Vol. 1 Issue 7
Global Taiwan Brief – Volume 1, Issue 7
Changing Guard at Taiwan’s National Security Bureau
By: Russell Hsiao
Obtaining Components for Taiwan’s Indigenous Submarine Program
By: David An
Taiwan-Australia Relations: Good Links between Two Democratic Asia-Pacific Middle Powers
By: Bruce Jacobs
Third Force Parties in the 2016 Election
By: Kharis Templeman
“New Southbound Policy” (Part 2): A People-Centered Agenda with Taiwanese Characteristics
By: Alan Yang
Changing Guard at Taiwan’s National Security Bureau
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and Chief Editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
On October 26, Lieutenant General Peng Sheng-chu (彭勝竹) formally assumed the post of director-general of Taiwan’s lead intelligence agency the National Security Bureau (國安局 or NSB). The NSB is the country’s premier intelligence collection and analysis organization with the responsibility to “direct and coordinate the activities of the national intelligence community,”akin to the role of the Central Intelligence Agency. Peng ‘s appointment to replace Army Reserve Lieutenant General Yang Kuo-chiang (楊國強) as director of the agency marks the first time that the air force is at the head of the NSB, as well as the Ministry of National Defense (MND).
Peng is of the Hakka minority and previously served as the 18th commander of the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force from July 2007 to July 2009. The new NSB chief graduated from the ROC Air Force Academy in 1971, Taiwan’s National Defense University in 1984, and the US Air War College in 1993. In July 2002, Peng became chief of the president’s bodyguard detachment during the Chen Shui-bian administration, and was quickly promoted to principal of the ROC Air Force Academy in May 2003. He was then elevated to chief of staff of the ROC Air Force in December 2004 and served as the director-general of the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) from June 2005 to April 2006. After his time at MIB, Peng was promoted to deputy chief of the general staff of the ROC Armed Forces. Later, former KMT president Ma Ying-jeou selected Peng to serve as one of his 11 strategic advisers (戰略顧問) in 2009. Peng also served as air attaché at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.
Peng’s meteoric rise as head of the MIB, Air Force commander, and as deputy chief of the general staff suggest that he was being groomed for a leadership position early on. His appointment as head of the lead intelligence agency seems to signal the Tsai administration’s emphasis on strengthening intelligence cooperation and counter-intelligence efforts. Indeed, Taiwan’s espionage problem has grown more problematic over the last decade. A spy case revealed in early October relating to a retired air force captain, Chen Kuo-wei (陳國瑋), highlights the persistent challenges facing Taiwan’s counter-intelligence environment. The MIB, which is subordinate to the MND’s General Staff Headquarters, has a heavy counter-intelligence portfolio. Furthermore, Peng’s stint as a student at the US Air War College, military instructor to the Singaporean Air Force, and air attaché to the United States seems to signal the new administration’s intent to deepen defense intelligence sharing between Taipei and Washington as well as other countries.
Peng is labeled by some in the media as being a member of the “Yushan Faction” (玉山幫), which generally describes a group of military officers promoted through the ranks under the Chen administration. According to one report, the previous DPP administration promoted three generals (first class) and 27 generals (second class). The military has traditionally remained a bastion of political support for the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT). As Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN (Ret.) notes, “The Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) comes with a very checkered historical background, descending from units organized during the earliest days of the revolution, heavily politicized, and completely controlled by the KMT.” The previous DPP administration, after it first took power in 2000, promoted more officers within the military, ostensibly to gain their support. Indeed, Lieutenant General Peng is one of the military officers that was promoted up the ranks during that period, and his ascendance to the top of the NSB may represent a slow but gradual balance of influence for the DPP over the military and national security apparatuses.
The main point: NSB chief Peng Sheng-chu’s appointment may signal the new administration’s emphasis on counter-intelligence and its intent to deepen defense intelligence sharing between Taipei and Washington, as well as other countries.
Obtaining Components for Taiwan’s Indigenous Submarine Program
David An is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute. David formerly served as a political-military affairs officer at the US State Department.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series showed that new submarines play an important role in Taiwan’s defense, and a cost-benefit analysis of the island’s indigenous submarine program showed that its plan would be better served by importing certain high tech components for submarines rather than completing the project entirely on its own. The final segment in this series explores the question: Which countries have both the technological capability and political will to manufacture and export high tech submarine components to Taiwan?
