label r shifted
Session B5
The Politics of the New Southbound Policy. A Case Study of Taiwan's Relations with Myanmar
Matteo Fumagalli
School of International Relations, University of St Andrews, UK

After a hiatus of several decades, relations between Taiwan and Myanmar have significantly rekindled since 2014. In 2016 the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) has boosted its activities on the ground and a Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (ECO) has officially opened its office in downtown Yangon. This, in itself, constitutes a considerable change from a time when Nay Pyi Taw was considered an international pariah and a client state of China. This was not always the case. In fact, relations between the two countries and societies go back a long time in history, to the period of the civil war in China and the fight for independence in British-ruled Burma. Since then a sizeable Burmese community has resettled in Taipei and social ties between the two countries have been maintained despite considerable difficulties. 

This paper uses the case of Taiwan-Myanmar relations to reflect on Taiwan’s evolving foreign policy and foreign economic relations and, more broadly, growing inter-Asian connectedness and. It especially focuses on President Tsai Ing-Wen’s New Southbound Policy (NSP) to explore changes (as well as continuities) in Taiwan’s foreign policy. How new is the New Southbound Policy? How distinctive is it from earlier attempts to complement Taiwan’s focus on cross-strait relations with broader ties to South-East Asian countries? What does Taiwan want to achieve in South-East Asia (SEA)? What does SEA countries expect from renewed initiatives from Taiwan? 

The paper’s main contention is that a nuanced assessment of the NSP needs to be embedded in a multi-level framework of analysis which includes the partisan nature of Taiwan’s foreign policy-making, the variety of Taipei’s South-East Asian partners, and, crucially, the geopolitics of South-East Asian politics, particularly in the form of how two external powers (China and the United States) shape ‘the politics’ of the NSP.  
The NSP is construed as an attempt at redefining Taiwan’s identity and role in the region. Framing it as either ‘pure economics’ or ‘pivot from China’ is tantamount to a rather simplistic binary choice. To some extent it is both. Furthermore, President Tsai’s NSP constitutes a reflexive strategic initiative aimed at carving Taiwan a sustainable niche in a difficult and rapidly evolving geostrategic and economic environment. Whether it succeeds or not, however, depends in large part on events and actors outside Taiwan’s control. 

The presentation is structured in four parts. In the first one Fumagalli reviews the debate surrounding Taiwan’s foreign policy and embeds it in the scholarly literature which has clustered around a focus on cross-Strait relations and an analysis of the opportunities that the world beyond the mainland offers in the form of South-South cooperation.  
Next, it locates the New Southbound Policy in such debates, as the presentation zooms in on the South-East Asian region. In the third part, the presentation examines the links, opportunities and challenges in relations between Myanmar, where the author has conducted extensive research since 2016 and where he leads a large capacity-building in the education sector, and Taiwan. Final remarks on the outlook of the new southbound policy as a case study of ‘south-south cooperation’ conclude.