Soft Power as an Instrument for the Taiwanese Foreign Policy to Develop

Soft power as an instrument of the Taiwanese foreign policy to develo

Soft power as an instrument of the Taiwanese foreign policy to develop Taiwan represents a paradox. It is a nation in all respects sovereign and included in the list of the main democracies of the world, which however still discusses the nature of its identity with respect to Mainland China. It is integrated into the world economic system and is linked to 160 countries by visa-free agreements, but excluded from the United Nations system and with the number of diplomatic allies significantly reduced due to the pressure exerted by the People's Republic of China on several levels (bilateral and in the supranational offices).

The History and the current geopolitical context force Taiwan to see its events always and in any case linked to the "China question". The international community looks to Taiwan on the basis of its positioning towards the PRC and its role in the strategic confrontation between the PRC and the USA. The knowledge of what Taiwan is and what values it is a carrier of in the international community is restricted to a circle of academics, students, journalists and managers motivated by study and work. In a situation of very complex international equilibrium, this is in my opinion a critical issue for Taiwan.

Why soft power is relevant for Taiwan

In the context briefly described, Taiwan needs to reinforce the use of "soft power", in the impossibility of exercising forms of "hard and command power", to use the terminology of Joseph Nye. Soft power is a foreign policy tool that can help Taiwan to make itself better known in the world by highlighting its strengths and the contribution it is able to give to the international community. I believe that the objective of accumulating a capital of consensus and sympathy is essential for Taiwan.

Taiwan's current foreign policy is based on the regional dimension through the New Southbound Policy, launched in 2016 and based on various actions such as: study programs, medical training, development assistance, tourism promotion. The NSBP, which has a great strategic value for Taiwan, is substantially based on forms of economic or technical aid that partner countries need; therefore, it tends to be conditioned by forms of ‘do ut des’, with the absence of political and cultural ‘values’ capable of cementing relations with Taiwan.

Taiwan needs a step forward enhancing its uniqueness

My opinion is that Taiwan's foreign policy needs to take another step forward to pursue a broader goal through the soft power tool: to contribute to an evolution of Taiwan's "perception" in the non-Asian world. In the path above outlined, Taiwan's soft power can be strengthened by identifying the "ideal" characteristics of the Island with respect to its historical and political context. The undoubted economic and social development that characterizes Taiwan does not help to stand out strongly: many other nations of the world are equally developed and advanced. But Taiwan has other qualifying elements:

1. it is the only democracy in the "Chinese world";

2. it has preserved and transmitted to the following generations a large part of the Chinese historical heritage, probably saving it from the fury of the Cultural Revolution. In other words, without prejudice to the attention to the non-coercive instruments already in place to support South-Eastern Asian less developed Countries, it is necessary to look to Western governments and the public opinions: • sensitive to the values of democracy and freedom;

3. in which there is a growing interest in studying Chinese history, culture and language. Democracy, freedom, the role of Asian avant-garde in the field of rights, the exaltation of traditional Chinese history, culture and language: these are the characteristics that make Taiwan unique. In terms of foreign policy, these characteristics are strong reasons to support Taiwan's independence and international status.

Democracy and culture

What is happening in Hong Kong is a powerful warning to the international community about the risks associated with the authoritarian character of PRC, which is a candidate to be a new global power. At the same time, it damages China's reputation. However, the international perception of the Chinese role is sensibly changing. Even at different levels, some countries in Asia-Oceania (Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam), Africa (South-Africa, Angola, Mozambique), Central America (El Salvador, Panama) and South-Eastern Europe (Greece) are debating on political and economic agreements with PRCs, with regard to the labor market, the effective economic development and the security in strategic sectors such as infrastructure control and telecommunications management. On the contrary, Taiwan is the democratic face of that "Chinese world" towards which the world is watching with increasing attention.

The other distinctive element of the Taiwanese identity is linked to history and culture. Taiwan holds an extraordinary part, in quantitative but above all qualitative terms, of the Chinese historical heritage. Taiwan has guaranteed the preservation and transmission to future generations of this heritage over the decades. Scholars know how to do research in Taiwan - in a free and unrestricted academic climate, with materials and information of unique value - is fundamental to know Chinese history.

Taiwan has also developed its own unique vision of Chinese culture, starting with the role played by the Chinese elites who moved to the island in 1949 after the CCP's victory in the civil war. These elements are joined by a general Taiwanese sensibility on the subject of human rights and development aid on two levels: • public, through the action of the Mofa and the International Cooperation and Development Found; • private, through the approximately 9,000 Taiwanese NGOs, the most important of which are integrated into the international NGOs system both individually and under the cover of TaiwanAid.


In my opinion - based on the considerations made in this article, the result of the reflections opened by the studies and meetings I held in the period March-July 2019 - Taiwan needs to develop foreign policy tools that allow it to stand out from the PRC, enhancing their own specific characteristics and thus building their own independent identity. It is certainly a complex operation that requires investments in terms of time and resources. At the same time, I believe this operation is strategic for Taiwan. About the author Dr. Raffaele Cazzola Hofmannis is a “Taiwan Fellowhip 2019” recipient.

Conclusions and recommendations of Taiwan Perspective articles are solely those of their authors, and do not reflect the views of INPR.



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