The Diplomat: Taiwan: The Tsai Doctrine

Taiwan, however, has shaken off the Chinese pressure and bolstered its international presence. Tsai’s New Southbound Policy received a boost from the U.S.-China trade war; the president often touts its successes on the campaign trail. And Taiwan has gathered global support, especially from the United States, for its attempts to keep a hostile Beijing at bay and preserve its sovereignty.

On the international stage, Taiwan presents itself as a more humane, democratic alternative to the deep pockets of China – as a foreign investor, a cultural partner, or an ally. But its foreign policy remains littered with human rights concerns that, as Tsai heads toward a probable victory over Kuomintang (KMT) challenger Han Kuo-yu, remain far from being solved.

The deal with Australia illustrates the challenges Tsai has faced in expanding Taiwan’s global presence while the world does not recognize it. As Taiwan has turned away from China, it has turned toward states that are often only willing to deal with Taipei when it happens to be convenient – such as Australia, which would have struggled to find a UN member state to provide medical care to refugees in the camps of Nauru.

Taiwan has thus had to strike a “difficult balance” while cooperating with potential rights violators, said Jeremy Huai-che Chiang, a research associate at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation. The government, he said, must make judgment calls “according to what Taiwan believes and what Taiwan needs to enable ties with other countries.”

“Tsai has spoken of creating an ‘Alliance of Democratic Values’ to stand in opposition to an increasingly overbearing China,” Hsiang said, referring to a term the president has used during diplomatic visits. In the process, he said, Tsai has “rewarded” rights violators like Nicaragua, Haiti, and eSwatini, an absolute monarchy and one of the world’s least free states. King Mswati III rules all branches of national government, and critics of the king are subject to imprisonment. In 2018, the king received an honorary degree from a Taipei university, where Tsai thanked eSwatini “for speaking up for Taiwan and always being by our side.”

But the New Southbound Policy was missing something crucial when it was implemented: a human rights component. Local and global rights advocates raised immediate alarm bells over the omission. Still, Taiwan has never outwardly prioritized human rights in its engagements with its new partners, many of whom have their own problematic rights records.

“A lot of improvement is still needed,” Chiang said, and as students continue to come to Taiwan, “the government and other related entities should strive to make their experiences positive, or at least free from exploitation.” Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has said it is working to end the work-study scams.

Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan continue to face rights abuses while working as caregivers, fishermen, and factory workers amid concerns the government has not mobilized multiple departments to address the problems, instead assigning them to small agencies at the subdepartment level that are often tasked with representing both labor and industry interests.

Read full report here (includes many examples):

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