New task force aims to strengthen relations with the region, explore possibility of FTAs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has approved a plan to set up a task force on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in an effort to enhance relations with the organization that is vitally important to Taiwans interests, diplomatic sources have said.
The ASEAN unit, like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) unit, will be a working-level task force under the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs that integrates government resources and streamlines operations in exclusively managing relations with ASEAN as a whole.
A senior official, acknowledging that current diplomatic efforts in the Southeast Asia are mostly bilateral in nature, stressed the new task force would focus on participating in ASEAN activities on a regional level, promoting dialogue and cooperation and even exploring the possibility of reaching a free trade agreement (FTA) in the future.
Established in Thailand in 1967, ASEAN is comprised of 10 member countries - Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Official statistics show that Taiwan has invested more than US$51.1 billion in ASEAN nations, while two-way trade surpassed US$60 billion in 2007.
Under President Ma Ying-jeous (馬英九) diplomatic approach, relations with ASEAN, together with the U.S., the European Union and Japan, is one of the top priorities.
He recently issued a directive to the MOFA to establish an inter- agency task force on ASEAN at the National Security Council (國家安全會議) level, a strategic move aimed at strengthening relations with the region and preventing Taiwan from being marginalized.
"Once the inter-agency task force is established, the MOFA unit would also serve in a supporting role to the task force, " noted the official, who requested anonymity, adding that the unit is in the recruiting stage and will soon begin operations.
In an recent interview with CNA, Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou questioned how Taiwan, located in the Southeast Asia region, would survive if it is marginalized by ASEAN countries.
"We have to find ways to get our foot in the door, " Ou said at the time.
The official noted that at the bilateral level, Taiwan still does not have an official presence in three of the 10 ASEAN member countries - Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar - and he indicated that Taiwan would try to establish representative offices in those countries.
He stressed that the establishment of the ASEAN unit was a clear indication that under President Mas "modus vivendi" diplomatic strategy, "Taiwans diplomacy will be more proactive and pragmatic in the international arena, " rather than passive and inactive as it is often portrayed by the opposition party.
From: Taiwan News