Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Foundation to complement efforts in implementing New Southbound Policy

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation chairman Michael Hsiao gestures during an interview in his office in Taipei on Tuesday last week.

Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times

Sitting in the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation’s (TAEF) office against a backdrop of neatly arranged artifacts from Southeast Asia that he collected over the years, TAEF chairman Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌) used a few sentences to describe the foundation’s role.

“In a nutshell, the foundation’s purpose is to serve a complementary role in the government’s execution of its New Southbound Policy,” Hsiao said of the newly established body in an interview with the Taipei Times and its sister paper, the Liberty Times, on Tuesday.

“What we aim to do is to promote [Taiwan’s] soft power and public diplomacy,” he said.

Described by Hsiao as a semi-private policy think tank, the TAEF was established on Aug. 8 in response to some academics’ suggestions that Taiwan should host a forum like Singapore’s Shangri-La Dialogue and China’s Boao Forum for Asia.

That prompted the creation last year of the Yushan Forum, named after Taiwan’s tallest peak. Its inaugural session was organized by government-funded think tank the Prospect Foundation, but the torch has been passed to the TAEF after its establishment.

Ensuring that the Yushan Forum is a success is one of the two major tasks that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has given the TAEF, which receives annual government funding of about NT$37 million (US$1.2 million).

The other task is to vitalize Tsai’s New Southbound Policy, Hsiao said.

The Tsai administration has so far listed five areas of focus for the policy — education, technology, medicine, agricultural techniques and the economy — he said.

“We are here to put another five on the map: culture, youth, non-governmental organizations [NGOs], think tanks and regional resilience,” said Hsiao, who devoted decades of his life to East and Southeast Asia studies, with a special focus on the regions’ agricultural policies and middle-class population.

The policy, which gives particular importance to exchanges among NGOs and young people from the 18 nations it targets, as well as other influential actors in the region, is more comprehensive and people-oriented than the southbound policies enacted by former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), which focused on the economy.

To facilitate such exchanges, the TAEF is seeking cooperation with nations that have already built a strong network in Southeast and South Asia, such as the US, Japan and Australia, Hsiao said.

The TAEF is in talks with the Pacific Forum, a Hawaii-based subsidiary of US think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, over the possibility of it sending its young partners to attend this year’s Yushan Forum in October.

“We will also launch a regional initiative, called the Taiwan Asia Youth Leaders Initiative [TAYLI], in collaboration with the American Institute in Taiwan,” Hsiao said.

Under the initiative, which is a variation of the US’ Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, Washington will reach out to its embassies in South and Southeast Asia to find promising young leaders from different sectors of society and recommend them to join TAYLI programs, which would include youth camps and student symposiums, he said.

Cultural exchanges is another focus of the TAEF, Hsiao said, especially in the area of modern art, which he said best encapsulates today’s social, cultural and economic circumstances.

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