Engaging South, Southeast Asian countries, Australia, and New Zealand as a part of Taiwan’s foreign policy has been an important element of President Tsai Ing-Wen’s（蔡英文）agenda, the signs of which were evident even before she assumed the President’s office. Soon after she took charge, these policy priorities started to figure in foreign policy agenda with concrete actions following up quickly.
Subsequently, the New Southbound Policy （新南向政策） a policy framework to meaningfully engage the countries of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. It was a significant development as until 2016, Taiwan’s foreign policy was primarily focused on managing Cross-Strait ties, and was largely West-centric in its outlook. Southeast Asia also figured in the priority list due to strong business-to-business linkages as well as two-way cultural affinities. The initiation of the New Southbound Policy allowed Taiwan to engage these countries on a wide-range of issues with great enthusiasm.
Over the past five years, several steps have been taken to elevate ties with the countries listed in the New Southbound Policy partner countries. An example of that was the support given to Australia last year when China imposed 200 percent tariffs on the import of Australian wine. Similarly, amid China’s incursion in the Galwan Valley inside Indian border last year, India-Taiwan relations continued to develop. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan emerged as a pivotal partner to many of its New Southbound Policy partner countries.
The Yushan Forum: An Important Tool in the New Southbound Policy
The Tsai Ing-Wen government envisaged that a policy initiative becomes a success only if it is complemented by the non-governmental agencies in meeting the stated objectives. A clear articulation of objectives and policies, and open and inclusive deliberations are its major components. With these twin goals among many other, the Yushan Forum was launched as an open and inclusive platform for deliberations. It is an annual dialogue to foster partnership between Taiwan and its New Southbound Policy counterparts. The Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF), Taiwan’s only think tank exclusively conducting research on Taiwan-Asia relations curates the Yushan Forum, which is being held by TAEF since 2018. The 2021 edition of the Yushan Forum is scheduled to take place in Taipei on October 8, 2021. Supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the TAEF conducts the Forum with other Ministries and departments, and its partner Taiwanese think tanks and NGOs of the Asian Engagement Consortium (AEC). The AEC includes TAEF, Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), Taiwan ASEAN Studies Center, Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (TASC), National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), The Prospect Foundation, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, National Chengchi University (CSEAS), Taiwan Alliance in International Development (Taiwan AID), Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), Center for Vietnamese Studies, National Cheng Kung University (CVS), and Center for Austronesian Culture, National Taitung University (CAC). In the spirit of keeping it inclusive and open, TAEF holds the dialogue in consultation with major stakeholders in Taiwan and aligning common interests and shared goals further.
Yushan Forum fills a critical gap in generating fresh foreign policy ideas and implementing the same, and thereby serves as a strategic platform to get a wholesome perspective from the New Southbound Policy countries. The Forum plays an important part in Taiwan’s Asia outreach. That was clearly manifested in President Tsai Ing-Wen’s subsequent keynote addresses at the Yushan Forum. She has used the Forum to articulate Taiwan’s readiness to engage the New Southbound Policy countries. In consecutive Forums, she stated, “Taiwan helps Asia, Asia helps Taiwan”. This is indicative of Taiwan’s stated people-centered policy of playing a greater role in the Indo-Pacific and cooperate with like-minded countries. Several world leaders have also participated in the Forum, highlighting the significance of Taiwan to the world. For instance, Malcolm Turnbull, former Australian Prime Minister virtually attended the 2020 Yushan Forum, where stated, “Taiwan still shares similar ideals such as freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. Most importantly, democracies must maintain their commitment to democratic sovereignty and must not leave them aside; these values should not be for sale.”
2021 Yushan Forum: Moving towards Resilient Future
While the world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries have also started deliberating upon the post-pandemic diplomacy. In this context, the 2021 Yushan Forum aims to steer the discussion towards cooperation and collaboration between the leadership and civil society of Taiwan and their New Southbound Policy counterparts. This year’s theme, titled “Resetting Priorities of Progress with Resilience” fits well in this context. This year’s Forum will place greater emphasis on areas of cooperation namely economic collaboration, public health and medical cooperation, talent cultivation, and smart agriculture. Taiwan is bound to play an important role in promoting global supply chain resiliency as also in the security and safety of the Indo-Pacific region.
Undoubtedly, the Yushan Forum is emerging as one of the critical components of the New Southbound Policy, complementing Taiwan’s objective of advancing ties with countries in the region that share common interests and concerns with it.
Alan Yang （楊昊博士）is distinguished professor at National Chengchi University and executive director of Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation （TAEF）, Taiwan.
Sana Hashmi （胡莎娜）is a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation.