Citizen diplomacy can boost Taiwan’s human capital and enhance its restricted international space. Due to Taiwan’s lack of membership in key international organizations and limited number of official diplomatic allies, Americans and people around the world lack awareness about Taiwan. This lack of awareness about the island in the Western Pacific and its 23 million inhabitants may be attributed to China’s rise and the current US and international policy framework in place that proscribes official contacts with the democratically-elected leaders of Taiwan. As a result, Taiwan needs to utilize citizen diplomacy efforts to promote global understanding of what it has to offer the international community.
Citizen diplomacy, also known as track 2 diplomacy, pertains to unofficial interactions between non-state actors, for the purpose of fostering dialogue (as opposed to track 1 diplomacy, which occurs between official government representatives). In this increasingly interconnected world, governments are no longer the only actors in international affairs. Citizen diplomats—students, teachers, athletes, artists, business people, humanitarians, tourists, etc.—have the ability to make an impact on international relations, and to advance a nation’s foreign policy objectives. Soft power is having the ability to attract others in the international community in order to achieve certain goals, through areas such as having an inclusive and diverse culture. The people of a nation are indeed a major source of soft power. Taiwan’s people have always been described as warm and hospitable, and the country was ranked first in 2016 as the world’s friendliest country for expats. Therefore, responding to Taiwan’s marginalization on the international stage calls for a proactive approach: building a comprehensive policy and network that intentionally fosters the next wave of citizen diplomats for Taiwan.
In a visible sign of burgeoning citizen diplomacy, a large delegation of around 50 cultural diplomats organized by Taiwan’s non-governmental General Administration of Chinese Culture (中華文化總會) embarked on an overseas mission to Malaysia on September 20. The delegation, which calls itself the “Art Truck Shows Taiwan” (藝術卡車秀台灣), is composed of Taiwanese artists and performers. The stated purpose of the mission is to strengthen cultural exchanges with Malaysia. The delegation, the first of its kind organized by the GACC under the Tsai administration, highlights the current government’s all-of-society approach to supporting its New Southbound Policy (NSP).
Moreover, tourism and large scale international events like the recent 2017 Summer Universiade bring members of the global community to Taiwan where they can experience its culture and people firsthand. Scholarships are another way to attract international students to Taiwan. Taiwan’s Ministry of Education offers several scholarship opportunities for international students, including the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship for Chinese language study and the Taiwan Scholarship for degree seekers, among others. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs now has the Mosaic Fellowship exchange program. Similar to US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the program brings rising leaders from around the world to Taiwan for an intensive professional and cultural exchange, hoping to strengthen mutual understanding and to further educate local communities back home after returning from Taiwan. Yet, the cultivation of citizen diplomats in Taiwan must be pursued as well. After President Tsai Ing-wen was voted into power on January 2016, there has been more attention directed to developing Taiwan’s cultural policy through its Ministry of Culture (文化部). Much like the concept of citizen diplomacy in the United States, which is encouraged among American citizens by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its nonprofit partner, Global Ties US, Taiwan is creating its own unique formula for its public diplomacy strategy through a bottom-up approach that engages Taiwanese citizens in the process.
Originally the Council for Cultural Affairs (文化建設委員會), this government agency evolved into the Ministry of Culture in 2012. The stated goal of the Ministry of Culture is to oversee and cultivate “Taiwan’s soft power in the areas of arts and humanities, community development, crafts industry, cultural exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, international cultural participation, heritage, literature and publishing, living aesthetics, TV, cinema, and pop music.” Aside from the Taiwan Academies that seek to educate the world about Taiwan’s languages and cultures, the ministry is dedicated to programs and initiatives that focus on developing and nurturing artists and international cultural exchanges with leading universities through its Spotlight Taiwan Project, which recently hosted dance students from the George Washington University.
Since the change in name, the budget for the Ministry of Culture has reportedly been the highest out of all government agencies for the past two years, and will again be the highest in 2018. Moreover, it has a very active Twitter account. The emphasis on developing and promoting Taiwan’s culture through a variety of sectors also extends to Taiwanese citizens, who are able represent Taiwan through their respective fields. President Tsai Ing-wen recently promised to boost Taiwan’s cultural policy and stated that Taiwanese citizens are “all cultural citizens (文化公民), each with the right to find the core values of Taiwan’s culture.”
To be inclusive of people across different sectors and creative industries, the Ministry of Culture recently held a National Cultural Congress (全國文化會議) on September 2-3, which was the first one since 2002. Since her appointment as Minister of Culture, Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君) has adopted an inclusive approach known as the “democratization of culture,” a bottom-up process where citizens’ ideas are reflected and implemented by the government in the nation’s cultural policy. Leading up to the National Cultural Congress there were 19 regional forums across Taiwan where citizens were invited to discuss six major topics (cultural democracy, cultural creativity, cultural vitality, cultural viability, cultural tolerance, and cultural transcendence) and issues around cultural governance, including cultural assets, cultural technology, the culture of new immigrants, youth culture, etc. From these discussions, stakeholders from civil society, academia, government agencies, and the private sector were able to contribute ideas for the National Cultural Congress and, ultimately, to play a role in the development of cultural policy.
The main objective of the National Cultural Congress was to attain public consensus on the future of Taiwan’s cultural diplomacy. The first day of the conference brought together people from various sectors for deliberation, and by the end of day two, it was clear that Taiwan is seeking to highlight its political democratization and the diversity of its society. Following the conference, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture documented takeaways in a white paper on Cultural Affairs, and planned to actively coordinate with key stakeholders in implementing a stronger cultural policy that empowers Taiwanese citizens. Henceforth, a National Cultural Heritage Congress will be held every year in order to develop stronger and better cultural citizens.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture is taking the lead in cultivating the nation’s cultural citizens. In the wake of Taiwan’s 2017 National Cultural Congress, it will continue to develop cultural policy that is inclusive of Taiwanese citizens and their input. This approach coordinates with actors in the cultural and creative industries and provides the direction and resources needed to expand Taiwan’s international space. President Tsai Ing-wen recently stated that she hoped more international students will come to Taiwan and plans to figure out ways to provide a platform for students to stay in Taiwan long-term, as it diversifies Taiwan’s society and culture. Without a doubt, Taiwan will continue to upgrade its cultural policy to showcase its democratic society—one that cherishes diversity. Taiwan’s culture is made by its citizens, and the congress was a step taken together toward owning their past, present, and future as citizens of a culturally rich, democratic nation.
The main point: While external factors may have influenced the lack of understanding of Taiwan around the world, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture is taking the lead in coordinating a unique, bottom-up effort to cultivate cultural citizens who will promote Taiwan to the world.