On August 13, 2019, Taiwan Center for Security Studies (TCSS) and Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) conducted a dialogue about Taiwan-Cambodia relations in the context of the Indo-Pacific momentum. The dialogue was chaired by Dr. Fu-kuo Liu, Director of TCSS, and Amb. Pou Sothirak, Executive Director of CICP. Some distinguished scholars attended the event including Ms. Charadine Pich (Researcher, CICP), Mr. William W. Lin (Former Representative, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Brunei Darussalam), Mr. Wei F. Lee (Advisor, PHYCOS International Co., Ltd.), Dr. Hank Lim Giok-Hay (Senior Research Fellow, Singapore Institute of International Affairs), Mr. Paul Hsu (President, Epoch Foundation), Dr. Vinsensio Dugis (Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Airlangga University, Indonesia), Dr. Chyungly Lee (Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University), and Dr. To-Hai Liou (Professor, Department of Diplomacy, National Chengchi University)
In the first session, the discussion highlighted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Southeast Asia. Focusing on Cambodia’s case, Ms. Pich unveiled that China would like to link up the BRI with Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) for enhancing regional connectivity in Mekong countries. The problem arises when we could not distinguish between the BRI projects and the LMC projects. According to Amb. Southirak, the BRI projects were funded by Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). There are so many China’s projects in Cambodia but not all of them are covered by the BRI since the AIIB does not provide loans to support the projects.
Another story comes from Brunei Darussalam where many Malays worry about the increasing number of Chinese workers in the country. Mr. Lin pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Bandar Seri Begawan in November 2018 to renegotiate some projects had raised a great concern about debt trap. In response to this issue, Dr. Hank suggested ASEAN countries adopted Indonesia’s strategy to avoid debt trap. Under President Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s government has encouraged private sectors to support China’s Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway construction project. Through business-to-business cooperation, Indonesia’s company has made collaboration with China’s company to finance the project. It means that the project is heavily depended on money provided by private sectors rather than government budget. Given the fact that private sectors play important role in regional economic development, Mr. Hsu expected ASEAN countries pushed business community to improve their relations with other partners. He asserted that Taiwan’s private sectors would fully welcome this opportunity.
In the second session, the discussion focused on the strategy to enhance Taiwan and Cambodia relations. Amb. Sothirak emphasized that New Southbound Policy (NSP) has fostered Taiwan’s engagement with Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia. Taiwan has an enormous capacity to contribute to regional development. Considered as an Asian Tiger, Taiwan has successfully developed high technology, transportation system, agriculture, etc. Therefore, Cambodia should promote closer relationship with Taiwan in many sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, and fisheries. Amb. Sothirak hoped Taiwan understands Cambodia’s culture comprehensively to bolster both countries relations. In dealing with this issue, Mr. Lee believed that Taiwan could support Cambodia’s development. Cambodia can learn from Taiwan in developing industrial facilities. All facilities should be connected. For instance, industrial campuses and science parks are built to support factories and special economic zones. Moreover, all developments must be linked to transportation system with easy access to highways, freeways, airports, seaports, and railways. The improvement of life standard, the consumption of green energy, and the implementation of finest agriculture are also important for Cambodia.
Similar to Cambodia, Indonesia has also enjoyed deeper ties with Taiwan following the implementation of the NSP. Dr. Dugis’s experience to get Taiwan’s visa in Indonesia easily has reflected the progress in Taiwan and Indonesia relations. Furthermore, he observed that business-to-business and people-to-people interactions between both sides have increased significantly in recent years. Today, Taiwan is one of the most favorite destinations for Indonesian students to study abroad. Some Taiwan Education Centers have been established at Indonesian universities and they have played a positive role to promote Taiwan-Indonesia academic cooperation.
In the closing remarks, Dr. Liu and Amb. Sothirak expressed their commitment to find a way to move on certain joint projects. CICP and TCSS have signed MoU and it needs to be followed up with joint research, joint conference, and joint publication. Both sides will continue to strengthen their collaboration which benefits Taiwan and Cambodia.