In terms of technical capability, the United States, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Japan are the key players in the global submarine industry, and thus meet this requirement. Major corporations involved in submarine defense products include: General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries in the United States; BAE Systems in the United Kingdom; Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea; and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan.Other prominent defense vendors are Lockheed Martin in the United States, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, Fincantieri in Italy, Saab in Sweden, and Thales in France. However, this is a generalization, since assembly lines and supply chains for multinational defense companies can span many countries.
A major consideration for Taiwan in selecting an arms sales partner is interoperability in a conflict scenario. Taiwan would be interested in ensuring its weapons and communications systems are compatible with “NATO plus four” countries, which include the United States, NATO’s European members, and the “plus four” countries, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. These NATO plus four countries have military communications systems that are compatible with one another, and they are also the most likely to both help Taiwan and to work with Taiwan’s military during a conflict, so interoperability with these partners is especially important.
The “NATO plus four” criteria keeps virtually all of the above listed countries in the running, with few exceptions. One exception might be Saab in Sweden, since it is not technically part of NATO; however, it participates in the Partnership Interoperability Initiative with NATO and reports that its systems are interoperable. Japan is also a question mark, since it has historically restrained itself from exporting arms and military technology through its Three Principles on Arms Exports and Article 9 of its constitution. However, in 2014, the Japanese government replaced its Three Principles on Arms Exports with the revised Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, in order to allow arms sales under certain conditions. Nevertheless, the future of Japan’s arms exports and prospects for assisting Taiwan’s submarine program are still unclear, since Japan’s policy changes are so new. There are also heightened political sensitivities involved in working with Japan on a military program because of historical and regional dynamics.
Then, there is the second question of which countries are willing to work with Taiwan to build its submarines, considering the possibility that submarine deals may become public. Cooperating with Taiwan requires the fortitude to endure China’s efforts to officially demarche government officials, cut off diplomatic exchanges, and even retaliate against private companies. In 2010, in response to a $6.4 billion arms sale from the United States to Taiwan, China threatened sanctions on US companies like Boeing, which were selling weapons to Taiwan. In 2011, when the US approved a $5.3 billion foreign military sales case, in order to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16 aircraft, then Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) warned: “The wrongdoing by the US side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas.” It is indeed hard to bear the political and economic costs of crossing China.
In terms of willingness to publicly work with Taiwan, in this current geopolitical context, only the United States has the stomach to face China’s tough response to a public sale. Each year, as China’s clout grows, it becomes harder for many countries to sell arms to Taiwan. There is already evidence that Taiwan’s submarine planners have been reaching out to European countries for cooperation on submarine design over the past few years. However, the title of an article in The Diplomat says it all: “How Europe Shies from Taiwan: Europe accounts for a fraction of Taiwan’s defense import needs. Expect things to stay that way.” China continues to raise the political and economic cost for other actors to do anything that it views with displeasure or a threat to its interests.
Taiwan’s best hope of gaining submarine components from the United States and other NATO plus four countries is by doing it discreetly. Cooperation is much more likely on a private and secret level. However, it is hard to be discreet when it comes to importing entire submarines, since the dollar values are so high—in the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars per submarine—though discretion is possible with smaller and relatively less expensive submarine components. A dollar value is considered “small” in the arms sales industry when individual items are priced just up to the millions of dollars. Still, the United States and other NATO plus four allies would have to make some tough choices through the deliberative process within their executive branches to approve even a quiet arms sale to Taiwan.
Through the United States, the two main channels for arms sales are Foreign Military Sales (FMS) at the Department of Defense and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) at the State Department. Taiwan could choose either as a way to gain submarine components. The benefit of taking the FMS approach is that the United States government guides every step of the way, and uses the same acquisition process—operational expertise, procurement infrastructure, purchasing practices—for Taiwan as it would if the United States military was the customer. The difference with the DCS channel is that Taiwan works directly with the American defense company. However, Taiwan officials would have to discuss details with their US defense counterparts since some cutting edge technologies are considered FMS-only. The US government wants to stay intimately involved through FMS when technology is sensitive and cutting edge, so DCS might not be an option for some items.
In sum, as Taiwan takes its first steps in developing indigenous submarines, it will grapple with the question of what technologies to develop on its own and when to look to the United States and other NATO plus four countries for collaboration. As mentioned in previous articles, Taiwan’s domestic industry can already produce the submarine’s hull, steel shell, propeller, hydraulic system for periscope control, and other components. For cutting edge technology Taiwan would benefit from working with others that have more R&D experience and production volume. On the other hand, it isup to the United States and other countries to determine if they have the political will to publicly approve arms sales to Taiwan. If not, then they can still collaborate in a more discreet manner through smaller quantities and lower dollar values.
