Taiwan's New Southward Policy must go beyond chasing: The China Post

Taiwan's new President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her inauguration ceremony in Taipei on May 20, 2016.
Taiwan's new President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her inauguration ceremony in Taipei on May 20, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on May 20, the paper urges Taiwan's new policymakers to make reviving the economy their top priority.

President-elect Tsai Ing-wen will soon expand on her government's plan for a "New Southward Policy" aimed at a "breakthrough" in the nation's diplomatic quandary.

The recent opening of the "New Southbound Policy Office" on May 13 could potentially help to expend trade exchanges with emerging economies in the region, even though we shouldn't be overly optimistic about "chasing white elephants."

According to the dictionary, a "white elephant" is considered as "a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness."

That could surely describe any policy aiming at reducing Taiwan's economic reliance on mainland China, which is by far its largest trading partner, on the false pretence that we don't want to address political issues with our powerful neighbour.

Don't get us wrong though, we strongly encourage strong business ties with the member states of the Asean and six South Asian nations - India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan.

But engaging in trade talks, such as participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, isn't just related to bilateral "goodwill."

They depend on our government's ability to negotiate, bargain and sometimes compromise on key issues related to our strategic interests with all parties, especially China. 

Still, there are hopes that joining the TPP will help to rejuvenate Taiwan's economy through integration with global markets, while also lessening Taiwan's exposure to China's economy.

Taiwan is yet to win inclusion in the TPP though, even if we are considered to be a stable and progressive member of the international community by most foreign investors.

This can only be maintained with a stable cross-strait relationship; and on the condition that our South-east Asian neighbours are not forced to choose between China and Taiwan.

To this extent, we hope that President Tsai Ing-wen will provide the nation with a stable government and Legislature without breaking the promise of stimulating the economy or keeping the status-quo on the false pretence of our "over dependence on China" and chasing white elephants.

Based on our experience during the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, there was already a belief that attempts for Taiwan's economy to bypass China's and rely solely on international and domestic demand was a delusion.

The new "New Southward Policy" to eliminate dependence on the Chinese market might again sound "delusional" as China is Asean's largest trading partner, and Asean has close diplomatic relations with the mainland.

The China-Asean Free Trade Area has already been formed, putting Taiwan one step too late in their endeavours.

After all, the Ma Ying-jeou administration already pushed a southward policy for several years to enhance closer relations with neighbouring countries in the Southeast Asian region.

Bilateral investments between Taiwan and South-east Asian countries and India saw 15 to 20 percent growth between 2010 and 2015, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

The ministry also opened a representative office in Chennai, India in 2012, its second representative office in the country after New Delhi.

Myanmar opened its first trade office in Taipei in 2015 to further enhance bilateral business ties.

We hope that the new government, which will take office Friday, will continue this long-term policy, while making the reviving of the economy its top priority in the short-term.

According to the survey released on May 18 by a real-estate website, seven in 10 respondents said they hope the new government's top priority will be boosting the slowing economy amid weak domestic demand, sluggish salaries and a continued year-on-year decline of exports.

That should be the top priority of the DPP government instead of launching another all-out campaign to chase white elephants.

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.