Taiwan plans visa waiver for Asean visitors

Easing entry requirements the first step in Taipei's push south to forge new partnerships

TAIPEI • Taiwan plans to offer visa exemptions to tourists from South-east Asia as part of its "pivot south", said the Central News Agency (CNA).

This is the first step in Taiwan's mission to expand the scope and diversity of its external economy - a move intended to make it less dependent on China.

Mr James Huang, who heads the New Southbound Policy Office, said yesterday in a radio interview that the office would coordinate with the relevant authorities to promote the policy initiated by President Tsai Ing-wen.

The first stage would be opening Taiwan's doors wider to middle-class tourists from South-east Asia, he said.

"In the short term, (we) will first promote tourism and visa exemptions," CNA reported him as saying.

This is similar to what Japan has done over the past few years in offering preferential visa-free treatment to visitors from South-east Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, he said.

Mr Huang, who served as minister of foreign affairs during the Chen Shui-bian presidency, said Taiwan has lagged far behind some other countries, including China, in terms of moving into the South- east Asian market.

Taiwan enjoys competitive advantage in sectors such as agriculture, aquaculture and information communication, he said, while China's interest is in developing big infrastructure construction projects. Thus, there is no conflict between the two countries in their separate efforts to explore the South-east Asian market, he said in the interview.

He said he hopes Taiwan can establish new partnerships with Asean member states and countries in South Asia through this "people-focused" strategy.

His office will tap scholarship recipients in programmes offered by the government, private firms and public and private schools, and have them help Taiwanese enterprises explore markets in Asean and South Asian countries.

The central tenet of the policy is "turning Asean into an extension of Taiwan's domestic market", said Mr Huang.

Taiwan had a "Go South" push back in the 1990s, started by then president Lee Teng-hui. But it did not succeed because China was opening up at the time; also, the region was hit by the 1997 financial crisis.

Mr Huang said the new southbound policy would take a different approach. Previously, the focus was on investment and trade figures; now, it will be on nurturing talent and encouraging bilateral exchanges to achieve the goals set out.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline Taiwan plans visa waiver for Asean visitors. Subscribe