Southbound Through Cooperation：TAEF Demonstrates Taiwan’s “Warm Power”
Sharleen Su /photo byLin Min-hsuan /tr. byRobert Fox
The Yushan Forum is an important platform for dialogue between Taiwan and its Asian neighbors. (courtesy of TAEF)
At the 2018 Yushan Forum of the Taiwan–Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF), ROC president Tsai Ing-wen noted that Taiwan could help Asia, and Asia could help Taiwan. Engagement in regional reciprocity is a joint effort—in tandem with the government’s “New Southbound Policy,” Taiwan NGOs are quietly making friends in countries the world over in a variety of ways.
On April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck near Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The quake also shook the Boudhanath Stupa, a Buddhist shrine in the eastern part of Nepal’s Panyu Valley. Panicked residents rushed to the stupa, believing that it would protect them at that critical time.
The devastating quake claimed more than 8000 lives and caused widespread devastation. Roads were destroyed, cutting off remote mountainous areas from the outside world, while old buildings collapsed and famous monuments suffered irreparable damage.
Exchanges between young leaders can expand the horizons of Taiwanese youth.
Earthquake relief efforts: Taiwan is second to none
Six months later Rebecca Wang, chairperson of the Taiwan Alliance in International Development (Taiwan AID), proceeded with a team of rescue workers to Nepal’s hard-hit Dhading District. Located in the mountains, Dhading is a four-hour drive from Kathmandu, and road conditions were hazardous. Wang recalls: “There were tents all along the way. Half a year had passed since the earthquake, but many people were still living in tents. There was no clean water and no toilets.”
Taiwan AID took part in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) disaster relief program, helping to rebuild Nepal with donated funds. “Taiwanese are truly warmhearted,” says Rebecca Wang, her eyes brightening. “At the time, the Ministry of Health and Welfare set up a donation hotline. With no special promotion, it raised NT$100 million.” In partnership with Changhua Christian Hospital and with the assistance of the Ecological Protection Forum (EPF), a Nepalese nonprofit organization, Taiwan AID used some of this reconstruction funding to build a multipurpose community development center in Dhading. Thanks to Taiwan AID and EPF’s joint efforts, MOFA-provided relief supplies were conveyed directly to those suffering in the wake of the earthquake.
The community development center has since become part of local villagers’ lives. Equipped with solar panels, it is self-sufficient in electrical power. Nepalese women’s groups offer computer and cooking classes at the center, energizing the entire community. Here, they undertake tasks such as health education and medical training, and hold village activities. Outside the two-story building, the national flag of the Republic of China proudly flies, and a signboard proclaiming “Love from Taiwan” lets everyone know that this is how the Taiwanese people show their compassion.
Dr. Michael Hsiao, presidential advisor and chairperson of the Taiwan–Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF) believes Taiwan’s “warm power” can raise the nation’s international profile.
Taiwan’s “warm power” moves its Asian neighbors
Dr. Michael Hsiao, presidential advisor and chairperson of the Taiwan–Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF), calls Taiwan AID “warm power.” Taiwan AID is one of TAEF’s many collaborative partners. Since TAEF was established in 2018, the foundation has actively promoted multifaceted exchanges between Taiwan and other Asian countries. Functioning as a nongovernmental think tank, TAEF has deepened Taiwan’s partnerships with its Asian neighbors.
“TAEF’s role is to expand the government’s New Southbound Policy,” Hsiao says. Initiated in 2017, the Yushan Forum is a pioneering event, and has already become an established platform for regional dialogue. The 2018 forum, with the theme “Creating Regional Glory,” showcased the New Southbound Policy and NGO activities, focusing on regional prosperity and stability. Speakers at the event included Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and former South African president F.W. de Klerk, himself a peace-prize laureate.
TAEF has facilitated interactive exchanges between Taiwanese and Vietnamese artists. (courtesy of TAEF)
The Dhading community development center offers health education classes. A Nepalese women’s group often holds lectures on women’s health at the center. (courtesy of Taiwan AID)
International exchanges move forward
To augment the New Southbound Policy, TAEF has launched a “Five Major Cores Project,” encompassing citizen cooperation, think-tank exchanges, youth leadership training, and artistic and cultural exchanges, as well as an Asian regional resilience plan focused on disaster preparedness. Private-sector cooperation and partnerships can extend into areas that government agencies find hard to reach.
In short, TAEF’s mission is to make friends for Taiwan and promote regional exchanges.
“The government has always been pushing a people-centered approach; our ‘Five Major Cores Project’ is for people,” says Micheal Hsiao. Disaster preparedness saves lives, and young people are our future. Other activities, such as think-tank exchanges and links to civil society, are all intimately related to people. “We’re not meeting challenges alone.”
TAEF’s many projects have connected Taiwan AID, the Prospect Foundation, the National Culture and Arts Foundation, the American Institute in Taiwan and other partners. TAEF conducts in-depth exchanges with think tanks that share the ideals of the New Southbound Policy, as well as policy experts, foreign diplomats stationed in Taiwan, and current and retired government officials. Going beyond more rigid governmental policies, flexible NGO strategies are allowing Taiwan to win many new friends.
Taiwan AID chairperson Rebecca Wang says international aid is a long-term endeavor: “We’ll never abandon our friends and neighbors.”
Dhading’s new community development center offers cooking classes, energizing the community. (courtesy of Taiwan AID)
Regional dialogue and cultural exchange
In October 2018 TAEF invited six Vietnamese visual artists to come to Taiwan to engage in dialogue with Taiwanese artists, painters, photographers, and sculptors.
In May 2019, TAEF held a special summit with mid-level officials from Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines to share disaster prevention and preparedness experience and explore disaster preparedness initiatives.
This year’s Southeast Asia–South Asia–Taiwan (SEASAT) Youth Camp, co-sponsored by AIT, introduced young people to the Wulai Atayal Museum in New Taipei City’s Wulai District.
Sharing equally and telling Taiwan’s story
Michael Hsiao believes Taiwan’s exchanges with other Asian countries are based on sharing experience. “We want to share; moreover, we can tell Taiwan’s story,” he says.
Rebecca Wang’s overseas assistance experience mirrors this ideal. When Taiwanese NGOs provide aid to other Asian countries, “Our only intention is to sincerely help, offering long-term support, never abandoning others,” Wang says.
At a time when the international community is growing wary of “sharp power,” the island of Taiwan is radiating warmth and friendship through the New Southbound Policy’s cooperative endeavors, transmitting Taiwan’s unique “warm power” and showing to the world our nation’s outstanding contributions to the Asia‡Pacific region.
The “SEASAT Youth Camp” allowed young visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan’s Atayal people.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama