Eric Gau: Good morning everyone, and welcome to Looking South, here on ICRT. I’m your host, Eric Gau, and we are taking another look at the Taiwan government’s New Southbound Policy. Today, we are joined by Jason Kao, director of the Southern Taiwan Program Office under the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. Director Kao, welcome to the show.
Jason Kao: Hi, hello everyone, I’m Jason Kao, and I’m from TIER.
Eric: Director Kao, what have think tanks such as TIER been doing to help the government carry out the New Southbound Policy?
Jason: There is one aspect that thinktanks like us, the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, does, we help the government to devise the policy and to implement the policy. As you all know, the New Southbound Policy is a very important policy for President Tsai’s regime. This is quite different from before. Under President Lee, we had a Southbound Policy, and at that time, we focused on economics only, we go there and we set up factories. But for this New Southbound Policy, it’s more people-centric. What do I mean by ‘people centric?’ It’s not only about economic cooperation, but also about cultural exchanges and academic exchanges.
Eric: What has TIER learned through these exchange programs and interaction and things like that?
Jason: We’ve learned a lot. Not only TIER, but also CIER and all the thinktanks and all the academics learned a lot because it takes time for things to happen. It takes patience and understanding for the people from Southeast Asia. What we learned is that we don’t force our own values or our own beliefs on different cultures. What I’m saying is that people exchanges are the key; you have to talk and have to sit down and understand each other in order to make things happen. It’s not only about, ‘Oh, we’re going to talk about this and it’s going to happen tomorrow,” or “We think this is good for you, so you have to do this.” It doesn’t work that way.
Eric: So you’re saying it’s not a one-way street, we do not go there and just say ‘this is how things should be done’, and they listen. No, it has to be a bilateral, two-way exchange.
Jason: Yeah, that’s a good point, it’s bilateral. Actually, it’s not just bilateral, it’s multilateral. People often ask how the New Southbound Policy is different from others. We are not trying to force you to accept our own values; we have to learn from each other and from cultural differences. I learned from my great grandparents or grandparents, about 80 or 100 years ago, Taiwan had very close ties with Southeast Asia. And were just severed during World War II or Vietnam War or other international conflicts. I think people between Taiwan and Southeast Asia are still linked together.
Eric: Going back to what we were talking about before, but sort of on a wider scale, how do such think tank exchanges that TIER and others have been doing, how do these help foster bilateral ties and understanding?
Jason: As I just said, economic cooperation is important, but not only that, cultural, environmental, and social issues are also important as well. I think the cooperation is not only at the central government level. What I’m talking about is that maybe city-level cooperation can be fostered. For example, as we made Kaohsiung the base of the New Southbound Policy, the Kaohsiung city government has made a lot of effort to reach out to cities in Southeast Asia. To be concise, actually think tanks helped to set up the linkage between city governments and city in Southeast Asian countries. I think the central government put some efforts, but majorly we got some funding and we go there and build bridges between people and city governments.
Eric: On that note, we will be talking with the Kaohsiung city government in a future episode of Looking South. Director Kao, have there been any noteworthy breakthroughs or developments that have come about through such exchanges?
Jason: Except for student exchanges and academic exchanges, I see many exchanges happening right now. For example, medical exchanges. There is an organization called Boundless Doctors. A lot of those doctors are from Taiwan, and they volunteer to go to Southeast Asian, to the underdeveloped countries, to treat the patients over there, because they don’t have the medical resources and they don’t have the infrastructure. I think this is a good thing. And not only about medical exchanges. I heard many medical students come here to Taiwan to receive their medical training, not only doctors but also nurses. That’s one thing. Also recycling; as you know Tzu Chi has done a great job in setting up recycling stations in Southeast Asia, and they have a good model on how to recycle the PP bottles or recycle other things and turn them to a better use. That’s one thing. The third thing, the Kaohsiung city government is helping some other cities to build up a cooperation network to fight dengue fever. Kaohsiung city government has a lot of experience in doing that for dengue fever. And also infrastructure, sewage, and flooding control. They have a lot of experience, and I think it’s very good that the city level can work with each other.
Eric: We’ve been talking about how these exchanges have been benefitting other countries, but what sort of benefits do you see such exchanges bringing to Taiwan, how does it help its people here, and its economy move forward?
Jason: My expertise, I’m focusing on inbound. What I mean by inbound, for example, we do a lot of start-up pitches, start-up shows, with our counterparts in Southeast Asia. And through those, we learn about a lot of Southeast Asia young people, young talent. And we see their talent and I think we can work with them to help them to develop their own economy and also we wish that they can come to work in Taiwan or be partners with Taiwan. And that’s why in the past few months the Taiwanese government has changed the regulations so we opened up so that young talent to come work for Taiwan. Especially in the Small and Medium Enterprises Administration of the MOEA. They set up a ‘start-up visa’, that means that young people who have a start-up in Southeast Asia can apply for the start-up visa and come set up a company in Taiwan really quick. I think Taiwan has a lot to contribute and a lot to learn from Southeast Asian countries. It’s a great market, and Taiwan has to immerse ourselves in the diversified cultures in order to be part of the big family of Asians and be a part of the market.
Eric: We’ve been speaking with Director Jason Kao from TIER’s Southern Taiwan Program Office. Mr. Kao, it’s been a pleasure having you join us on the air today.
Jason: Thank you very much.
Eric: And that wraps up today’s installment of Looking South, here on ICRT. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll be back again next week with a fresh look at the New Southbound Policy. I’m Eric Gau.