The New Southbound Policy Office is to begin expanding into the Southeast Asian market with a plan aimed at boosting visits by Southeast Asian tourists to Taiwan through visa-free privileges, the head of the office said.
The office is to coordinate with the relevant authorities to promote the policy initiated by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), New Southbound Policy Office head James Huang (黃志芳) said last week, adding that the first stage would be opening the nation’s doors wider to middle-class tourists from Southeast Asia.
“In the short term, [we] will first promote tourism and visa exemptions,” Huang said.
The plan is similar to what Japan has done over the past few years in offering visitors from Southeast Asian nations, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, preferential visa-free treatment, he said.
Taiwan must not block “middle-class tourists who have strong purchasing power and affluent people” from these nations just because it has to handle relations with foreign workers and new immigrants, he said.
Huang, a former minister of foreign affairs, said that Taiwan’s move into the Southeast Asian market has lagged far behind some other nations, including China.
However, Taiwan enjoys competitiveness in the areas of agriculture, aquaculture and information communication, while China emphasizes big infrastructure construction projects, he said.
There is no conflict between Taiwan and China in their efforts to explore that market, he said.
Huang described the policy as a “people-focused” external economic strategy, and expressed hope that Taiwan can establish a partnership with members of the ASEAN and South Asian nations.
He said his office would integrate scholarship programs for government units, private enterprises and public and private schools, to turn the recipients into a “bridge” between Taiwan and ASEAN and South Asian nations ,and have them help enterprises to explore the markets there.
The central tenet of the policy is “turning ASEAN into an extension of Taiwan’s domestic market,” Huang said.
Taiwan first promoted a “go south” policy in the 1990s, which tried to encourage companies to shift their investment to Southeast Asia rather than China, in the hope of leveraging Taiwan’s economic might into political clout.
However, the policy gradually lost steam during former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) administration, especially after the 1997 Asian financial storm.
That policy, Huang has said before, was focused on investment and trade figures, but the New Southbound Policy is centered on nurturing talent and encouraging bilateral exchanges to achieve its goals.