Bernardo M. Villegas
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Northbound Policy (Part 2)

          Under the leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan launched in 2016 its “New Southbound Policy” (NSP).  The rationale for this policy is to contribute to regional development and forge closer socioeconomic and people-to-people exchanges with Southeast Asian (ASEAN) and South Asian countries, as well as with Australia and New Zealand.  Over the last twenty years, Taiwanese investments were mainly concentrated in China during the heyday of Chinese explosive growth.  In fact, despite the political tension between the “two Chinas”, it was very notable that the biggest foreign investors in China during the high-growth years were the Taiwanese.  It is well known that China is now slowing down and wages have soared, removing the former incentives for labor-intensive industries to locate in China.  In fact, because of the one-child policy followed in the past, China is already suffering some of the problems of rapid ageing and labor shortages that exist in more developed economies.  With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) achieving greater economic integration and presenting to the rest of the world a total consumer market of some 650 million, it makes sense that investors from the rest of the world, especially from the developed territories of Northeast Asia, will take greater interest in the AEC.  In fact, in the 50th Anniversary meeting of the ASEAN leaders held in the Philippines last November 2017, many of our neighbors in the Asia Pacific region were competing with one another to be included in the AEC + 1 arrangement.  Taiwan has the great advantage of being closest geographically to the ASEAN among the Northeast Asian economies.  And was noted above, it has a greater variety of experiences to share with the ASEAN nations (e.g. infrastructures, agribusiness, export-driven policies, and quality and quantity of higher education students).

         As reported by Representative Song-Huann Lin, the year 2017 had been designated as the “year of action for the implementation of the New Southbound Policy” by the Honorable David T. Lee, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan, ROC.  The reactions from various sectors in both territories—Government, business sector and the academe—have been enthusiastic.  There have been many Taiwanese delegations who have come to visit the Philippines.  Seven Taiwanese banks have already opened operations in Metro Manila, either as wholly owned by Taiwanese investors or in partnership with Filipinos.   There has been a steady growth of Taiwanese investments and activities in the Philippines.  The 7-11 Group of Taiwan has expanded its branch network to over 1,200 stores.  Taiwan’s New Kino Electronics Co. has invested in three large factories, employing more than 500 workers.  Its fourth plant was scheduled to open before the end of 2017.  For some years now, the high-tech seed company Known You in Taiwan has partnered with a local Filipino Chinese entrepreneurs, Arsenio Barcelona, to put up Harbest, a Philippines-based enterprise actively promoting the growing of high-value crops such as vegetables and fruits among small farmers in various regions of the Philippines.  Harbest is very active in the Go Negosyo movement promoted by Joey Concepcion together with the Department of Trade and Industry.

         A milestone in the implementation of the New Southbound Policy of Taiwan was the setting up of the Taiwan Expo held last September 29 to October 1, 2017.  During this Expo, a Taiwan-Philippines Industrial Collaboration Summit was held to connect talent and experts in the industries of green technology, industrial zone development, information and communications technology as well as industrial machinery.  During the Expo, six agreements were signed by the Taiwan-Philippine business sectors to prepare the way for future cooperation in science and technology which will focus on health, agriculture artificial intelligence (AI), SMEs, and start-ups.

         More importantly, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has pinpointed the Philippines as a major partner of Taiwan for educational exchanges.  The two countries have decided not only to establish an Education and Resource Center in Makati City which will function as a platform to launch further exchange in education and culture but also to establish a forum for a continuing dialogue among university presidents of the two countries.  Plans are underway to send university teachers from the Philippines to pursue further studies, including doctoral programs, in leading Taiwanese universities.  It is worth mentioning that Mr. Tyson Hsieh, a prominent Taiwanese community leader in the Philippines, has offered to finance 50 round trip tickets for Filipino scholars who will be traveling to Taiwan for further studies.

         To facilitate the travel of more Filipinos to Taiwan for both business and leisure, Taiwan’s Premier William Lai has already approved a plan, on a trial basis, to give Filipino citizens visa-free treatment to enter Taiwan for fourteen days as part of the plan of the Taiwanese government to promote people-to-people contacts, tourism and bilateral exchanges.  Under this visa-free initiative, which commenced on November 1, 2017, Filipino nationals who intend to visit Taiwan for the purpose of tourism, business, visiting relatives, attending functions or events can enjoy visa-free entry to Taiwan for a duration of up to 14 days.  To obtain the visa-free treatment, the Filipino visitor must present an ordinary/regular passport with remaining validity of at least six months from the date of entry; a return ticket or a ticket for the traveler’s next destination and a visa for that destination if is required; no criminal record in Taiwan; a proof of accommodation (hotel) booking or host sponsors’ contact information/or arrangements of tour, travel, visit, events and meetings, etc.  Needless to say, those who intend to stay in Taiwan for more than 14 days for the purpose of study, work, missionary activity, employment and other gainful activities are still required to obtain appropriate visas before entering Taiwan.

            It would, of course, be desirable if the Philippine Government and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) should also reciprocate and grant visa-free treatment to Taiwan nationals in the same way that the Philippines has already given visa-free treatment to a number of other countries.  All these efforts on both sides can go a long way in cementing closer cultural and economic ties between two of the countries in the Asia Pacific region that can gain most from more frequent contacts between their respective citizens. An added benefit to the Taiwanese investors in the Philippines is that they can make use of our country as the gateway to the whole ASEAN Economic Community.  We are the most culturally compatible with our Taiwanese neighbors and we can help them navigate their way to the cultures of the other countries in Southeast Asia, especially because of our greater familiarity with the English language which is becoming the business lingua franca of the whole region. For comments, my email address is