Written by Raian Hossain
Image credit: 01.28 總統春節慰勉中央氣象局 by 總統府/Flickr, License: CC BY 2.0
As mentioned by Chung-Liang Shih, Taiwan’s Vice Minister, Ministry of Health and Welfare, New South Bound Policy (NSP) 2.0 will be implemented in 2022; this article looks at different ways of how the existing policy can be fine-tuned to be more successful in the upcoming years.
In an era of global economic interdependency, the need for collective security for development, prosperity, stability, substantiality, and regional diplomacy has never been more important than today. Similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan’s Official Development Assistance, America’s Pivot to Asia policy, the Republic of China (ROC), often known as Taiwan, has its own New South Bound Policy (NSP).
NSP: A Brief Introduction:
NSP is President Tsai Ing- Wen’s signature foreign policy initiative announced in 2016 to strengthen the ROC ties across the region with 10 ASEAN member countries, six South Asian countries (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan), Australia and New Zealand. During the speech on National Day in 2017, Tsai mentioned that the purpose of NSP is to allow Taiwan “to hold a more advantageous position in the international community”. NSP aims to create a sense of economic community and form a consensus of cooperation by establishing a mutually beneficial model among ROC and the targeted countries. One of Tsai’s signature slogans in relation to NSP is “Taiwan helps Asia, and Asia helps Taiwan”. The NSP promotional plan mentions establishing stronger bilateral ties in four main areas: 1) Promoting economic collaboration 2) Conducting talent exchange 3) Sharing resources 4) Forging regional links. Despite NSP allowing ROC to diversify its trading pattern and decrease its over-trade dependency on the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it has no intention to compete with Beijing. Rather, it focuses on cultivating Taipei’s opportunities for mutual benefit across the region. As per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (ROC), the NSP portal has six focus areas 1) Visas 2). Global Exchanges 3). Economic Cooperation 4). Taiwan Fellowships 5). NGOs 6). City partnerships. Previous ROC governments under President Lee Teng-hui and President Chen Shui-bian
implemented similar Go South policies. At the same time, both of them were solely aimed at establishing trade and economic policies with Southeast Asian countries.
An Overview of NSP over the Last Five Years (2016-2021):
NSP has provided ROC with more significant trade, investment, and economic opportunities since 2016. By the end of 2020, Taiwan’s trade volume with New Southbound countries reached 108.4 billion US dollars, increasing 12.9 per cent compared to 2016. Since the launch of NSP, Taiwan has managed to sign numerous investment protection agreements with countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, India, and Australia, ensuring its business and trade are well protected than before. Since 2016, ROC has managed to sign 70 agreements covering different dimensions, i.e., trade, training, cultural and agricultural etc., with new southbound countries. After almost five years of NSP implementation, it has helped Taiwan to gain strategic benefits, such as it grew interaction with countries of the Indo-Pacific Society. NSP has allowed a few new southbound countries to participate in numerous security dialogues, such as Asia Pacific Security Dialogue, 2021. In addition, over the last five years, there has been a significant change in the number of incoming international students from new southbound countries, mainly from Southeast Asian countries. ROC has also put a particular emphasis on attracting international students to Chinese language scholarship programs. Taipei’s Economic and Cultural offices are also active in medical diplomacy in new southbound countries by donating medical supplies or signing medical MOUs between hospitals. Besides traditional interactions, NSP has allowed Taipei to foster cooperation in the agriculture industry and cross-cultural interactions. Despite such remarkable achievements in the first five years of NSP, it has still room for further improvement for its second phase (NSP 2.0) from 2022.
NSP 2.0: Improving the Policy in 2022
Undoubtedly, ROC has to continue to work closely with the United States, Japan, and South Korea, but it is also necessary to emphasise growing strong ties with New South Bound Countries. ROC foreign policy is still centred towards the West, but it is equally important to think for new opportunities in Asia. The progress of NSP over the last five year reflect ROC interaction
with Southeast Asian countries has been most notable. With the help of NSP, Southeast Asian countries are getting benefits from a non-disrupted supply chain to bolster mutual economic growth. Based on the previous Go-South policies, ROC has a good working relationship with Southeast Asian countries, which leaves Taipei more room to improve its working relationship looking beyond existing mechanisms. At the same time, NSP has to improve and increase the interaction with South Asian countries in the upcoming years, which mostly went under-explored in the first five years. NSP and India’s Act East Policy are mutually exclusive in terms of strategic objectives, having the potential for a win-win cooperation.
For NSP to impact South Asia, ROC must grow expertise and knowledge pertinent toward the region, which is currently lacking. ROC might promote two-way policy dialogues and encourage research among academics and thinks tanks. As the South Asian government might be reluctant to proceed with state-level initiatives due to possible political challenges by PRC, a non-state level initiative might be the next best alternative. Also, it would be wise to establish region-specific studies (such as South Asian Studies) among Taiwanese Universities. NSP also should look toward opportunities to increase the flow of students from South Asia to universities and medical colleges in Taiwan. Offering attractive scholarships might attract talented students interested in STEM or social science education.
Another area NSP might impact South Asia is tourism and medical tourism. As people from South Asia mostly look in Southeast Asia for tourism and medical tourism, the people-to-people initiative might make Taiwan a popular destination of their choice. Countries like Bangladesh, one of the world’s emerging economies, will soon graduate as a middle-income country by 2026. To a certain extent, it still relies on the agriculture sector and can be an ideal destination for exporting digitalised agriculture facilities using AI, IoT and robotics drones and smart devices. Despite such opportunities, the outreach of NSP in Bangladesh is minimal, and Taiwan Trade Center, Dhaka, activities are hardly visible. Also, a riverine country like Bangladesh, which faces the challenges of frequent floods and storms, Dhaka would surely be interested in cooperation related to more digitalised and modernised disaster warning and response mechanisms.
Apart from South Asia, the role of cultural exchange between ROC and all New Southbound countries needs to be emphasised further. Exchange of cultural activities such as film or food (cuisine) festivals would be good to create bondage among the people of Taiwan and New Southbound countries. Also, environmental and climate change are pressing non-traditional security aspects that might create further cooperation ground between ROC and New Southbound countries. Like how the Tsai government is committed to domestic green energy, ROC should share such ideas and efforts among New Southbound countries. Another area of cooperation that is ideal to be added to NSP 2.0 is cyber security cooperation, which is even more important than before in the 21st century. Lastly, NSP 2.0 should take account of the ongoing pandemic; hence it would align and plan its strategic calculations accordingly.
Raian Hossain is a lecturer of Department of Global Studies & Governance (GSG), Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). He holds a MA in International Relations from the University of Nottingham (UK). His research interest includes China & International Affairs, Cross-Strait Relations, South Asian Politics, Security Studies, Terrorism and Violent Extremism.