Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Taiwan's Go South Policy: Deja Vu All over Again?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Taiwan's Go South Policy: Deja Vu All over Again?

Article excerpt

The foreign policy of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who was elected in 2016, will be closely watched by Beijing and countries in Southeast Asia. Before her inauguration, Tsai stated that her administration would pursue a so-called "New Go South Policy" (xin nanxiang zhengce), i.e. a foreign policy focused on building up ties with countries in Southeast Asia as well as in South Asia. A similar policy was initiated by two former presidents of Taiwan, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian. This article provides a framework to analyze the determinants, objectives, policy dimensions and scope of President Tsai's New Go South Policy. It examines and compares the Go South Policies of previous administrations, together with former President Ma Ying-jeou's policy towards Southeast Asia. Based on these discussions, a prospective policy analysis of President Tsai's Go South Policy is provided. It is argued that Tsai's Go South Policy will help enhance Taiwan's soft power, increase the island's presence in Southeast Asia but will not be used to counterbalance China-Taiwan economic integration.

Keywords: Tsai Ing-wen, Go South Policy, Taiwan-ASEAN relations, cross-straits relations, Taiwan foreign policy.

In September 2015, Tsai Ing-wen, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan, declared that if she won office a major foreign policy initiative of her administration would be a "New Go South Policy" (New GSP).' After her victory in the January 2016 presidential election, and inauguration in May, one of Tsai's first moves was to set up an Office of New Go South Policy which was placed directly under the Presidential Office. This office was headed by James C.F. Huang, a former foreign minister who served from 2006 to 2008 under the administration of the previous DPP President Chen Shui-bian.

In broad terms, the Go South Policy (GSP) refers to initiatives aimed at strengthening relations between Taiwan and countries "south" of Taiwan, especially countries in Southeast Asia. The New GSP, in fact, can also be termed "GSP 3.0". Two former presidents of Taiwan --Lee Teng-Hui (1998-2000) and Chen Shui-bian (2000-8)--each initiated "GSP 1.0" and "GSP 2.0" respectively, in the 1990s and 2000s. All presidents who initiated a GSP (Lee, Chen, and now, Tsai) are leaders who have deeply suspicious views of Mainland China; indeed, all of them can be considered as "independence-leaning" leaders. (2) The backdrop to these GSPs was the rapid economic development of China and the integration between China and other Asian economies, including Taiwan's. Hence, although GSP could be couched as an initiative to strengthen Taiwan's relations with Southeast Asia--and not necessarily tied to Taiwan's relations with China--in reality it has always been associated as a policy tool to counterbalance China--Taiwan economic integration, along with other strategic benefits, such as enlarging Taiwan's "international space" and increasing Taiwan's relevance and leverage in Southeast Asia. Over the past several decades, all Taiwanese presidents, in one way or another, were uncomfortable with Taiwan's growing economic dependence on China, with the exception of President Ma Ying-jeou (2008--16) of the Kuomintang (KMT) party, who was the only Taiwanese leader that did not formally announce a GSP during his term in office. Ma's government did, however, have a Southeast Asia policy, but it was not meant to counterbalance China-Taiwan economic integration.

Given that GSP is not new, an important objective of this article is to compare and analyze the past cases in order to provide context for President Tsai's New GSP. Other than being a counterbalance to China-Taiwan economic integration, what other strategic objectives underpin GSP? Did the past GSPs achieve what they set out to achieve? What lessons can the Tsai administration learn from the successes or failures of past GSPs? How did the different historical contexts of previous GSPs affect their performance? …

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