Human Rights Must be Enshrined in Taiwan's New Southbound Policy: Experts

Human Rights Must be Enshrined in Taiwan's New Southbound Policy: Experts
Photo Credit:達志影像 CC BY 2.0
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Rights advocates argue that if Taiwanese businesses continue to use legal loopholes in Southeast Asia, President Tsai's New southbound policy will be no more than a catchword for 'economic colonization.'

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President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) New Southbound Policy should take into consideration human rights and avoid exploiting legal loopholes in Southeast Asia to be successful, legal experts and NGO workers are saying.

During a forum organized by the Taiwan Forever Association (TFA) and the Legal Aid Foundation (LAF) earlier this month, lawyers, NGO workers and scholars discussed possible developments for the southbound policy, a major new initiative of the Tsai administration.

While Tsai’s southbound policy claims to take a holistic approach to redirecting Taiwan’s trade and investment toward partners in South and Southeast Asia while decreasing its reliance on China, questions still abound regarding the policy’s stance toward human rights, particularly migrant rights, both in and out of Taiwan.

Edwin Tsung-rong Yang (楊聰榮), associate professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of Applied Chinese Language and Culture, and human rights activist Peter Nguyen Van Hung (阮文雄) both agreed that environmental and labor issues should be given more serious consideration. Nguyen stressed the importance of amending Taiwan’s foreign investment laws to protect the local workforce, and to avoid more incidents like the Formosa Plastics incident in Vietnam.

Chou Han-wei (周漢威), a lawyer with the LAF, also said that if Taiwanese businesses continue to use legal loopholes in Southeast Asia, the southbound policy will be no more than a catchword for “economic colonization.”

Chou said that Taiwan ranked Tier 1 in the 2014 U.S. Department of State human trafficking report, and that the exploitation of Southeast Asian migrant workers was rampant within Taiwan itself. Both Chou and Chang Yu-hua (張育華), a representative from the Union of Excluded Immigrants and Unwanted Citizens, were of the opinion that Taiwan should first focus on guaranteeing rights to migrants that are already in the country.

Chou also spoke of the discrimination faced by migrant workers within the Taiwanese legal system, citing a case he handled where an overworked migrant maid accused of negligence was denied an interpreter in court. This worker spent half a year tangled in the court case. Unable to work and provide for herself, she eventually pleaded guilty for something she did not do.

Yang pointed out that for now, the Southbound Policy Coordination Office consists solely of Head of Office James Huang (黃志芳), with alternating staff members. This arrangement does not hold much promise, but has historical significance – this is the first time Taiwan has created an office at the Presidential Office level to handle affairs with neighboring countries.

If the Tsai administration believes that relations with ASEAN nations are of such importance, a wider and more comprehensive understanding of Southeast Asian society is the key to a successful southbound policy. Yang said that academic work should form the basis for building understanding between Taiwan and South-east Asia to avoid misunderstanding as more cooperative relationships are formed.

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Edward White

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