The “new southbound policy,” launched by the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) aims to diversify and boost social and cultural ties between Taiwan and 16 ASEAN and South Asian nations, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Extensive cooperation with partner nations is under way in the fields of medicine, agriculture and tourism. It is evolving the nature of relations from medical assistance and agricultural trade to healthcare policy planning and technological exchanges.
Photo: Liao Cheng-hui, Taipei Times
Taiwan has long cooperated with its Southeast Asian partners in epidemic prevention, birth control and treatment of rare diseases and deformities, and the scope of cooperation has expanded from a purely medical context to public health planning on a governmental level.
Taiwan’s medical collaboration with partner Southeast Asian nations has included organ transplants, orthognathic surgeries for cleft palates, bone marrow transplants, and surgeries for morbidly obese people and conjoined twins, but the focus has shifted toward public health policy planning and health system reform, a Ministry of Health and Welfare official said.
Taiwan is known for its affordable and universal healthcare system and hospital efficiency, and the nation’s experience has been emulated by nations seeking to develop an efficient healthcare system, International Cooperation Office Technical Superintendent Hsu Min-huei (許明暉) told the Taipei Times on May 18.
“For example, the nation’s healthcare smart card system allows public health authorities to manage personal healthcare information. Coupled with a well-designed insurance coverage and auditing system, the system reduces administrative costs and helps reduce healthcare fraud to almost zero,” Hsu said.
“In many nations, most health insurance premiums are paid for services that are not actually performed and Taiwan has paid what might be the lowest cost [in providing necessary services], which is a good example for nations that are developing an affordable healthcare system,” he said.
Malaysia has emulated Taiwan in developing its own universal healthcare system, he added.
Advantech Co Ltd (研華), the nation’s biggest industrial computer maker, has developed a healthcare information system and surgical instruments with embedded information systems to enable the digitization of hospital management, such as a digital registration system and electronic medical records that are essential parts of an efficient healthcare system, Hsu said.
“The government and business sector are ready to help the nation’s partners transition to a more productive and cost-effective healthcare system,” he said.
Taiwan is offering training to partner nations to cultivate teachers in areas of essential and advanced surgeries, with at least 100 professional courses to be offered this year.
A group of Vietnamese physicians have received training on kidney transplants, and they will become pioneers in that area and pass on their expertise to new physicians, Hsu said.
The cooperation would involve government-to-government dialogue in which medical and public health goals would be determined, followed by their execution by a team of academics and private-sector specialists to ensure that medical agreements are followed through, he said.
The Global Cooperation Training Framework — an initiative by Taiwan and the US to expand cooperation on humanitarian assistance, public health, environmental protection, energy, technology, education and regional development — would provide a platform for cooperation between Taiwan and its partners, he said.
A workshop on the diagnosis of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, Zika and Chikungunya fever, organized last month under the policy was attended by 15 of the 18 nations, which can be a basis for regular and extended cooperation, Hsu said.
The collaborative relationships between Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations have shifted from trade in agricultural products to more extensive technological exchanges and cooperation, with Taiwanese farmers and businesses exporting entire production lines to partner nations.
To cooperate with local industries and introduce sustainable and high-quality farming, priority has been given to the export of crop seeds and seed technologies, fertilizers, pesticides, animal feeds, halal-certified products, biological pest control methods and agricultural equipment and machinery, Council of Agriculture (COA) Department of International Affairs Director Grace Lih-fang Lin (林麗芳) said on May 24.
Taiwan is seeking closer relations with core partner nations India, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Australia and the Philippines, which have each signed a memorandum of understanding with Taiwan on agricultural issues, the COA said.
There are different agricultural collaboration plans for each nation: Taiwan is seeking to work with India on seed cultivation and production; with Malaysia on greenhouse farming; with Thailand on biological pest control methods and greenhouse farming; with Vietnam on pedigree boar and breeding stock; and with Indonesia on irrigation and high-value crop farming.
Explaining the so-called “whole factory export” model that is being promoted as the main form of agricultural cooperation, Lin gave greenhouses as an example, saying that an entire facility — from its “hardware,” such as sensors, control systems, automated irrigation and lighting, to “software,” such as seeds, fertilizers and grafting methods — would be exported to partner nations.
Such facilities, which are in high demand in Malaysia, could become a “demonstration garden” and introduce Taiwanese crops, farming techniques and agricultural machinery to partner nations to achieve large-scale cooperation and regional integration, she said.
“That provides a golden opportunity for both Taiwan and its partners, as they can transplant Taiwanese species and farming techniques — which are arguably more efficient than what is available locally — on their soil, allowing Taiwanese industries to better adapt to the local climate and business environment,” Lin said.
The gardens — which are to be first established in Malaysia and Thailand — have the potential to expand into a fully grown industry, such as greenhouse vegetable and organic farms, to integrate Taiwanese techniques with local capital, she said.
Taiwan also offers training to farmers from the partner nations to become seed teachers, and introduce Taiwanese farming systems and techniques to their home nations, Lin said.
Training and short-term work permits had already been provided to Vietnamese, Thai and Philippine farmers, and following the advent of the policy, the practice was extended to Indonesian and Indian farmers, with the number of participants growing, she said.
Since the launch of the policy a year ago, Taiwan has added Thailand and Brunei to its visa-waiver program in addition to Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Indian, Vietnamese, Philippine, Indonesian, Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian travelers can also apply for a visa waiver if they hold a valid US or Canadian visa, and if not, they can apply for a Taiwan travel authorization certificate online.
The waiver program and a streamlined visa application process work well with Southeast Asian tourists who often travel on last-minute flights and the policy last year led to one of the largest increases in the number of visitors from Southeast Asian nations, Tourism Bureau specialist Alice Ko (柯怡君) said on May 19.
Visa-free entry for Thais has led to a 170 percent increase in the number of visitors from that nation, and there was a more than 50 percent increase in Vietnamese, Philippine, Indonesian, Indian, Burmese and Laotian travelers, government statistics show.
The Cabinet has announced a plan to extend the visa-waiver program to Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia within three years to boost exchanges.
Efforts to transform Taiwan into a Muslim-friendly nation are under way, and a total of 104 hotels and restaurants in the nation have received halal certification, most of which are located in northern Taiwan, the most popular destination for Southeast Asian travelers, Ko said.
Despite being a non-Muslim nation, Taiwan is a popular destination for Muslims and the government is to expand the halal certification program, and increase the availability of prayer rooms and bidets, while seeking to harness the talents of Muslim immigrants and their children to connect with Muslim travelers, particularly with Indonesians and Malaysians, she said.
A tour-guide training program targeting Southeast Asian immigrants and students has led to an increase of about 200 certified guides and on-site tour guides are available at selected tourist attractions for visitors not traveling with a group, Ko said.
“The ‘human-centered exchange’ feature of the ‘new southbound policy’ will ensure that more Southeast Asian travelers can appreciate Taiwanese culture, which would lead to deeper business, cultural and diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the region,” Executive Yuan Senior Executive Officer Howard Song (宋明豪) said on May 19.
The Taipei Times is to publish a series of articles focusing on President Tsai Ing-wen’s government’s “new southbound policy” in collaboration with the Office of Trade Negotiations of the Executive Yuan. The articles are to be printed every Saturday.
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