Taiwan has lost several of its diplomatic allies in recent years. These setbacks have prompted Taiwan’s government to devise new approaches to improving its international presence and foreign relations strategy. At the forefront of these contemplations are questions as to how Taiwan can consolidate its contribution to, and partnership with, the global community, and find a more integral place for itself that fits in with Asian and global development agendas. Only by doing so can Taiwan improve its public’s trust in the nation’s capacity to foster meaningful forms of engagement in the spheres of international relations and development. The 2019 Yushan Forum, held on October 8-9, was an important test-case of how this can be achieved – it put on display the new international partnerships recently formed by Taiwan’s government and civil societies, and foregrounded new models that Taiwan could implement to participate more actively in global engagements/forums and regional integration.
The 2019 Yushan Forum addressed three key themes. Firstly, Taiwan’s foreign relations have been built on various forms of collaboration, as well as the sharing of resources, technical know-how, and developmental experiences. These are significant for fostering ties with other countries, advancing economic and social development, and for promoting the social welfare of Taiwan’s new immigrants, foreign workers, and resident Southeast Asian communities, and facilitating their adaptation to, and integration in, Taiwanese society. Both Taiwan’s government and its people need to continue to make efforts to transform and progress if they are to make inroads towards realizing the above objective. In relation to this point, this year’s Yushan Forum included a side event on “Facilitating Asian Partnership for Disaster Preparedness,” where invited speakers discussed and shared their experiences regarding how Asia could work collaboratively to deal with natural and man-made disasters through resilient communities, intelligent disaster prevention, disaster relief and reconstruction, and personnel training – areas in which Taiwan has bountiful experience and expertise.
The second theme was inter-sectoral cooperation in government. This year’s Yushan Forum demonstrated that the Ministry of Diplomacy has by no means been the only government agency that has contributed to the expansion of Taiwan’s engagements in Asia. Other public sectors have also made solid contributions, including the Council of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry of Culture, and Environmental Protection Administration. Their efforts were on display in three sessions: “Enhancing Technological and Economic Partnerships,” “Building Talent Cultivation Partnerships,” and “Promoting Partnerships in Sustainable Development.” These governmental units have played different yet important roles in exploring new issues and seeking collaboration with foreign entities. Such inter-sectoral warm power has resulted in improvements in Taiwan’s economic and foreign relations capabilities.
The third theme was solid partnerships. The main purpose of the Yushan Forum was to lay out the achievements of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy (NSP), and invite more and more like-minded partners to participate in the annual event, and by extension, the policy itself. Throughout the past three years, the participation of Southeast Asian and South Asian countries and other like-minded partners, including Canada, the US, and Japan, has shown that there is considerable international support for Taiwan’s efforts to contribute to sustainable regional development through the NSP.
While Beijing has been suppressing Taiwan’s presence in the global community to forward the objectives of its One-China policy, Taiwan has been eager to create international/regional space to expand its autonomy and influence. Such an objective requires every stakeholder in Taiwan to actively explore issues that may be beneficial to the region and its people. Furthermore, proposals for cooperation need to be translated into institutionalized cooperative projects and partnerships through the building of inter-governmental agreements, and through constructing practical collaborative networks among think tanks, enterprises, civil societies, and non-governmental organizations. Only through developing partnerships that are flexible, respectful, and wherein each party is open to learning from the other, can Taiwan hope to break free of its diplomatic limitations, and gradually play a greater role in formulating a regional community focus on sustainable development, and a global ecosystem for social development.
Since its implementation in 2016 by President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy has been recognized as a viable platform for achieve the aforementioned objectives. For instance, the transnational program for the provision of medical assistance, known as “One Country, One Centre,” has brought together Taiwanese medical research teams to help NSP countries better train their medial personnel, establish regulations, improve public health systems, and more. In addition to sharing advanced technology, Taiwan has also set up demonstration farms in Indonesia and, most recently, the Philippines, where Taiwanese experts work with local farmers to cultivate various kinds of agricultural products. Taiwan and its foreign partners have sought to created win-win situations by diversifying local agricultural systems and stimulating the exchange of knowledge. Through these innovations and through the implementation of flexible programs, Taiwan’s NSP has shown that aside from cooperation in trade and business, there are plenty of less-explored social dimensions which could also foster regional prosperity and interconnectivity.
The Yushan Forum is a starting point for Taiwan to act as a responsible stakeholder in the project of furthering the development of Asia and the Indo-Pacific. In the process of fostering regional community and contributing to social development, Taiwan still has a lot to learn from our Southeast Asian and South Asian partners. As President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated in this year’s forum, “Taiwan is not a question, but is instead an answer [in terms of being wholly committed to advancing Asian development].”
This article is part of the special issue on Taiwan’s partnerships with Asian nations.