President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her administration are busy promoting the “new southbound policy,” but if she is to be more successful than former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) at redirecting the nation’s trade and investment, she needs an “awareness of cultural equality and greater cultural sensitivity,” said Lee Mei-hsien (李美賢), director of National Chi Nan University’s Graduate School of Southeast Asian Studies.
“Policymakers must ask themselves honestly what their goals are. If the goal is purely to avoid working with China, then that is only taking politics into consideration,” National Cheng Chi University’s College of Foreign Languages and Literature dean Chang Shang-kuan (張上冠) said.
“A shift in industry and a consideration of national security require a more thorough investigation of the cultural, historical, political and economic implications of the policy, to fully understand Taiwan’s interests toward Southeast Asia,” he said.
Chang said an understanding of the languages and cultures of ASEAN countries is “crucial” to effectively do business there.
Taiwanese businesses cannot think of the region as a place to “exploit and use” for their own benefit, they cannot “only take and not give back,” he said.
He said the mentality that has led to discriminatory perceptions of maids and workers from the Philippines and elsewhere will only lead to failure if it is not abandoned.
“Many of those who talk about the new southbound policy have never been to Ho Chi Minh City or Jakarta, and do not understand why Muslims do not eat pork. If their intentions are not pure then they are unable to build friendships in those countries,” Chang said. “The position of this school is that one must set off on such an endeavor with a cultured mindset, seeking a path that is mutually beneficial for both parties involved. We hope that the new southbound policy can foster closeness with ASEAN partners and not just seek to gain from those relations. Respect for the other equates to respect for oneself.”
Lee said that whether talking about research or governance, even when intentions are good, if one holds a prejudiced way of looking at things, it is possible that will manifest in a colonialist mentality.
“Holding on to the myth of the middle class will earn you no friends,” Chang said.
Chang takes his students to smaller rural towns of Southeast Asia and to factories, to let them experience everyday life there and recognize cultural differences.
Chang said that Chinese living in the region often discriminate against local people.
“If you hold on to discrimination, considering yourselves to be the descendants of the Fiery and Yellow Emperors, how do you still expect to get along well with others,” she said.
Chang said that a change in attitudes toward Southeast Asia also requires people from the region to visit Taiwan, facilitating peaceful exchanges and mutual respect. The government must allow for a “consciousness about multiculturalism to take root,” Chang said.
“A failure to do so will result in the policy being reduced to simply Taiwanese people seeking to earn the people of Southeast Asia’s money. What would be the point of that,” he said.
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