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ASEAN-Taiwan Relations – What’s Next?

04 Dec ASEAN-Taiwan Relations – What’s Next?

As Taiwanese citizens head to the polls next year, the newly elected president shoulders the responsibility of setting the tone for the future of cross-strait relations. Even though the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has strong support in the polls, the recent Xi-Ma meeting does suggest that the incumbent government led by the Kuomintang (KMT) may be in a better position to maintain the current cross-strait status-quo. Regardless of which political party wins, the newly elected president should endeavour to deepen its ties with ASEAN while maintaining the peace and stability within the region.

Over the years, Taiwan has deepened its relations with major powers, including USA and Japan. However, Taiwan has not been proactive in its engagement with ASEAN.  For example, Taiwan has only signed a free trade pact with one ASEAN state – Singapore. Against the backdrop of Taiwan’s economic slowdown, primarily driven by the decline in Chinese demand for its exports, it is timely that the Republic of China (ROC) looks towards an alternative market to fuel its economic engine.

As ASEAN gears up to establish the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of this year, the South-East Asian region could serve as a viable manufacturing and consumer hub for Taiwanese businesses. Coupled with the bearish economic outlook and rising labour and land cost in mainland China, ASEAN’s diverse economies offer a complementary and competitive alternative for Taiwanese businesses.

As the private sector diversifies their corporate strategy away from mainland China into ASEAN, businesses should be protected with adequate rules and regulations that would aid in this economic transition. As such, the new Taiwanese administration should extend economic partnerships to other ASEAN members, improving the ease of doing business between Taiwan and certain ASEAN states. This could gradually lay the groundwork for a much larger, ASEAN-Taiwan wide economic partnership. This will signal the new Taiwanese government’s commitment towards ASEAN and the region.

Besides for developing multilateral relations, it is crucial that the newly elected President maintains the cross strait status-quo by clearly communicating his or her stance on the One China Principle. As provocation of Beijing is not in the interest of either political parties, the new President should continue to work with mainland China to formulate a framework that secures and maintains regional peace and stability.

With Taiwan potentially entering a new chapter in history, the new leader should use this opportunity to engage holistically with the region and not just the major powers. Complementing its economic pacts, the new administration should also promote cross cultural linkages by enhancing people-to-people connectivity between ASEAN and Taiwan.

However, even as Taiwan deepens its relations with ASEAN, the South-East Asian grouping must also continue to maintain robust relations with Beijing. If ASEAN finds this delicate equilibrium, it would result in an extraordinary multilateral diplomatic undertaking, which will be unique to ASEAN.

SourceASEAN ponders China-Taiwan relations [Nikkei Asian Review, 22 November 2015]

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons