2021 marks the fifth anniversary of the New Southbound Policy (NSP). In 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen administration launched the New Southbound Policy that is aimed at strengthening ties with 18 countries from South, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Since its launch, Taiwan’s outreach in the region has been facilitated by the NSP, and the developments tell us that if given further thrust, the policy could become Taiwan’s comprehensive regional strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
A Need for a Meaningful Policy Review
To review the effectiveness of the policy, 11 central government units from foreign affairs, economy, education, agriculture, health & welfare, trade negotiations, transport, national development, overseas community affairs, ocean affairs, and veterans affairs, submitted their review of the NSP to the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan. Despite COVID-19 pandemic impacting the implementation of several initiatives, the overall findings of the report signal that the policy has accrued gains vis-à-vis Taiwan’s external engagement. However, two of the legislators from Taiwan’s major opposition party, Kuomintang (KMT) unfairly criticized the policy and unnecessarily questioned the level of representation from the 11 ministries that were represented by the deputy heads in the review session.
A critical and impartial review of the policy would not only have worked for the betterment of the NSP but would have also served our proud nation’s confidence policy move that, however, was given amiss in KMT’s so-called appraisal. With its report assembling 11 ministries’ works dedicated to the policy, a comprehensive outcome of NSP, including its policy direction and highlights, should have been known. A meaningful discussion over this policy would have taken place had the members of the Foreign and National Defense Committee debated the content of the policy report only, rather than rhetorically opposing them.
The obstruction by the KMT legislatures pose a long-term challenge for the effectiveness of the policy as also its timely review. The purpose of this exercise was to highlight the strength and weaknesses of the policy. Given the NSP is indispensable to Taiwan’s positioning in the Indo-Pacific, it seems the two KMT legislatures only meant to wastefully disrupt the review process and outcome of the report by the 11 deputy heads of the reporting ministries and departments.
The Opposition Loses Track, Again!
The NSP has been widely misinterpreted by opposition legislators on two counts at least. First, the legislators failed to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of the policy in shaping Taiwan’s Asia policy and its potential to further strengthen ties with the 18 NSP partner countries. Rather, they focused on the economic component of the policy that has suffered a minor blow due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not adding to the discourse as the legislatures did not take the impact of COVID-19 into consideration. In addition to that, the NSP is misconstrued by them as merely a policy to reduce Taiwan’s dependence on China, and consistently evaluated by comparing Taiwan-China trade and commerce with Taiwan and the NSP partner countries. They unfortunately did not take into consideration the increase in the volume of Taiwan’s investment in the NSP partner countries. What they have also not grasped yet is that the policy serves Taiwan’s national interests and foreign policy goals.
Foreign policy of a country cannot be confined to the economic interests alone. It has to be balanced mix of all the factors. It is myopic to view the NSP only through the economic lens. Therefore, it is important to highlight that all the major components of the NSP: economic cooperation, talent cultivation, resource sharing, regional connection, and young leaders & the Yushan Forum. The policy should be defined and perceived through its “people-centric” spirit and cross-sectorial involvement. It is indisputable that the NSP is one of the most comprehensive strategies introduced by Taiwan.
Need for Better Internal Coordination and Support for NGOs
Government should take this as an opportunity to promote the NSP’s comprehensive, diverse in linkages, and people-centric qualities. More dialogues and engagement among the major internal and external stakeholders are the need of the hour. It would be appropriate for President Tsai administration to clearly articulate whether the policy is an alternative to reducing its dependence on China or aimed at enhancing mutual cooperation with Asian countries.
A challenge for the NSP is that right now, internal coordination is administered by two institutions: Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) for the policy execution and National Development Council (NDC) for supervision. More coordination between OTN and NDC is needed for better implementation of the policies. In addition, the internal integration of all the involved 15 ministries is another hotspot of the policy where legislators and academics put attention on. Some of the questions remain unanswered: are the coordination and the distribution of responsibilities between them working well? Is every involved ministry receiving the supervision equivalently? Furthermore, long-term development work undertaken by Taiwanese NGOs to the NSP countries should be recognized and supported further by the government.
Once the report is reviewed by the Legislative Yuan, the central government, the Executive Yuan should carefully brainstorm the findings and get involved in the serious review of the policies for making it more comprehensive and effective.
This article was originally published on The News Lens International