Written by Chun-yi Lee.
Does Brexit impact Taiwan? This was our first reaction when Dr Michael Reilly and I started to plan the Europe and East Asia after Brexit Conference way back in May 2018. When Michael first proposed to organise the conference, Britain was still scheduled to exit the EU on 29 March. As an organiser, I naturally questioned the link between Taiwan and Brexit. Taiwan already has endless worries with its neighbour China, so I wondered whether Brexit would significantly influence Taiwan. After several discussions with Michael, I realised that I was being narrow-minded. Taiwan does not stand alone in the world. While China is certainly Taiwan’s greatest concern, a Brexit butterfly effect will influence East Asia’s already dynamic economic and security issues as well as regional links with the UK and Europe. This effect was the main drive behind the conference.
The conference featured nine panels. Richard Higgot kicked off discussing general change in the global political economy, followed by Rod Wye providing a historical background of the EU and Northeast Asia. The afternoon panels presented geopolitical perspectives: Andrew Yang talked about Taiwan’s security links with the UK in the post-Brexit era; David Warren analysed the Japanese government’s response to Brexit. Robert Wang took the USA’s perspective in viewing a rising China, and Tim Summers contributed a post-Brexit perspective on whether China and the UK can maintain the ‘golden era relationship’.
Brexit’s impact on these geopolitical powers may not be directly linked to Taiwan, but as Andrew Yang indicated, a post-Brexit security connection between Taiwan and the UK is quite reasonable. The Taiwan Strait is a sensitive security puzzle and as such there is more for the UK to consider than just its moral obligation as a member of the United Nations Security Council. A peaceful Indo-Pacific region should be a priority, as stability of the regional economy will contribute to economic prosperity for the UK after Brexit.
Apart from broad geopolitical impact, how will Brexit impact specific sectors in East Asia? Day two of the conference featured Robyn Kingler-Vidra on existing innovation links between Taiwan and the UK, and Pei-His Lin discussing Brexit’s impact on the higher education sector. Brexit is believed to be a major cause of Britain’s primary education export ‘markets’ shifting from European countries to East Asian countries. However, one might also argue that this phenomenon has already happened, and that Brexit may just accelerate the movement. Lastly, Michael Reilly talked about the impact of trade and economic relations on specific sectors, such as ICT, and on the cross-regional free trade agreement known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Michael concluded that Brexit meant the UK will not be automatically admitted to the Agreement. However, the UK was not an original member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its trading policy seems more targeted towards bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with individual countries than trading blocks. So, if the CPTPP trading block chooses to sign an FTA with the EU, how much would the UK actually lose as a result of Brexit?
Not all of the conference contributors were able to contribute to this special issue of Taiwan Insight. We are particularly grateful for Robert, who expanded out from his conference paper and wrote on the importance of Taiwan’s NGOs in democratic consolidation, and for Michael’s contribution on Taiwan and the TPP. Given pressure from China, making Taiwan eligible for the CPTPP was difficult, if not impossible. We are also grateful to Yu-ching and Robyn for their contribution on the semiconductor industry and the impact of Brexit on Taiwan’s innovation links with the UK and Europe. We hope their contributions to Taiwan Insight provide readers who could not attend our conference an opportunity to engage with the content of conference discussions. We have also recorded a podcast with the contributors to our View on Asia and Taiwan. The podcast link will be advertised on the Taiwan Studies Programme website.
Lastly, let me return to the initial question: does Brexit impact Taiwan? The answer is, yes. Rather than repeat the tired cliché of ‘this is a globalised world’, I will instead ask our readers to think deeper about the interconnectivities of supply chains, the mobility of human talent in the innovation and high education sectors, and cross-regional trading agreements such as the TPP and CPTPP. If one considers all these different elements, Brexit certainly impacts on Taiwan and East Asia as a whole. In fact, this impact was felt as early as June 2016 and will last far beyond the actual Brexit date – which at this stage is set for 31 January 2020. These complexities are why we held this conference and produced this special issue for our readers. We want to provide to our readership interdisciplinary analysis on this crucial change of the world order and the shifting power dynamics of the global political economy. We hope our special issue can serve as a diverse forum to provide analytical insights as we, along with all our readership, witness this historic moment.
Chun-yi Lee is an Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relation (SPIR) at the University of Nottingham. She is also the Editor of the Taiwan Insight and the Director of Taiwan Studies Programme.