Fostering friendship and understanding

  • 2010-08-12
  • Interviewed by Raquel Dura Lahoz

Since late 2008, Representative David C. Y. Wang has been in the post of Head of the Taipei Mission, the only office of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the Baltic States. Despite its small size, this little island of 23 million inhabitants has become one of the leading producers of technology and computer products in the world. David C. Y. Wang arrived in Latvia after working as a member of the Foreign Service of Taiwan in Honolulu and Washington, D.C., among other places, to raise the awareness of Taiwan and promote cooperation between the island nation and the Baltic countries on issues as diverse as education, business, science, trade and culture. Ambassador Wang took time out to meet with The Baltic Times in his office in the center of Riga.

Could you explain the political situation in Taiwan right now?
For the past two years we have seen a relatively stable political situation in Taiwan. It’s mainly because the KMT - the political party in the government - enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament, and President Ma Yng-jeou is from the KMT, too. President Ma won the 2008 election with a strong showing. The main opposition party, DPP, aims to win more seats from the year-end mayoral election in five major cities. Until now, the race is too close to call. However, the outcome of the election can have far-reaching political implications as it involves 70 percent of the national electorate.

How are the relations between Taiwan and China? Where has been the improvement of relations in the past two years? Which areas are the most difficult for them?
Ever since President Ma took office in May 2008, he has taken steps to improve the cross-strait relations. So far five rounds of talks have been held between Taiwan and China and 14 agreements signed. The issues covered are wide-ranging, from air and sea transport to tariff reduction, from IPR protection to investment opportunities, etc. During the latest talks representatives from both sides signed the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) on June 29, 2010. ECFA is rather like a de-facto Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but not exactly the same due to the special cross-strait relations. The trade agreement is necessary for the two sides because China is currently Taiwan’s largest export market and trading partner, accounting for about 40 percent of its total trade value. The most difficult areas regarding cross-strait talks will be political matters, like the sovereignty issue. But President Ma had made it clear that he will focus on economic issues first, and no political issues will be on the agenda in the foreseeable future.

What areas drive Taiwan’s economy?
Trade is Taiwan’s lifeline. Taiwan’s economic miracle is a story of how a small island country successfully developed from an economic backwater to a global powerhouse. During the process, export has been the driving force for Taiwan’s rapid economic development. In 2008, Taiwan was the world’s 18th largest trading nation, 26th largest economy and No. 4 holder of foreign exchange reserves. In that year, and for many years previously, Taiwan was among the world’s top three producers of some 30 major types of products. For example, in 2008, Taiwan was the world’s 2nd largest producer in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) goods. Moreover, a high proportion of the ICT products exported by China were manufactured by Taiwanese companies established there. Taiwan-based semiconductor firms accounted for nearly 70 percent of the world’s made-to-order IC chip output in 2008. Taiwan is noted for its growing commitment to R&D and innovation. According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook, Taiwan ranked first in the world in patented products between 2003 and 2007, and second in 2008.

Taiwan has fought for years for its independence, as did the Baltic countries. Do you find similarities between the processes carried out to establish democracy in Taiwan and the Baltic countries?
Taiwan is a democratic country; its official name is the Republic of China, which was established in 1911 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The KMT government retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after defeat in a civil war with the Chinese communists. In Taiwan you will meet pro-independence people, and people who are for reunification [with China], but they are of the minority. The greater majority of people in Taiwan are in favor of the status-quo. Current President Ma’s position on this issue - no reunification and no use of force [by China against Taiwan] - reflects the majority view. Taiwan’s democratic process officially started in 1987 when martial law was rescinded. The Baltic States did not have a good chance to develop democracy until the end of Soviet occupation. In a way, both Taiwan and the Baltic States can be considered young democratic countries. As such, how to consolidate democracy and create a viable environment for democracy to grow will be the next topic.

As head of the Taipei Mission in Latvia, what image do you want to project of Taiwan in the Baltic States? And what is the aim of the Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia?
Taiwan can be a true friend to the Baltic States. Separated by great oceans, the Baltic States are geographically far away from Taiwan. And yet we are united by sharing common values: we seek freedom and democracy and respect human rights. Aside from this, we are bonded by friendship that has dated back more than 70 years. One case happened in 1940. Not long after the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States, my government once again extended friendship by announcing non-recognition of the military occupation. In early 1992, my government was among the first countries to resume consular relations with Latvia by setting up an office in Riga, and provided timely assistance to the host country. In July 1997, Taiwan’s Consulate General office was asked to change its name to the Taipei Mission. We continue to provide consular services, promote cooperation in the field of science, education, commerce, cultural exchanges and exchange of visitors. Cumulatively around 500 people in the region have, over the years, accepted invitations from Taiwan for a visit or for taking a training course in Taiwan. In the future, I hope cooperation like this can continue as it will foster understanding and friendship.

