The incoming government is to establish a “new southbound policy office” and a national-level think tank for ASEAN and South Asian studies. As president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) prepares to launch the policy, here are some suggestions:
First, Taiwan should deepen its bilateral relations with Southeast Asian countries, which are in a region rich in cultural and developmental diversity. Building a shared community requires pragmatic cooperation among regional states, but the assistance of major powers based on their strategic considerations is even more important. When it comes to the US’ return to Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership on one hand and China’s “peaceful rise” and strategic “One Belt, One Road” initiative on the other, an integrated ASEAN is the lowest common denominator for these two major powers.
However, Taiwan’s priority should be to improve its bilateral relationships with ASEAN and use these as an opportunity for a breakthrough when pushing for integration into the region. ASEAN affairs are highly complex and China’s “coordinating country” approach deserves consideration.
When former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) were in office, Vietnam was the coordinating country between China and ASEAN, and with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), Thailand has been the coordinating country. Singapore has played a similar role in cross-strait affairs and Taiwan-ASEAN relations.
When looking for another coordinating member of ASEAN in addition to Singapore, Vietnam might be a good option.
Second, there should be a shared focus on both Taiwan and its ASEAN counterparts. Past and current southbound policies focus on unilateral Taiwanese investments in Southeast Asia, but Tsai’s new policy is to include three improvements. It would not solely focus on investment; there would be bilateral rather than unilateral interaction — for example by attracting high-tech talent to Taiwan resulting in a win-win situation; and it would link Taiwan with Southeast and South Asian countries, as well as with the Indian subcontinent, creating a regional strategy for South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Tsai’s new policy stresses the advantage of having “Southeast Asia in Taiwan,” as it includes a plan to help second-generation Southeast Asian immigrants in the hope that they provide a fresh force to help Taiwan integrate with ASEAN. This plan is a “project hope” of strategic significance. However, if Taiwan cannot improve the functions of its representative offices in the region to boost the power of “Taiwan in Southeast Asia,” it would be unable to build a favorable environment and create opportunities for a smooth entry into the region, in which case the new policy would fail to achieve its innovative strategic objective.
Third, Taiwan should focus on expertise and professionalism among its diplomats. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Taiwan’s diplomatic strength in Southeast Asia has been gradually weakening. As President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) attaches little importance to diplomatic affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lost its role in the decisionmaking process and it has been a long time since diplomatic expertise was respected. As a result, it has been difficult for outstanding diplomats to give full play to their professional knowledge and abilities, while Taiwan has lost its voice and ability to act in the international community.
The success of Tsai’s new policy depends on a focus on expertise and professionalism.
Hugh Chen is president of the Taiwan Association for Southeast Asian Studies and a professor in the Graduate School of Southeast Asian Studies at National Chi Nan University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Forward Forum in Taipei, former Singaporean minister for foreign affairs George Yeo (楊榮文) proposed a “Chinese commonwealth” as a potential framework for political integration between Taiwan and China. Yeo said the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait is unsustainable and that Taiwan should not be “a piece on the chessboard” in a geopolitical game between China and the US. Yeo’s remark is nothing but an ill-intentioned political maneuver that is made by all pro-China politicians in Singapore. Since when does a Southeast Asian nation have the right to stick its nose in where it is not wanted
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has released a plan to economically integrate China’s Fujian Province with Taiwan’s Kinmen County, outlining a cross-strait development project based on six major themes and 21 measures. This official document by the CCP is directed toward Taiwan’s three outlying island counties: Penghu County, Lienchiang County (Matsu) and Kinmen County. The plan sets out to construct a cohabiting sphere between Kinmen and the nearby Chinese city of Xiamen, as well as between Matsu and Fuzhou. It also aims to bring together Minnanese cultural areas including Taiwan’s Penghu and China’s cities of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou for further integrated
During a recent visit to Taiwan, I encountered repeated questions about “America skepticism” among the body politic. The basic premise of the “America skepticism” theory is that Taiwan people should view the United States as an unreliable, self-interested actor who is using Taiwan for its own purposes. According to this theory, America will abandon Taiwan when its interests are advanced by doing so. At one level, such skepticism is a sign of a healthy, well-functioning democratic society that protects the right for vigorous political debate. Indeed, around the world, the people of Taiwan are far from alone in debating America’s reliability
As China’s economy was meant to drive global economic growth this year, its dramatic slowdown is sounding alarm bells across the world, with economists and experts criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for his unwillingness or inability to respond to the nation’s myriad mounting crises. The Wall Street Journal reported that investors have been calling on Beijing to take bolder steps to boost output — especially by promoting consumer spending — but Xi has deep-rooted philosophical objections to Western-style consumption-driven growth, seeing it as wasteful and at odds with his goal of making China a world-leading industrial and technological powerhouse, and