Main point: Though a dozen major defense companies in the United States, Europe and Asia have experience in manufacturing submarines and components, few will be willing to work with Taiwan publicly, so Taiwan’s best bet is to cooperate quietly with its international partners.
Taiwan-Australia Relations: Good Links between Two Democratic Asia-Pacific Middle Powers
Bruce Jacobs is Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
Taiwan’s foreign relations with the major states are normalizing. Even though these states all maintain official “One-China” policies, they also have de facto “one China, one Taiwan” policies with substantial “representative offices” that act as embassies in Taipei, while Taiwan has de facto embassies and consulates throughout the world. The overseas foreign affairs representatives of many countries in Taiwan are “normal” foreign service officers, who enjoy the same rights as diplomats including diplomatic immunity, use of the diplomatic “bag,” and tax privileges. Taiwan’s foreign affairs officers overseas in many states without “formal” diplomatic relations also enjoy similar privileges. In other words, most of the world’s important democratic states now interact with Taiwan as a “middle power” in East Asia that has democratic politics, a population of 23 million people, a developed economy, considerable trade, and substantial military forces.
Australia very much fits this pattern. The first two Australian representatives in the upgraded Australian office in Taipei, Colin Heseltine (1992-1997) and Sam Gerovich (1997-2001), were previously deputy heads of mission in Australia’s Beijing embassy. This original pattern was broken with the appointment in 2001 of Frances Adamson (who later became Australia’s ambassador in Beijing and is now the secretary or chief public servant in Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade). Since 2001, none of Australia’s representatives in Taiwan have come directly from Beijing. Kevin Magee, the previous Australian representative in Taipei (2011-2014), came from Saudi Arabia where he served as Australian ambassador. He clearly desired Taipei as his next post—an indication in Australia’s foreign service of the importance vested in the Taipei office. Under Mr. Magee, Australia changed the name of its Taipei post from the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) to the Australian Office (AO).
Similarly, Taiwan has sent senior people to Australia as both “ambassadors” in Canberra and “consuls-general” in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. For example, the last four Taiwan ambassadors to Australia have been Timothy Yang (楊進添), who later served as ambassador to Indonesia, Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Secretary-General of the Presidential Office; Gary Lin (林松煥) who later became secretary-general of MOFA, ambassador to Norway and currently is ambassador to the Philippines; Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Katherine Chang (張小月), formerly spokesperson and vice-minister of MOFA, and ambassador to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; and Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維), former ambassador to Belgium, the United States, and Canada. Current Ambassador to Austria, Vanessa Shih (史亞平), was number two in Canberra, and later became director-general of the Government Information Office, ambassador to Singapore, and vice-minister of foreign affairs. The newly appointed Taiwan Ambassador to Australia is Elliot Charng (常以立), who has a strong background in trade. Australia’s current Representative in Taiwan, Catherine Raper, also has a strong trade background.
In terms of global trade, Australia is Taiwan’s 14th largest export market and Taiwan’s 10th largest source of imports, while Taiwan is Australia’s 8th largest export market and its 13th largest source of imports. Australia’s main exports to Taiwan are natural resources like coal, iron ore, aluminium, and crude petroleum as well as medicaments. Australia imports refined petroleum, telecom equipment and parts, computers, and motorcycles and bicycles from Taiwan. Total trade between the two countries is about US$9 billion. Foreign investment by the two countries in the other during 2015 totals about US$10 billion with Taiwan investment in Australia accounting for about 57 percent. The two countries also provide each other services totalling about US$1 billion annually, with Australia providing about 80 percent of these services. Such figures are not insubstantial for two middle powers, each of which also has very substantial trade and investment with large powers.
The Tsai government has established a New Southbound Policy (新南向政策) headed by former foreign minister James Huang (黃志芳) and located in the Presidential Office in order to develop trade, investment, tourism and educational ties with Southeast Asia, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand. As of mid-October 2016, this office has been criticized for lacking budget and failing to develop concrete plans (but contacts within Taiwan and Australia suggest that President Tsai is pushing this policy vigorously and concrete plans are now being prepared). Thus, the New Southbound Policy could enhance relations between Taiwan and Australia as well as with Southeast and South Asian countries.
