Expectations of Taiwan's New White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy

Expectations of Taiwan's New White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy

Rebecca Wang, Advisor, Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation

  1. Introduction

The Covid-19 outbreak since 2020 has led to international border closures, restricted trade and travel, as well as a gravely wounded global economy. A global shortage of ICT chips came about because of disrupted supply chains. Taiwan, however, was able to hold its ground as a significant ICT chips exporter due to effective pandemic prevention measures. Taiwan then amazed the world with its generous donations of pandemic prevention materials such as face masks to other countries. Later on, when Taiwan needed vaccines this year, those who used to be beneficiary countries became fervent vaccine donors to Taiwan. Unexpectedly, Taiwan gained a renewed round of attention from the world henceforth. Many have realized for the first time that Taiwan is a democracy very different from China.

The Tsai administration proclaims, "Taiwan can help, and Taiwan is helping." But under the current global environment, Taiwan's 2009 version of White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy founded on political purpose and diplomatic consideration is no longer pertinent. It is time for the government to update the white paper with renewed concepts more in line with international trends and sustainable development goals propelled by the United Nations and infuse the "Taiwan brand" concept promoted by NGOs and enterprises.

  1. New School of Thought on International Cooperation and Development

(1)   From MDGs to SDGs: 

The United Nations proposed eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, in which developed countries (donor countries) predominated all the planning and strategies of international aids, while the recipient countries had no role to play in the process. It was hence satirized as condescending "charity assistance." 

In 2015, the U.N. drew up seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030, linked to five areas of critical importance (5Ps: People, Planet, Peace, Partnership, and Prosperity), which have become the new norm in international cooperation and development.

SDGs values efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, and transparency. It also emphasizes engagement and localization (ownership) of the recipient country in respect of the human rights of the beneficiary. It urges cross-sector agencies to join hands in building a sustainable and inclusive society by 2030.

(2)   Forge Partnerships between Government and NGOs to promote international cooperation and development:

The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea are relatively well established in implementing international cooperation and developing projects among OECD countries. Their principles, systems, and strategies are worthy of reference. They share the same views that the collaboration between public and private sectors will enhance the effectiveness of ODA. They also believe that the engagement of NGOs and enterprises improves the overall efficiency, transparency, and credibility. 

The constitution and mechanism of the partnerships between their government departments and NGOs include:

a.     Regular dialogues: NGOs provide advice on the government's foreign aid policies. Representatives of U.S. NGOs regularly hold talks with the State Department and advise the White House on related matters. InterAction, a leading NGOs platform, holds weekly meetings with the congressional committees of diplomacy, defense, and appropriations.

b.     High-level coordination mechanism: Take South Korea for example, the Secretariat of the Prime Minister has a dedicated team for dealing with its NGOs.

c.     The government systematically supports NGOs to engage in international cooperation and development projects. E.g. Japan and the United States provide funds to support NGOs' capacity building. The United Kingdom offers funds to support small NGOs and their efforts in implementing ODA. 

d.     Provide ODA funding subsidies to NGOs for implementing international cooperation programs. Japan set aside 2% of the ODA budget (about US$300 million) for NGOs; South Korea provides 2.8% (about US$66 million); the United States 22%, and the United Kingdom 15%.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea are considerably experienced in ODA. Those Governments fund and provide resources to support NGOs' growth in a planned way to maximize their capacities.  They include NGOs in all aspects of international development projects and enjoy complementary partnerships. Such relationship enhances the effectiveness of ODA and helps each party improve through regular exchanges.

  1. Suggestions for the New Foreign Aid White paper

  The first government-issued "White Paper on Foreign Aid Policy" in 2009 emphasized "progressive partnerships and sustainable development." Most of the content was centered on Taiwan's diplomatic allies as recipients or projects collaborated with international organizations such as the European Bank in countries without diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Most tasks were outsourced by "International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF)" to strengthen diplomatic relations or serve political purposes. NGOs and enterprises were out of the frame in the paper. By then, the ICDF rarely worked with domestic NGOs. Now that the Legislative Yuan is requesting an updated version of the white paper, it is time to conform to the international trends and include NGOs and enterprises as essential partners. 

(1)    Interagency Collaborative Arrangements:

Most of Taiwan's ODA budget is allocated under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and executed by foreign missions or the ICDF. However, the ICDF itself and other ministries such as the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, The Ministry of Economy…etc. also set aside their budget for international projects. Due to the lack of an overseeing and coordinating mechanism, overlapping resources and jurisdictions create chaos, waste, and difficulty in project evaluation. An inter-agency collaborative arrangement would help calibrate strategic goals to better align with national interests and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Taiwan ODA.

With that, it is suggested to establish an "International Cooperation and Development Team" in the Executive Yuan, with the Minister without portfolio on foreign affairs as the team leader and the Vice Foreign Minister as the executive secretary. The team is charged to improve the effectiveness of international cooperation and development plans and deliver progress reports for all involved agencies. Its members should include:

a.     Director General-level representatives from relevant government agencies;

b.     Representatives of different domestic NGOs; and

c.     Representatives of private sectors.

(2)   Increase ODA budget and the proportion of NGOs implementation

In 2019, Taiwan's ODA amounted to approximately US$318 million, accounting for 0.051% of Gross National Income (GNI), which is far behind Japan's 0.31% (roughly US$15.5 billion) and South Korea's 0.15% (approximately US$2.7 billion). Compared to the U.N.'s proposed standard of 0.7%, Taiwan's budget was meager. If Taiwan wishes to contribute to the international community substantially, it is of great regency to increase the ODA budget. In addition, Taiwan should raise the budget for NGOs implementation, follow suit with the OECD members. E.g., the Japanese government allocates about US$300 million, and South Korea allocates US$66 million for NGO implementation. In comparison, Taiwan only gives $300,000.

(3)   Establish a coordination platform between the Government and NGOs for equal-footing partnership: 

Following the practice of Japan and South Korea, the government and NGOs should hold regular dialogues as equal-footing partners. It facilitates mutual understanding, network exchanges and helps improve the efficiency and effectiveness of ODA's implementation.

(4)   Streamline administrative process and relax subsidy regulations:

Current government accounting regulations for subsidizing NGOs' international projects require mundane paper works, which discourages the will of application from small NGOs. Therefore, curbing red tape helps motivate NGOs to reach out to the world and build foreign branches, elevating Taiwan's global visibility.

(5)   Government join hands with NGOs to promote the correct values of international development and cooperation:  

Being excluded from the United Nations for so long, Taiwan nationals' worldviews were relatively incomplete. Little acknowledgment of international cooperation and development makes it hard for the people to understand the value of international aids. Hence Taiwan government's efforts on international cooperation and development tend to be stigmatized as money diplomacy. Therefore, the government should work with NGOs to enhance people's understanding of the value of international cooperation and development.

  1. Conclusion

Under the persistent suppression of the Communist China, Taiwan's international participation is getting increasingly difficult. Especially after several of Taiwan's diplomatic allies severed ties with Taiwan in a row like an avalanche in last few years, there are now only 15 left. It is imminent for Taiwan to fight for its space in the international community. Legislators Chih-Wei Chiu and Chih-Chieh Hsu urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last August to think outside of the box and formulate a new version of the foreign aid policy white paper as soon as possible. They called on the government to designate an office to coordinate the public and private sectors in international aids endeavor. Such viewpoints echo the trends of international cooperation and development. The government is urged to pay more attention to the significance of NGOs and be more inclusive to NGOs and enterprises to optimize the efficiency of Taiwan's international cooperation and development projects.



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