The government has underestimated the positive impact of parliamentary diplomacy for too long, but personnel and a budget would be required if it seeks a more active engagement, former officials said yesterday.
Speaking at a symposium held at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Michael Kao (高英茂), Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and Lo Fu-chen (羅福全), former Taiwanese representatives to the EU, US and Japan respectively, all recognized the importance of parliamentary diplomacy, given Taiwan’s unique political situation.
“Bilateral exchanges between parliamentary members and between peoples of two countries, which is known as ‘parliamentary diplomacy’ and ‘public diplomacy’ respectively, could play an important role in developing Taiwan’s external ties,” Kao said.
China’s diplomatic interference and suppression almost always occurs in the executive realm, which means Taiwan should spend more effort focusing in the legislative area, he said.
“However, if we are serious in engaging in this area, it would require personnel and a budget,” Kao added.
Since Taiwan only has 23 diplomatic allies, parliamentary exchanges would be more important in Taiwan’s vying for international support, he said.
Lo said that there has been an imbalance in parliamentary exchanges between Taiwan and Japan, with about 90 to 100 members of the Japanese Diet visiting Taiwan annually and only a handful of Taiwanese lawmakers visiting Japan.
Wu made a similar observation, saying that while Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) visits Washington almost every year, there have been few local lawmakers making the trip to the US.
Lawmakers have begun to address the issue, establishing four “pan-green”-led friendship associations in the hope of expanding foreign connections.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Huang Wen-ling (黃文玲) heads three of the four bilateral associations — with the US, Japan and Russia — while Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) presides over an amity group with the EU lawmakers.
According to Huang, the associations plan to organize annual exchanges that cover a wide range of activities, including visits, the establishment of scholarships and fellowships as well as collaborative programs on specific topics.
Another such group with the US, the ROC (Taiwan)-US Inter Parliamentary Amity Association, has existed since 1988 and is chaired by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方).
Additional reporting by staff writer