The development of the relationship between Taiwan and Australia has enjoyed bipartisan support in both countries. Under both Labor and Coalition governments in Australia, senior Taiwanese officials have made quiet visits, though not when a senior Chinese visitor is in the country. While the number of Australian ministers visiting Taiwan declined under both Coalition and Labor governments, the current Coalition government has promised to increase these ministerial visits.
These developments in Australia-Taiwan relations have occurred while China is still the leading export and import trading partner of both Australia and Taiwan. At least part of the explanation for the good relations between Australia and Taiwan are their shared democratic values. Furthermore, as revealed in released Wikileaks documents, Australia confidentially made it clear that it would side with the United States in the event of ‘war’ between the United States and China over Taiwan.
In the past, the South Pacific was an area of friction between Canberra and Taipei. Australia is particularly active in the South Pacific, advocating “good governance,” and Taiwan has six diplomatic allies in the region. Although Australia felt that Taiwan’s aid money was responsible for increasing corruption in the South Pacific, two factors have improved the situation. First, the tacit “diplomatic truce” (外交休兵) between China and Taiwan has meant that the two countries no longer spend huge funds bidding for recognition from these small Pacific countries, hence lowering Taiwan’s spending in the Pacific. Second, some sources suggest that Taiwan has been included in South Pacific multilateral aid forums, an action that would increase Taiwan’s de facto diplomatic space.
Relations between Taiwan and Australia should continue to improve quietly as each side learns more about the other. Such understanding is enhanced by the increasing number of Taiwanese students studying in Australia, as well as large numbers of Taiwanese youth combining travel and employment in Australia. Thus, in 2014-15 over 26,000 young Taiwanese participated in Australia’s Working Holiday program, consistently the second highest number after the UK. Under these circumstances, Australia and Taiwan are learning to respect each other as important, democratic Asia-Pacific middle powers.
Main Point: While the relationship remains quiet and constrained, Australia and Taiwan have developed stronger ties, demonstrated by the high level of diplomatic exchange, trade, and investment between the two democratic, Asia-Pacific middle powers.
This article revises and updates an article originally published on the University of Nottingham China Policy Institute blog (2014) and later in Australian Outlook (2014).
For further reading on Australia-Taiwan relations, see the very important book by Joel Atkinson, Australia and Taiwan: Bilateral Relations, China, the United States, and the South Pacific (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013), the earlier work of J. Bruce Jacobs, “Australia’s Relationship with the Republic of China on Taiwan,” in Re-Orienting Australia-China Relation: 1972 to the Present, edited by Nicholas Thomas (Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), and the important pioneering work of Gary Klintworth, Australia’s Taiwan Policy 1942-1992 (Canberra: Australian Foreign Policy Publications Programme, Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University, 1993).
Third Force Parties in the 2016 Election
Kharis Templeman is a Social Science Research Fellow at Stanford University and Program Manager of the Taiwan Democracy Project.
One of the more interesting developments in Taiwan’s 2016 general election was the emergence of so-called “Third Force” parties—completely new entrants into the political system, rather than the Nationalist Party (國民黨 or KMT) or Democratic Progressive Party (民主進步黨 or DPP) splinter parties. These included the Social Democratic Party (社會民主黨 or SDP), which teamed up with the Green Party (綠黨) of Taiwan to run a joint slate of candidates as a kind of leftist-progressive alternative to the DPP; the Faith and Hope League (信心希望聯盟), a party appealing to religious conservatives and advocating the preservation of traditional family values; and the Civil Servants Party (軍公教聯盟黨), whose chief issue was the protection of pensions for retired government employees. By far the most prominent and most successful was the New Power Party (時代力量 or NPP), which was founded by activists closely connected to the Sunflower Movement.
All of these Third Force parties based their campaign appeals on issues they thought the leading parties were ignoring, calling for a move beyond “blue versus green,” KMT-DPP competition to address other economic and social issues such as labor rights, environmental protection, social welfare policy, and regulation of business.
More than a few observers of Taiwanese politics thought that the presence of these new parties presaged a fundamental realignment away from the KMT-DPP divide over cross-Strait relations that has structured Taiwan’s young democratic political system for a generation. Voters were certainly given the luxury of choice: 18 different parties ran their own party lists—a record in Taiwanese elections—and at least that many ran candidates in the district races.
