Following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) implementation of the New Southbound Policy in 2016, Taiwan and Indonesia’s bilateral ties have significantly increased.
According to an annual report issued this year by the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, Taiwan ran 458 investment projects with a total value of US$316.9 million last year, a dramatic rise from US$149.1 million in 2016.
During the period, the total value of trade between both countries also increased from US$7.07 billion to US$11.31 billion.
In the absence of official diplomatic relations, Taiwan uses public diplomacy and exercises soft power to engage with Indonesia.
Political scientist Joseph Nye says that public diplomacy is an instrument a government employs to mobilize soft power resources to attract people from other nations; it aims to create a positive image in another country.
Taiwan has highly invested its soft power in Indonesia, but its positive image concentrates only on particular areas of the archipelago.
In terms of the education sector, Taiwan has funded the establishment of the Taiwan Education Center at Jakarta State University in the capital, Airlangga University in Surabaya and Yogyakarta Muhammadiyah University in Yogya. The center has been successfully promoting Taiwan’s higher education, but it is limited to the western part of Indonesia, such as Java island, where all the centers are located.
Taiwan has offered multiple scholarship schemes and thousands of Indonesian students have welcomed them with enthusiasm.
Over the past few years, the number of talented young Indonesians pursuing further studies in Taiwan has increased. There are now about 15,000 Indonesian students in Taiwan, making Indonesia one of the most significant contributors of international students to Taiwanese universities.
Most Indonesian students are attracted to the world-class facilities Taiwan’s universities offer. While Taiwan’s universities, such as National Taiwan University and National Tsing Hua University, place in the top 200 of the QS World University Rankings 2023, there are no Indonesian universities on the list.
This indicates that Taiwan has the potential to provide assistance to Indonesia, especially with regards to the Indonesian government’s efforts to improve the country’s human development.
Highly skilled talent, backed by an excellent education system, has strengthened Taiwan’s global competitiveness. The Human Development Report 2021/2022 released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Indonesia’s Human Development Index (HDI) 114th out of 191 countries.
Taiwan is not included in the report because it is not a member of the UN, so the Taiwanese government conducts annual measurements based on the UNDP’s indicators and methodology.
On Oct. 14, it reported that Taiwan’s HDI was 0.926, or equal to the 19th rank.
Indonesia and Taiwan have different problems regarding human resources. While the former has abundant productive human resources, but not all are qualified, the latter lacks productive working-age people, but can maximize their potential to support economic growth.
Therefore, it is essential for both countries to enhance cooperation in solving the problems.
This year, Statistics Indonesia reported that the country’s HDI had been increasing from 2010 to last year, but there is a wide gap between provinces. Jakarta Province had the highest HDI at 80.47, much more than the lowest HDI of 60.06 recorded in Papua Province.
Besides Papua, different regions in the east of Indonesia, such as West Papua and East Nusa Tenggara, also had low HDI levels. This means that although the quality of Indonesia’s human development is increasing, it is not equal in all areas across the nation.
With its soft power, Taiwan has the potential to contribute to developing the quality of Indonesia’s human resources as planned by the government of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Instead of focusing its soft power on Java island, Taiwan needs to consider extending it to the eastern part of Indonesia by offering more scholarships to students from there.
Taiwan would not meet this serious challenge, because it has maintained a strategic project to develop the Morotai Economic Special Zone in North Maluku Province. Taiwan has since 2012 invested US$1.34 million in the province to set up tourism parks, resorts and other supporting facilities. The project is strategic with regards to establishing an economic corridor between Taiwan and Indonesia.
To support the investment, Taiwan can expand its contributions to improving Indonesia’s human development in the area. By promoting its soft power in multiple areas in Indonesia, Taiwan would significantly contribute to Indonesia and enhance Taipei’s positive image across the country.
A. Safril Mubah is an assistant professor at the Department of International Relations at Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia. He is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs fellow affiliated with the International College of Innovation, National Chengchi University.
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