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President Tsai Ing-wen pledges to strengthen Taiwan’s regional role at inaugural Yushan Forum

“Yushan Forum: Asian Dialogue for Innovation and Progress,” a newly launched platform for regional dialogue that aims to promote the exchange of ideas across Asia Pacific, was held in Taipei from Oct. 11-12.

With a theme of “Fostering Economic and Social Connectivity with Southeast and South Asia” this year, the event featured speakers and participants from the Asia Pacific region and beyond, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Belgium, Croatia and the Netherlands.

In his opening remarks, Tan-sun Chen, Chairman of The Prospect Foundation, which organized the Yushan Forum, said the forum was set up for the purpose of enhancing regional communication in the areas of society, culture, technology, and youth engagement.

“It is intended to serve as a platform for regional dialogue, to promote interaction between Taiwan, Southeast Asia and South Asia, and to encourage dialogue between public and private sectors and civil society,” Chen said.

Tsai Ing-wen, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), said in her opening speech that the rapid economic, social, and political changes in Asia are bringing a host of new opportunities and challenges, and re-defining Taiwan’s role in the region is one of her highest priorities as president. 

Under her administration’s New Southbound Policy, Tsai said, Taiwan intends to work with countries in the region and around the world to deepen and broaden its presence in South and Southeast Asia. The New Southbound Policy targets 18 countries, including those in Southeast Asia and South Asia, as well as New Zealand and Australia.

“With our New Southbound Policy, one of our foremost objectives is to strengthen cooperation in terms of resources, talent, and market developments,” she said. “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.”

She said the next phase of the New Southbound Policy will highlight five flagship programs in the areas of human resources, innovation-based industries, regional agriculture, medical cooperation and industrial supply chains.

The establishment of policy forums, such as the Yushan Forum, is part of such efforts, Tsai said.

The president also announced the establishment of the “Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation” to act as the main organizing and administrating body of the Yushan Forum, which she hopes will become a regular event. The foundation will also serve as an exchange platform for leaders, young representatives, NGOs, and think tanks in the region, she added.

Serving as a keynote speaker, Teofisto Guingona, former Vice President of the Philippines, said his country could serve as a “gateway to Asia” for Taiwan.

The Philippines has enjoyed the Generalized System of Preferences from the U.S. and EU since December 2014, and can be a manufacturing hub for Taiwanese firms, Guingona said, adding that these firms can enjoy duty exemption on some 5,000 products in the United States and some 6,274 Philippine-made product lines to the EU. Footwear, headwear and electrical apparatus are among some of the products, but the most attractive product to the Taiwanese would be bicycle, as Taiwan is known for its Giant bikes, he said.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has a substantial market for agricultural machineries and can avail such machineries from Taiwan, Guingona said. In addition, he said, the fishing industry in the Philippines has vibrant potential but most Filipinos who wish to fish lack the necessary practical training.

He suggested that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei work together to provide the necessary training to Filipinos -- not only on how to fish, but also on what  technologies to adapt. TECO and MECO should also join hands and participate in the conversion of the Clark Field Airbase into a versatile Philippine International Airport, Guingona advised.

He said the new airport will attract new businesses by the millions because behind the airport are thousands of hectares of green land, on which new houses, hotels and factories can be built.

In a policy speech on the New Southbound Policy, Minister without Portfolio John Deng said the Taiwanese government plans to allocate US$250 million to New Southbound Policy-related projects in 2018, an increase of 61.6 percent from 2017.

He said the policy will see many benefits for partner countries. For example, Taiwan will help improve the agricultural production efficiency of partner countries, establish a cooperation platform to prevent regional epidemic diseases, provide internships and on-the-job training for foreign students, and help facilitate industrial upgrading in partner countries, Deng said.

Meanwhile, Wahyu Utomo, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister for Infrastructure & Regional Development, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs and one of the panelists, introduced opportunities in infrastructure and Special Economic Zones in Indonesia.

He said Indonesia is looking to improve its infrastructure, as its infrastructure is lagging behind other countries, and it is an area where Taiwan and Indonesia can enhance cooperation.

The Indonesian government has introduced 245 projects and two programs as National Strategic Projects (PSN) with estimated total investment of US$322.8 billion, he said, adding that private investors have an opportunity to contribute more than half of the total PSN investment value.

Another panelist, Andy Seo Kian Haw, Vice President of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, said Malaysia is Taiwan’s eighth largest trading partner and second largest trading partner in ASEAN.

“Malaysian manufacturers anticipate highly a free trade agreement with Taiwan and wish to source raw material and components from Taiwan,” he said.

In her luncheon speech, Michele Schimpp, Deputy Associate Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said small businesses are important in an innovation-driven economy, and trade and regional cooperation are paths to vibrant small business growth.

She noted that Taiwan is among those motivated to create innovation-driven economies and “to do this, small businesses are key.”

“When it comes to trade, small businesses are challenged by access to information, capital and barriers to market entry. Regional collaboration is essential to addressing these barriers,” Schimpp said. 

She said initiatives such as the U.S.-Taiwan Global Cooperation and Training Framework have allowed experts, government officials and civil society leaders from countries in the Asia-Pacific region to attend workshops in Taiwan focused on public health, energy efficiency, women’s empowerment and e-commerce. 

But there are other potential areas for cooperation that the U.S. government would like to pursue, she said.

For example, the Small Business Administration has the State Trade Expansion Program that enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in overseas trade opportunities, Schimpp said.

“The program can be the vehicle to connect U.S. SMEs with trade partners in Taiwan and the region,” she said.

Another luncheon keynote speaker, Kazuo Aichi, Former Director-General of the Defense Agency of Japan and a former member of the House of Representatives in the Diet, said Taiwan and Japan should continue to develop their deep bond, and he sees it as his life’s mission to promote Taiwan-Japan exchanges.

There are many fields that Taiwan and Japan can cooperate in, including long-term care services, and environment, social security, national security and medical issues, he said.