Yet, in the end, the media prominence given to these “non-traditional” alternatives belied their weakness on election night. Of all the new parties that contested the legislative election, only one, the NPP, managed to win any seats; three of its nominees won their district seats, and the party secured 6.2 percent of the party list vote, enough for an additional two seats. All the others came up short of both the 5 percent threshold for party list seats and in the scattered district races in which they competed.
Instead, the main shift in the 2016 election was not to the “Third Force” parties at all but from the KMT to the DPP, which won both an easy victory in the presidential race and, for the first time in the party’s history, a comfortable majority in the Legislative Yuan. For all the talk about a fundamental change in the party system, the same two party camps soon took up their seats in the new legislature, and almost as quickly, restarted many of the same familiar partisan arguments that had driven politics for the previous decade and more.
The Realignment That Wasn’t: The Limited Success of Third Force Parties
Given the NPP’s success, it is worth examining further its apparent success in winning seats. When it first emerged as an offshoot of the Sunflower Movement, the NPP posed a serious threat to the DPP’s chances of winning a majority in the legislature. It positioned its message in a way calculated to appeal to pan-green voters, and it recruited high-profile candidates to run in district races, not just the party list. These district candidates had the potential to split the pan-green vote in what everyone expected would be a very anti-KMT year, and in a worst-case scenario for their side, help the KMT hold on to their legislative majority.
In the end, a pan-green split did not happen because the DPP headed off the threat early. The party formed a kind of pre-electoral coalition  by yielding 11 districts to the NPP and other non-DPP candidates in exchange for their support, and their promise not to run against DPP candidates elsewhere. And the districts that the DPP yielded were, with one exception, far past the critical 57th seat needed to deliver a legislative majority. In the end, it turned out to be a good deal for the DPP, which won 68 seats overall.
More surprisingly, the deal also turned out well for the NPP, which won all three district seats—winning five seats overall—and became the third largest party in the Legislative Yuan (LY). Indeed, the NPP candidates outperformed not only the other “Third Force” candidates but even the typical DPP challenger in the legislative races.
So is the NPP’s impressive performance in the district races evidence of the special appeal of the party’s message, and therefore of a hunger in the electorate for parties that would push beyond “blue versus green”? Not really: there are at least three reasons to be skeptical of this interpretation.
First, the three NPP district nominees endorsed by the DPP had “star power”: Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸), Freddy Lim (林昶佐), and Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), already had high name recognition, and they all had distinct personal stories that allowed them to attract even more media attention.
Second, the NPP candidates coordinated their campaigns closely with the Tsai campaign, going so far as to appear together during campaign rallies. Most of the other DPP-endorsed candidates did not get that kind of support from the top of the DPP ticket, and they fared much worse, suggesting that the NPP’s success came despite their “Third Force” branding, rather than because of it.
Third, the NPP was also the party most closely associated with the Sunflower Movement. And by focusing mostly on their shared antipathy to Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT, and the incumbent party’s attempts to build a closer relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the NPP was in fact reinforcing the DPP’s core message, rather than campaigning as something completely different.
Thus, the simplest interpretation is that the NPP did so well precisely because it worked so closely with the DPP. In that respect, the new party system looks a lot like the old party system: all the parties in the legislature can be arrayed along a single dimension based on their approach to cross-Strait relations, with the NPP taking the place of the Taiwan Solidarity Union to the left of the DPP.
Thus, despite all the talk about the rise of a “Third Force” in Taiwanese politics, there is little evidence in the election results of a fundamental realignment in the party system around a new political cleavage. Rather, the same issue that most clearly divided parties prior to the 2012 election is the one that continues to divide them today: how to handle Taiwan’s relationship with the PRC.
The main point: There is little evidence in the election results of a fundamental realignment in the party system around a new political cleavage. Rather, the same issue that most clearly divided parties prior to the 2012 election is the one that continues to divide them today: how to handle Taiwan’s relationship with the PRC.
Marisa Kellam, “Why Pre-Electoral Coalitions in Presidential Systems?” British Journal of Political Science (24 August 2015): 1-21 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007123415000198.
“New Southbound Policy” (Part 2): A People-Centered Agenda with Taiwanese Characteristics
Dr. Alan Yang is the Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Associate Professor, and Associate Research Fellow at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies and Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.
On September 22nd, President Tsai attended the 2016 Annual Conference on Southeast Asian Studies in Taiwan (臺灣的東南亞區域研究年度研討會), hosted by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (國立政治大學東南亞研究中心) and Institute of International Relations (國立政治大學國際關係研究中心) at National Chengchi University. At the conference, the president stated that Taiwan will pursue a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship with counterparts in Southeast Asia to increase mutual trust and community awareness under the New Southbound Policy. These elements reflect the core value of the policy’s people-centered agenda.
