Founded in May 2018, the Taiwan Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF) is the first action tank in Taiwan to focus on exchange and collaboration with South and Southeast Asian countries and aims at promoting the comprehensiveness and diversification of the New Southbound Policy (NSP).
In congruence with the NSP, the TAEF has successively investigated the overall image of Taiwan and Taiwanese businesses in Taiwan’s major investment countries over the past three years. Specifically, through one-year plans for each country, we have completed surveys in Vietnam (2019) and Indonesia (2020), and initiated the survey on the Image of Taiwan and Taiwanese Businesses in Thailand this year (2021).
The TAEF chose Thailand to be the subject of this year’s image survey project based on a comprehensive consideration of the market development potential, investment amounts of Taiwanese businesses, and future expansion and advancement of the NSP. According to statistics, as of 2020, Taiwan was the 10th largest trading partner of Thailand, and was the 7th largest source of foreign investment. In addition to trade and investment, Taiwan and Thailand successively launched flagship industrial policies in 2016 at the national level, which strive to overcome bottlenecks in industrial development, promote industrial upgrade, and usher in the digital economy. The Thailand 4.0 initiative and its inclusion of smart electronics, digital and communication services, machinery and automation, and medical and healthcare as its flagship industries share highly similar visions with the NSP and 5+2 Innovative Industries Plan of Taiwan. Together, the plans could lay the foundation beneficial for the next stage in Taiwan–Thailand collaboration.
This year’s project continued on the objective quantitative survey methods used in the previous projects, and supplemented the surveys with focus group interviews in order to discern the image of Taiwan and Taiwanese businesses as perceived by the local business professionals of Thailand. We also revised relevant question groups and response options based on last year’s experience. Particularly, when inquiring about areas in which Taiwan and Thailand can strengthen collaboration, we factored the key industries of Thailand 4.0 into consideration. The response options for items concerning Taiwan–Thailand collaboration following the COVID-19 pandemic were also revised. By doing so and matching the items with the region’s post-pandemic direction for industrial development, the survey may more accurately obtain a comprehensive understanding of the pulse and trends of the local economy and society of Thailand.
Over 90% of the 121 business professionals recruited in this year’s survey, who have business dealings with Taiwanese businesses, had a positive image of Taiwan (93%). Specifically, most of the participants favorably commended the image of Taiwan for its respect for law and order (80%), advanced medical healthcare (72%), and friendliness (70%). Among Thailand’s top FDI sources, Taiwan was ranked by the participants as the country with the second-best image, with the top three countries being Japan, Taiwan, and the United States of America. Regarding the image of Taiwanese businesses, most participants (87%) perceived the image of Taiwanese businesses to be positive and was most prominent for their compliance with laws and regulations (73%) and innovation (72%). Furthermore, they commended Taiwanese businesses for creating job opportunities (83%) and aiding in industry transformation (65%). As for the image of businesses, US, Taiwanese, and Japanese businesses were found to have the most favorable image among the participants. Recently, Thailand has witnessed severe COVID-19 outbreaks whereas Taiwan has gained attention for its successful response and measures against the pandemic. In light of this, almost all participants (99%) expressed increased willingness to collaborate with Taiwanese businesses and hoped that the two countries can enhance future collaborative efforts in small and medium enterprise exchanges (79%) and strengthen the collaboration and resilience of supply chains (74%).
Nevertheless, the survey results also revealed that only few participants had a favorable image of Taiwanese businesses regarding implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR; 62%) and treating their employees well (59%). As for the various CSR-related items, the efforts of Taiwanese businesses in implementing environmental policies (33%) and assisting local communities in development and construction (32%) were less acknowledged by the participants, compared with the economic and technological aspects of Taiwanese businesses. This survey also interviewed six Thai experts, who commended the image of Taiwanese businesses in the areas of high-tech expertise and stability of business operations. However, they also cautioned that the Thai society’s knowledge of Taiwan is largely oversimple and may lack substantive understanding.
Summarizing the three-year survey results reveal that Taiwan has a markedly favorable image in the three Southeast Asian countries for its friendliness, advancement in medical and health care, and progress in science and technology. Additionally, the participants also commended Taiwan’s prowess in economy and trade, science and technology, and tourism and travel. Taiwanese businesses have a favorable image for trustworthiness and compliance with laws and regulations and the participants also endorsed Taiwanese businesses for creating job opportunities, introducing innovative technologies, and aiding in industrial transformation for the local region. However, the businesses were nonetheless criticized for aspects concerning environmental protection and employee welfare, which are items that require additional effort for the Taiwanese businesses to further improve their image.
The Image of Taiwan and Taiwanese Businesses surveys over the years have been well-received by government units, business communities, scholars, and the media. Following the tradition of previous years, the TAEF held a media press conference in October 2021 to brief government departments and the media on the results of this year’s survey, which received the attention of numerous sectors and was widely reported. We expect the implications of the research findings to continue to grow with the release of the full report.
I would like to give special thanks to the principal investigator of this project and TAEF senior research fellow, Kristy Tsun-Tzu Hsu, for her tireless planning and execution of this project, and also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Overseas Community Affairs Council, and the External Trade Development Council for their valuable opinions and suggestions. The TAEF will continue our endeavor to discern the image of Taiwan and Taiwanese businesses as perceived by the New Southbound countries and actively promote public and private collaboration efforts to transform the survey findings into concrete policy recommendations or action plans.
Dr. Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao
Chairman, Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation
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