What is the awareness of the people in Taiwan of the Baltic countries? Is there tourism here from Taiwan? How many people (approximately) from Taiwan are coming here every year for tourism or business?
When I was a young student in Taiwan, the history book I read had a brief introduction of the Baltics. I remembered the three states were called generally as “the three small Baltic States.” Yes, the Baltic States are small if seen from the Chinese perspective. But if it is from Taiwan’s point of view, any of the three states is bigger in size than Taiwan. Taiwan is a major source of outbound tourists. In 2008, the total outbound departures from Taiwan stood at 8.46 million. Among them only 225,023 people visited Europe, while the majority visited Asia and the Americas. I know there are tour operations in Taiwan specializing in the Baltic region. Currently, I guess about 500 – 1,000 tourists from Taiwan each year visited the Baltic States. The good news is that since last March, the UK has granted Taiwan nationals visa exemptions for a short visit; Ireland followed soon after. If the Schengen countries can match this offer, I believe it will greatly facilitate Taiwanese tourists to Europe, including the Baltic States.

Are there business relations between the Baltic States and Taiwan? How big are Taiwan’s investments in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? In what areas? Which Baltic country is the most interesting one for Taiwan’s investment?
The trade volume between Taiwan and the Baltic States, take 2009 as an example, is around US$200 million in total. It is less than 1 percent in comparison with the US$40 billion of Taiwan and the EU. Though it is a figure in a crisis year, I have to say, frankly, that there is much room for growth and improvement. As to the investment, except for a syndicated loan a few years ago, no sizeable amount of investment has been made yet. However, through our joint efforts, trade cooperation between Taiwan and Latvia bore fruit this past June. One member of the Taiwan Machinery Delegation signed a contract worth US$1.5 million with a local dealer in a B2B talk arranged by my office. The amount is not big, but it’s a good beginning. If the governments concerned can go an extra mile in creating a trade and investment facilitation mechanism, it will be a big boost to the business ties between Taiwan and the region.

Talking about Taiwan’s culture, do you organize events to show Taiwan’s culture in the Baltic countries? What kind of events? Have you brought cultural presentations directly from Taiwan to show here?
Like the Baltic States, Taiwan has a rich cultural heritage. There is something old (from China and the indigenous people on the island), and something borrowed (mainly from the West). Various art forms not only coexist, but blend with, or influence, each other. As the three Baltic governments are paying special attention to the preservation and promotion of culture through various means, there are many cooperation opportunities for my office to participate in. For example, from 2009 till now, my office has organized, sponsored or got involved in more than ten exhibitions, three film festivals, one dance performance. Notable among these included an exhibition called “Art in Taiwan.” It featured 66 Chinese paintings, from traditional to contemporary, and was on display in June at the National History Museum of Latvia. Currently we are doing a photo exhibition called the “Taiwan Sublime,” which showcased Taiwan’s people, art, religion and landscape through 40 photos shot by four excellent photographer-artists. The exhibition will be open to the public in Riga until August 13. Prior to this, the photo exhibition has been displayed first in Tallinn, last February, followed by Tartu, Jurmala, Jelgava, Vilnius, Kaunas, with each city having 2-4 weeks’ time for exhibition. After Riga, two more cities in Latvia will be toured—Sigulda in September and Preili in October. I hope many people would take time to know Taiwan through the pictures. I am also very thankful that with the assistance of the municipalities and individuals, my office can accomplish these cultural exchanges with relative ease and great success. Taipei has two sister cities in the Baltic, Riga and Vilnius. Cooperation of cultural events and projects are common between the sister cities. In addition, next year, 2011, marks the centenary of the founding of the Republic of China. My government has scheduled many art and cultural activities at home and abroad to commemorate this special occasion. One fantastic event I would like to introduce here is the Taipei International Flora Expo, which will be launched on November 6, 2010, through April 25, 2011. Invitations have been sent to the mayors of our sister cities. So you see there are really many things we can do to promote art and cultural exchanges.

How do you adapt to Latvia? Are people very different in the Baltic States compared to Taiwan? What are the resemblances between them?
This is an interesting question. The people here are different in the sense that they are taller and beautiful. Deep down they are friendly, family-loving, enjoying art and the outdoor life. We can learn many things from the local people. History has also taught them to be patient and resilient. Perhaps that’s why the Baltic people can be shy at first, but after ice-breaking they are very warm at heart, and can be your friends for a lifetime. So are the Taiwanese people. As for myself, I don’t find it a problem in adapting to or interacting with the Baltic society. I only hope there will be more pleasant sunny days. After all, no one would like to stay outside in the cold for too long.