Yushan Forum fosters stronger ties under New Southbound policy

THE Yushan Forum was held on Oct 11-12 in Taipei City, Taiwan and organised by the Taipei-headquartered nonprofit think tank Prospect Foundation. The forum, also known as the Asian Dialogue for Innovation and Progress, is themed Fostering Economic and Social Connectivity with Southeast and South Asia.

Some 800 public and private sector representatives from more than a dozen nations participated in the two-day forum, including former vice-presidents of the Philippines, a former deputy prime minister of South Korea, former ministers of Japan and other retired high-level officials from Southeast Asian nations. The event includes keynote speeches and panel discussions on issues spanning economy and trade, technological innovation as well as partnerships between nongovernmental organisations and private companies in New Southbound Policy target countries.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said at the forum, "The rise of Asia is already one of the most momentous changes in this generation. It has profoundly influenced both international security and the world economy. Within Asia, the countries covered by our New Southbound Policy hold even greater potential. These countries are home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. They are powered by a young, dynamic, and well-educated population."

Tsai said, "Taiwan has always played an indispensable role in the development of Asia. Over the years, we have been a source of capital, technology, and technical know-how. We have also built up enduring economic and industrial linkages with countries in Southeast Asia, as a leading source of foreign direct investment and trade. Redefining Taiwan's role in the region is one of my highest priorities as president. To be clear, the New Southbound Policy is our new 'Regional Strategy for Asia'. Under this policy, we intend to work with countries in the region and around the world to deepen and broaden our presence in South and Southeast Asia."

Tsai added, "I wish to emphasise that the New Southbound Policy is an inclusive policy. It does not come at the expense of other regional initiatives and is designed to complement, rather than compete against, the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement), the One Belt One Road, and India and Japan's Freedom Corridor. With our New Southbound Policy, one of our foremost objectives is to strengthen cooperation in terms of resources, talent, and market development. We want our private and public sectors to work together to forge mutually-beneficial ties, generate sustained economic growth, and improve people's lives in the region."

We have started with developing closer cooperation on trade, investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges over the past year. We have also expanded scholarships and other financial assistance for students from New Southbound countries, leading to a rapid increase in overseas students studying in technical programmes or universities here.

Through the establishment of six investment windows in Southeast Asian countries and India, we have also encouraged more bilateral trade and investment. At the same time, we have relaxed visa restrictions on several New Southbound countries.

We are seeing the dividends of such efforts. Tourism from New Southbound countries has increased by 36.7% from the previous year. Trade has grown by almost 20%. The number of students from these countries has also increased by close to 10%. All of this has brought Taiwan and New Southbound countries closer together.

This has formed a solid foundation to pursue the next phase of the New Southbound Policy, i.e. our five flagship programmes. These programmes are directed at development in the following five major areas: human resources, innovation-based industries, regional agriculture, medical cooperation, and industrial supply chains. The establishment of policy forums and youth exchange platforms, such as the Yushan Forum, is part of such efforts.

Not only will these programs further entrench our presence in New Southbound countries, they will also help sustain the momentum we've created over the past year.

As much as the New Southbound Policy is about policies, it is also about our commitments to our neighbours in the region. In order to fulfil the region's needs and strengthen its sense of inclusiveness and community, we are prepared to make the following five commitments:

First, we will help nurture and empower the talent this region needs. Rapidly growing economies require skilled labour, engineers, and R&D personnel. Taiwan is the best talent incubator for the region as we have high-quality vocational schools and training centres, well-established higher education facilities, and the industry know-how.

Already we are providing many scholarships and educational opportunities to bring students from New Southbound countries to Taiwan. We are also expanding work-study course offerings, with a target of 5,000 students each year. These efforts will turn Taiwan into an Asian hub for industry talent development.

Second, we will share our experiences to help New Southbound countries establish domestic demand-driven industries. For example, our industry development experience in fields such as petrochemicals, ICT, and the medical sector can help inject new driving force into New Southbound countries. This will not only assist in the development of domestic demand, but raise living standards as well.

Third, we will also help New Southbound countries with their infrastructure and major development projects. To achieve this, we will establish a US$3.5 billion (RM14.78 billion) financing facility to be managed under our Official Development Assistance programme (i.e. the Taiwanese version of ODA).

Fourth, we will help our SMEs and NGOs share their insight and experiences with New Southbound countries. We will place particular emphasis on helping job creation at the local-level in order to contribute positively to local communities.

Fifth, we will join forces with other like-minded countries in order to strengthen our common presence in the region. We believe this will benefit peace, stability, and prosperity, both here in the region and around the world.

Tsai said, "With these commitments, I believe both Taiwan and New Southbound countries have much to gain. Taiwan will be able to entrench our presence in key regional markets, while many New Southbound countries gain the education, infrastructure, and industry experience they need to further develop their economies. All of this highlights the mutually-beneficial nature of the New Southbound Policy."

Liu, Bang-Chuan
Senior Adviser at Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia