Written by Huynh Tam Sang & Tran Hoang Nhung
Image credit: Newspapers yellow by Jon S/Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0
The image of Taiwan has largely been discernible on Vietnamese mass media platforms, such as television channels, newspapers, magazines, and online news sites. In Vietnam, mainstream media has served as the primary communication channel, whereas social media has become prominent since 2008, following the popularity of Facebook. Hence, this article focuses on studying the perceptions of Taiwan in Vietnam through the conduit of mass media.
Depictions of Taiwan in the Vietnamese mediascape kicked off within the economic field. In the mid-1980s, Taiwan expanded its foreign direct investment (FDI) to Southeast Asia, and Vietnam stood out as a potential market with cheap labour and lower wage. The wave of Taiwan’s investment in Vietnam came about concurrently with Vietnam’s implementation of Doi Moi (renovation policy) in 1986. Since 1990, Vietnam has become an attractive investment spot for Taiwan’s electronics and steel industries. In 1992, two semi-official offices—the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vietnam and Taipei Economic Office in Ho Chi Minh city—were established respectively to facilitate political and economic interactions.
Taiwan has been a favourite destination for Vietnamese migrant workers, given relatively high income, cultural similarities, and a close geographical distance. Additionally, Taiwan’s embattled future of an ageing society and the shortage of elderly caregivers have added to the archipelago’s raging thirst for migrant workers from Vietnam—a populous nation with more than 98 million people. In Taiwan, Vietnamese migrant employees primarily work in manufacturing, healthcare services, family nursing and housekeeping. Vietnamese media has reported on Taiwan’s newly issued policies, like the reacceptance of Vietnam’s fishing crew members and caregivers, along with the relaxed policy to encourage Vietnamese labourers working in agricultural sectors. Yet Vietnamese migrant employees’ violation of Taiwan’s legal and working law, such as gambling, breaking registered contracts, and failing to comply with the COVID-19 regulations set out by the Taiwanese government, has been addressed frequently.
Vietnamese brides marrying Taiwanese men have long gauged the attention of the Vietnamese public and newspapers. However, the first wave of Vietnamese brides marrying Taiwanese husbands occurred in the 1990s when Taiwan’s gap of social hierarchy widened, and Taiwanese men faced difficulty finding their spouses. This social issue coincided with young Vietnamese women, mostly from rural areas with a working-class background, seeking a way out of poverty by pursuing opportunities to work abroad. The gender imbalance further led to an increase in Taiwanese men seeking mail-order brides from Vietnam through marriage brokers. As a result, Vietnamese brides in Taiwan are portrayed in their motherland’s media as those craving for an affluent life while their Taiwanese grooms are interested in wives willing to have babies and looking after their ageing parents.
In the early 2000s, Vietnamese wives suffering from household abuse was in the spotlight, and their unhappy marriages were due to loveless marriages, the language barrier and a significant age gap. Popular stereotypes about “foreign brides” in Taiwan also blackened the image of Vietnamese brides, who were portrayed “either as passive victims or materialist gold‐diggers.” But as the Taiwanese government issued laws to protect immigrants’ rights and opened classes to help socialise Vietnamese brides with the new environment, Vietnamese online newspapers quickly embraced these positive adjustments. They provided a more nuanced picture of these women’s personal lives and their meaningful contributions to Taiwan’s development. Thanks to their efforts and support from the Taiwanese government, Vietnamese brides could pursue Mandarin language classes while integrating with the local community. Hence, they have experienced the joy of their married lives, strengthened their societal status, and stretched their hands to help their Vietnamese fellows in Taiwan. Via promoting their homeland’s culture in Taiwan and contributing to the archipelago’s socio-economic life, Vietnamese brides have played a bridging role in fostering ties between the two countries.
Taiwanese films and music have also received a warm welcome in Vietnam. Since 1993, a Taiwanese TV series Bao Qingtian (包青天), or Justice Bao, has been well-received and reproduced by Vietnam Television (VTV), Vietnam’s national television channel. Fascinatingly, personal stories of the actors playing Bao Zheng (包拯) or Bao Gong (包公), bodyguard Zhanzhao (展昭), and secretary Gongsun Ce (公孫策) have frequently been covered in Vietnamese media and outlets.
