|The Politics of the New Southbound Policy. A Case Study of Taiwan's Relations with Myanmar|
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 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.