There are two major constituencies promoting the New Southbound Policy. The first group is focused on the policy’s reinforcement of the Taiwan’s industrial layout and trade investment in Southeast Asia. For instance, the trade, tourism, and industrial cooperation plans advanced by economic and trade ministries promote business development, cultivate human capital, and advance the Agreements on the Promotion and Protection of Investments (投資保障協定). The second group is focused on people-centered initiatives, taking into account the social welfare and rights of new Southeast Asian immigrants to Taiwan rather than narrowly focusing on economic and industrial aspects.
Against this backdrop, the Tsai administration emphasizes two components of the New Southbound Policy under a people-centered approach: individuals (人民), civil society (公民社會), and I would add a third: democracy (民主).
At the individual level, the Tsai administration should intensify people-to-people exchanges with Southeast Asia, including exchanges between skilled laborers, professionals, academics, and future leaders. Efforts to cultivate regional awareness among talented young people convey the importance of the Taiwan-Southeast Asia relationship, and should be carried out by the government, private, and civil society sectors. For example, Taiwan’s Education Ministry is encouraging local young people to conduct in-depth fieldwork in international organizations, non-profit organizations, and in Southeast Asian countries. Only by enhancing the level of co-habitation, resource sharing, and joint innovation to solve common challenges, will a sense of community be fostered between the Taiwanese and Southeast Asian people.
Civil societies within Taiwan and Southeast Asia also share a history of close ties. More transnational civil society exchange will help create common interests that bind Taiwanese and Southeast Asian counterparts from the bottom up, and will strengthen resilience against natural disasters, economic challenges, and social transformation. It is time for the DPP government to reaffirm the significance of civil society as a major catalyst for linking Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
Last but not least, for the time being, the first phase of New Southbound Policy Promotion Plan focuses on the inter-connection of cultures, tourism, health, agriculture, and small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) between both sides. For Taiwan, the most imperative value of the policy is to advance democracy and share democratization experiences with Southeast Asian counterparts. While confronting the political development and social transformation in Southeast Asia, Taiwan can utilize its successful story as a reference for jointly promoting the quality of democratic governance in the region.
In July, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan organized the Parliamentary Friendship Association for Taiwan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (臺灣與東南亞國會議員聯誼會), which encourages young lawmakers to engage in more dialogues and interactions with Southeast Asian counterparts. This initiative aims to promote national and local development conversations among young politicians and create more opportunities for bilateral cooperation. Indeed, constructing a strong, strategic network of like-minded democracies will be the key to regionally integrating the politically isolated island with Southeast Asia.
Some people question whether the New Southbound Policy is meant as a strategic alternative to the policy of “Westward engagement” (西進) with China. This is, however, a false dichotomy. It is not a binary choice between “Southbound” or “Westward.” While the Policy is a strategic choice made by the DPP government, for the purpose of exploring economic and social linkages beyond the cross-Strait level, the motivation was not to evade China. Rather, the Policy represents Taiwan’s effort to re-invent itself as a part of the region and align more closely with Southeast Asian countries, societies, and people who have long been less emphasized by Taiwanese society.
The New Southbound Deal is a long-term social engineering project for the Taiwanese government. In the future, the policy will help to reinforce the “internalization” (內化) of social reform and “normalization” (正常化) of external relations. The former requires time and trans-sectoral collaboration to optimize the Deal. The first phase of the New Southbound Policy is driven by an economic impetus. A second phase needs to reinforce Taiwan’s social and cultural linkages with Southeast Asia. As to normalizing Taiwan’s external relations, the New Southbound Policy amplifies Taiwan’s expectation of opening more windows to both international and regional community that will bring about a common future.
The New Southbound Policy requires bipartisan support and should be adopted as a long-term foreign policy option that spans administrations. As a vital economy in Southeast Asia and a hub of Asia-Pacific civil societies, the New Southbound Policy will help Taiwan integrate into the regional community as well as highlight Taiwan’s contributions in Southeast Asia.
The main point: The New Southbound Policy should not be viewed in the context of a binary choice between “Southbound” or “Westward.” While the Policy explores economic and social linkages beyond the cross-Strait level, it represents an effort to re-invent Taiwan as a part of the region and align more closely with Southeast Asian countries, societies, and people.