TAIWAN – Its surge ahead

When I landed at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, on 10 November, I never imagined that I would come out of the country with an amazing eye-opening experience.

In over three decades of my journalistic career, thanks to my profession, I had had the privilege of visiting XX countries, and I had been awed by many things I saw and experienced.

But, in just XX days that I spent in Taiwan, my impression of – and my attitude towards – this country and its growth has been truly incredible.

Small Country. Big Vision

It was my first visit to this country which is 136th largest country in area but, amazingly, the 17th largest economy in the world.

Despite its small size, it is the world’s 14th largest exporter, 16th largest importer, and the third largest holder of foreign exchange reserves, with over US $180 billion.

And many do not know that Taiwan is currently USA’s 12th largest goods trading partner with $64 billion in goods trade between them, during 2013.

Not only on its preservation of culture, heritage, history and society, but also on its development in science and technology, especially in information technology, and robotic research, I had found this country simply amazing.

Not only from what you get in its museums, restaurants, food stores, and flower shows, but also from its display of advances in architecture, bio technology, aqua culture, ornamental fish breeding, and high speed transport, I had found this country simply way ahead of several others.

The beauty and efficiency of the country on one side, and its development and technological growth on the other side, makes it a country that one must definitely have on one’s tourist destinations.

I was among 28 senior journalists from 20 countries who were given a tour of Taiwan to gain first-hand knowledge of the country’s progress and witness the functioning of Taiwan’s Free Economic Pilot Zones set up to boost the economy. And the insights I now had into this country, which is aiming high, are not easy to explain.

Free Economic Pilot Zones

Soon after he took office in May 2008, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou announced a “Viable Diplomacy” policy that aimed to expand Taiwan’s cultural, economic and trade relations with its partners around the world on the basis of autonomy, dignity, flexibility and pragmatism.

With a desire for ‘opening up to the world, and welcoming the future’, Taiwan has now opened up Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZs) in August last year, to fast-track trade liberalization.

Within these zones, reform of regulations pertaining to capital labour and logistics is designed to enhance the development of designated industries such as education innovation, smart logistics, international health care, financial services, and value-added agriculture.

The goal of the FEPZs is to boost Taiwan’s competitiveness and enable it to ultimately become a free economic island.

But, according to the leadership of the country, Taiwan wishes to integrate its own economic growth with that that of the regional growth in Asia-Pacific.

Cheryl H J Tseng, Chief Secretary of the National Development Council and her team were enthusiastic about these Free Economic Pilot Zones (FEPZs) set up on a trial basis.

“The experiment is expected to usher in unilateral trade liberalization, yield foreign investment and pave the way for Taiwan signing more regional trade cooperation deals and agreements,” she said to us at her press conference.

International Partnerships

Talking to us at a luncheon, Vanessa Y P Shih, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) said in Taipei on November 11, 2014: “Taiwan is poised to increase the number of economic cooperation deals it has with other countries.”

According to her, Taiwan resumed trade talks with the US in 2013 with the commencement of negotiations under the bilateral ‘Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.’

Among the other highlights of ‘viable diplomacy’ were a landmark Fisheries Agreement concluded with Japan, and also Economic Cooperation Agreement signed with New Zealand and Singapore.

“Taiwan is now open for talks with more trading partners for similar pacts to boost the country’s integration into the regional economy and to strengthen its global supply chain.

“Taiwan has now landing visas or visa-free access to 140 countries and territories and working holiday agreements with 12 countries including Australia, Japan, France, Germany and UK,” she said.

Moving Ahead on Various Fronts

I was pleasantly surprised to see that women were at the fore front in many organizations in Taiwan.

In the National Policy Foundation of Taipei, an astonishing 80 per cent of the workforce is women.

Many things I experienced gave me new insights into – and strange excitement being in – a wonderful country that certainly is on the move. Here are a few.

I was excited going up ‘Taipei 101’, the world’s tallest building from 2004 when it overtook the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, until 2010 when this was overtaken by Burj Khalifa of Dubai.

Taipei 101 has the distinction of being awarded LEED Platinum certification, the highest award in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system as it had become the tallest and largest green building in the world.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis is another place we enjoyed touring. It is a government initiative to build a mega aviation city as Taiwan is turning itself into a regional air hub.

The plan is to transform Taiwan’s main gateway, Taoyuan International Airport, into a regional aviation center that includes a free trade zone, a third terminal at the airport and an industrial park to house logistics and aviation-related industries.

At the National Palace Museum, we saw a collection of cultural artifacts that is really a treasure trove of objects from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Over thousand years of Chinese history in porcelain and silk.

We also saw the Taiwan’s sea-ports geared for international quality logistics management. After receiving certification from the European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO) on November 14, 2014, Kaohsiung Port, Taiwan has become the first eco-port in the Asia-Pacific Region.

I watched flower shows that took my breath away, I watched the crowded night life in city centers, I watched robots fight boxing matches in technology shows, and I watched so many amazing things in Taiwan that even though it is almost a month since I visited it, I am unable to get over it.