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Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Professor Hung-Jeng Tsai talks about the challenges and strengths of the New Southbound Policy in an interview with National Education Radio

The Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Professor Hung-Jeng Tsai, expressed his viewpoint on the overall development of the countries the East Asian region in an interview with National Education Radio (Taiwan), from a broader perspective discussing how to establish people-oriented values through the New Southbound Policy and how does the Policy promote Taiwan in East Asia and shared the structural and historical missions undertaken by the Center to during the implementation of the New Southbound Policy. He also gave an insightful analysis of the challenges and strengths of the New Southbound Policy of the Taiwanese government.

“What the New Southbound Policy lacks in its implementation is a standpoint on regional strategy.” In the interview, Professor Hung-Jeng Tsai stated that in the past four years, a major problem of the New Southbound Policy was that it was missing a standpoint on the top-level regional strategic management. The New Southbound Policy should not be used to merely fraternize with the ten ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia, but to recognize the strategic role Taiwan should play due to its location in between North-East and South-East Asia, and the relations between Taiwan and South-East Asia from a regional point of view. The absence of such viewpoints and guidelines allows different government units to claim that their business in South-East Asia is indeed part of the New Southbound Policy. There was simply no coordination whatsoever regarding the Policy.

Regarding the establishment of the strategic purposes of the New Southbound Policy, Professor Tsai referred to previous cases, such as the Southern Expansion Doctrine launched by Japan in 1936. Professor Tsai said that Japan, an industrial country at that time, viewed Taiwan as an agricultural society, and its agricultural produce allowed Japan to accumulate industrial capital. However, certainly, after implementing the Southern Expansion Doctrine, Japan started seeing Taiwan as an industrial base and South-East Asia as an agricultural front. From then on, Taiwan’s role changed from an agricultural society into an industrial one. This advantage persisted until the end of World War II in 1945, allowing Taiwan to hold a frontier position in the development of South-East Asia and furthermore enabled Taiwan to gain a structural position in comparison with other South-East Asian countries.

However, from 1980, this advantage started to slowly topple for Kaohsiung. In that era, Taiwan was facing an industrial transformation, abandoning heavy industry for telecommunications, with Hsinchu Science Park as its new strategic center. Kaohsiung was left without any good strategy during the first wave of transformation. From an industrial port, it became a port city.

“Our Center for South-East Asian Studies plays the role of a strategy think-tank for the development of the research on South-East Asia.” Professor Tsai said, that looking at the location of the New Southbound Policy, National Sun Yat-sen University, located in a port city, hopes to establish a connection with the Port of Kaohsiung and the city. NSYSU, with its great human resources and academic capacity, can help the Port and the City to further improve, advance, and connect with North- and South-East Asia, to contribute to the regional development of the Port.

Regarding trade operations in the New Southbound Policy, Professor Tsai recommends the implementation of the following three principles. First, the Taiwanese trade investment needs to conform to the needs of the South-East Asian countries. Regarding the Philippines and Indonesia, these two countries intensively export their workforce, and what they need most is labor-intensive industries that would absorb such workforce. The second principle is to provide South-East Asian countries what happens to be Taiwan’s expertise, such needs as education and healthcare. South-East Asian countries do not have sufficient highly educated professionals, and the percentage of teachers in higher education with a Ph.D. degree is not sufficient. Taiwan can exercise its soft power by providing scholarships for outstanding students to Taiwan to understand the Taiwanese viewpoints and the concepts of democracy and human rights. The students, once they return to their countries and start working on higher positions, they will recognize that their Taiwanese education is indispensable and invaluable. Although the effects of such soft power may not be instantaneous, the benefits will last interminably after successful implementation. Professor Tsai also mentioned the example of healthcare. Taiwan hosts top-notch medical technologies and professionals, and during the worldwide pandemic, the leadership skills of the Minister of Health and Welfare, Shih-Chung Chen, met with international recognition. These are the strengths of Taiwan. Professor Tsai believes that South-East Asian countries indeed need Taiwan’s experience in this professional field. The last principle is that the most important export industries of Taiwan cannot be easily blocked by China, such as providing professional medical resources to establish relations in healthcare.

Professor Tsai emphasized that the launching of the New Southbound Policy should be a response to the needs of the societies of South-East Asian countries while putting Taiwan’s strengths in play without giving China reasons to object and interfere. Only then this interaction can be a true people-centric policy, which will make South-East Asian countries hold their experience with Taiwan in high esteem.

Exclusive interview of Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies Professor Hung-Jeng Tsai for National Education Radio (Chinese version only):
First part (5/26):
https://www.ner.gov.tw/program/5a83f4eac5fd8a01e2df0157/5ecc89d54aa4970006f6edc1
Second part (5/27):
https://www.ner.gov.tw/program/5a83f4eac5fd8a01e2df0157/5ecc8b9e4aa4970006f6ff73
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