Taiwan’s popular culture—actors, idols, music, and dramas, usually known as the “Taiwanese Waves,” has gained popularity on Vietnamese media sites. The 2004—2008 period saw a boom of Taiwanese idol dramas, e.g. “It Started with a Kiss, 2005” (惡作劇之吻), “The Prince Who Turns into a Frog, 2005” (王子變青蛙), “The Tricks of Boys and Girls, 2006” (花樣少年少女), “My Lucky Star, 2007” (放羊的星星), screened on Vietnam’s TV channels. Taiwan’s singers and bands, e.g., F4, 183 Club, 7 Flowers, S.H.E, Jay Chou, were once familiar among Vietnamese youths. Some Taiwanese drama OSTs, such as Pure Love (真愛), Tears Of The North Star (北极星的眼泪), Say U Love Me, Ambiguous Love (曖昧), when translated into Vietnamese, have been embraced enthusiastically by Vietnamese fans. Since the 2000s, beauty and fashion trends of Taiwanese idols and movie characters have gone viral and influenced young audiences in Vietnam. Even in the post-golden age of the Taiwanese waves, Vietnam’s sites and social media have regularly aroused affectionate memories of Taiwan’s favoured singers and actors.
To promote the image of Taiwan in Vietnam, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has coordinated with well-influenced TV channels in Vietnam, Philippines, India and Thailand to produce and broadcast the program “Embracing Taiwan” (攜手台灣) in local languages. Since November 2019, “Phải lòng Đài Loan” (Fall for Taiwan), the Vietnamese version of the program, has been hosted by famous Vietnamese singer Quang Vinh and broadcasted in HTV7, Vietnam’s second-largest television channel. Through the program, Vietnamese audiences could enhance their understandings of Taiwan and discover the archipelago’s advantages, like medical care services, educational achievements, and technology-driven progress.
Taiwan’s education has drawn the attention of Vietnamese people. Helpful information and experience of studying and living in Taiwan appears on Taiwan-related websites, such as Taiwan Diary, Dai Loan Du Ky. Educational cooperation between Vietnam and Taiwan and Taiwan’s educational experience are covered by mainstream sites like Bao dien tu Dang Cong san Viet Nam, and Tap chi Thoi dai (Vietnam Times). Last year, Taiwan’s education higher fair attracted over 6000 Vietnamese viewers, and Vietnam—for the first time—surpassed China to be the largest source of overseas students in Taiwan. A growing interest of Vietnamese students choosing to study in Taiwan would likely augment bilateral ties.
With China’s growing assertiveness in the Taiwan Strait and intensifying quarrels between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, Vietnamese media has been astute to air these geopolitical tensions. Cross-Strait incidents and tensions have figured in Vietnam’s popular sites like VNExpress and Thanh Nien, which have a separate column covering Taiwan-related issues. Yet, they seem to focus on the political milieu rather than making Taiwan’s culture and society focal points.
Taiwan’s increasing investment in Vietnam, the New Southbound Policy, and Taiwan’s medical prominence have caught the Vietnamese interest. Tags of Taiwan’s economy have appeared in local news coverage like VnExpress and Vietnamplus. However, discussions on Taiwan’s economy are humble compared with those from other East Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. Amid COVID-19, some mainstream news sources, such as VnExpress, Thanh Nien, Tien Phong, and Nguoi Lao Dong, reported Taiwan’s success story of navigating the deadly global pandemic.
Due to Vietnam’s formal recognition of the “One-China Policy,” Taiwan has been mentioned in Vietnamese platforms and popular mainstream news websites, but with subtle name changes. For instance, mainstream media outlets have used the term “leader” of Taiwan instead of “president” of Taiwan. Thus, “President Tsai Ing-wen” is called “Madame Tsai [Ing-wen]” while “Taiwan (China)” or “the island nation” is adopted instead of the “Republic of China (Taiwan).”
In Vietnamese media, Taiwanese culture seems to be missing though the two Asian nations share Confucian values and have much in common regarding traditions and customs. Instead, in the eyes of the Vietnamese, Taiwan is likely famous for tourist attractions. There are pieces discussing tips and scenic tourist spots that the Vietnamese people should take note of when setting foot in Taiwan. A quick search on Google for Vietnamese keywords, such as “truyền thống và phong tục Đài Loan” (Taiwan’s traditions and customs) or “Văn hóa Đài Loan” (Taiwanese culture), results in articles written by travel agencies and Facebook pages of overseas educational institutions.
Descriptions of Taiwan in the Vietnamese mediascape have gradually shifted, from easily noted topics, like Taiwan’s investment in Vietnam, Vietnamese brides, and Taiwanese idols and dramas to political issues, e.g., simmering tensions between Beijing and Taipei, and promising fields, e.g. educational collaboration and medical assistance. Nevertheless, Taiwan’s culture and society are likely less visible in Vietnamese outlets. Hence, governments, non-governmental organisations, think tanks, and associations from both sides should foster mutual understanding by featuring Taiwan’s image and standing in Vietnamese sites thoroughly.
Huynh Tam Sang is an international relations lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities and research fellow at Taiwan NextGen Foundation.
Tran Hoang Nhung is a research assistant at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
This piece was published as part of a special issue on Asian Mediascapes of Taiwan.