical issues that locals commonly face.

If the links to Taiwan seem indirect, that’s the intention. The idea is to earn Taiwan more friends and supporters by first showing a concern for causes that are important to the citizens of other countries.

For its projects in Vietnam, the organization has also worked closely with Vietnamese students in Taiwan, further strengthening offline, people-to-people ties between the two countries.

Kuo sees this as a way of forging connections that are more resilient to geopolitical power dynamics, especially in the face of growing Chinese pressure that has seen the number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies fall to 15.

“When people really see you as a friend, they won’t cut you off just because of China,” Kuo says. “What will get cut off is government relations, but not people-to-people connections.”

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