The Efforts Of Taiwan’s Soft Power In Indonesia: Not Enough? – OpEd


Since 2017, China has amplified its military units to air defense identification zone (ADIZ)’s Taiwan. It has been driven by Tsai’s anti-China campaign that noted Taiwan will not unveil two ways of communication if China does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country. 

Previously, during the Ma Ying-jeou era, China and Taiwan reached a golden era. It caused both countries to have a solid relationship in economic cooperation. For instance in 2010, Beijing and Taipei signed the Economic Cooperations Framework Agreement (ECFA). In 2015, for the first time since 1949, President Xi and President Ma met in Singapore. 

President Tsai wanted to worsen Taiwan relations with Beijing by moving its policy toward the West and south countries. In 2016, President Tsai committed to having the New Southbound Policy (NSP) which aims to offer cooperation in every aspect ranging from economy through education. 

NSP also is expected to “introduce” Taiwan as not “part of China”. It means Taiwan believes that they have their own political structure, culture (languages), and economic system. For Taiwan and President Tsai, NSP would be an instrument to share Taiwan’s values instead of China’s values. Joseph Nye, the American scholar, called it soft diplomacy. Furthermore, NSP prevails in several countries including Indonesia. 

Taiwan’s soft footprint

Politically, Indonesia would not recognise Taiwan as a country. Hence Taiwan does have a diplomatic embassy such as China, but Taiwan has a consulate named Taipei Economic and Trade Office (TETO) in Jakarta. This institution would handle the trade relations or others of both countries.   

Taiwan, however, has invested a billion of dollars in Indonesia. For instance Taiwan’s investment in North Maluku and Taiwan-based Foxconn investing in EVs, batteries, and energy storage. Last year, particularly in June 2022, Indonesia’s export share to Taiwan reached 2.82% of a total export. In addition, Taiwan is the eighth-largest export destination country for Indonesia. It is an epitome that Taiwan is a prominent partner for Indonesia. 

The economic diplomacy of Taiwan will simplify some policies or projects arriving in Indonesia such as culture and educational offerings. Furthermore, Taiwan has actively promoted some magnificent events that have occurred in Indonesia including the Taiwan travel fair, Taiwan Excellence Happy Run, and Taiwan art performances. 

Since 2011, funded and supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, Taiwan has established the first educational institution named Taiwan Education Center (TEC) in Surabaya and Jakarta; TEC aims to promote Taiwan’s values by teaching it to Indonesian students. To spread its objectives, TEC has been collaborating with several universities in Indonesia such as Universitas Airlangga, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, Universitas Muhammadiyah Jakarta, etc. It also offers many scholarships for those who want to continue their studies in Taiwan. In 2013, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education signed an agreement with the Aceh government to provide 35 scholarships annually. A very significant number of Indonesian students are excited to join the program. A research conducted by Paramitanigrum and Herlijanto estimates that in 2015, there were 4.349 Indonesian students studying in Taiwan. Most of the students study in several majors like engineering, social science, Mandarin, and natural sciences. 

Collaborations between the TETO Jakarta and several hubs of Indonesian academics and intellectuals  in the  city have taken place in the last few years. The  institutions  with  which  TETO Jakarta has collaborated in  the  recent  years  include  Paramadina University, University of Indonesia, President University, the Habibie Center, as well as the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI). 

Those programs that are supported by government or non-government help Taiwan to share its aims to Indonesia, including Taiwan’s culture as an independent country. For example when Indonesian students sent to Taiwan universities will create a unified idea of Taiwan. In addition, President Tsai insists on dividing Taiwan’s culture and China’s culture. 

China is a problem for Taiwan

Taiwan’s soft diplomacy is facing challenges in Indonesia. 

First, China is Taiwan’s problem. Since the China and Taiwan war had ended in 1949, the Chinese had already existed in Indonesia. They married with Indonesian people and spread its values. 

The Indonesian government and the Chinese government named Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Xi Jinping have a good relationship. Moreover, China is one of the significant partners of Indonesia. Their ties are proven by the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway that was spending billions of dollars under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China’s ambitious program. 

Before the Xi era, China built Confusions Institutions (CI) – funded by the Chinese government in 2007 – that were located in many places. In 2023, Indonesia has 8 CIs and several of them affiliated with universities. For instance, Universitas Hasanuddin, Makassar. Similar to TEC, CIs offer Chinese culture (Mandarin) and are helped by the Chinese government to offer scholarships to Indonesian students. CIs, however, are more ancient than TEC. It means, CIs is more popular than TEC. 

Second, the Indonesian government is respecting the One China Policy. For Indonesia, One China Policy means the government is fully recognizing China as a country. Hence despite Taiwan spreading its culture and having economic cooperation with Indonesia, it is just “a common relationship”. 

In conclusion, Taiwan needs more efforts in getting acknowledged as a country particularly in Indonesia. President Tsai should encourage Taiwan first to the international stage and revise or remove One China Policy if Taiwan wants to be recognised. It may ease Taiwan’s move. 

M Habib Pashya

M Habib Pashya is a Master's student at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His research focuses on China's foreign policy, Indonesia's foreign policy, and US-Taiwan-China relations.

2 thoughts on “The Efforts Of Taiwan’s Soft Power In Indonesia: Not Enough? – OpEd

  • August 4, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Thank you for sharing this idea, indeed China is one of many Taiwan’s problems. Since you are arguing that Indonesia’s good relation with China would not turn our diplomatic recognition away from China to Taiwan, I am keen to know your analysis of Indonesia-China relations after Jokowi era. Thank you, Sir

    • September 12, 2023 at 8:06 pm

      Thanks for the comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *