It is often said that New Zealand and Taiwan have a lot in common – the most significant of which is that aboriginal people of both countries share the same ancient ancestry.
Hence, the establishment of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Offices (TECO) in Auckland and in Wellington, seemed befitting.
What about the establishment of TECO in India? Are there any historical significances between India and Taiwan? I was keen to explore this possibility, along with TECO’s role in South India during an interview with its Director General (DG), Charles Li at his office in Chennai.
Li acknowledged the proven connection between Chinese and Indian cultures, thanks to the popularity of the Tamil film ‘Ezham Arivu’ (The Seventh Sense), but also elaborated on the possible link between South Indian and indigenous Taiwanese ethnic groups.
“A study published in a prominent periodical indicates that a commonality exists amongst the tribes of South India, South-East Asia, Polynesia and Taiwan.
“The evidence suggest that these tribes belong to the ‘Austronesian family,’ which may have originated from Taiwan,” DG Li told Indian Newslink.
This historical connection has continued in the modern world, when Taiwan officially signed a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand in Wellington on July 20, 2013. Called ‘ANZTEC,’ a shortened version of ‘Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu on Economic Cooperation,’ it aims to boost bilateral trade between the two countries.
One of its policies is importing goods produced by Taiwan’s aboriginals into New Zealand.
Li has been an active supporter of Taiwanese indigenous awareness and welfare, and has helped people participate in some international projects, such as working with native Indonesian, Palauan and Māori people.
TECO in India
TECO has two branches in India, one each in New Delhi and Chennai.
The Chennai office covers five South Indian states, Puducherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, as well as Sri Lanka and Maldives, while the Delhi Head Office covers North India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Tamil Nadu Base
Trade and Investment opportunities are most important for the Chennai Office, and Li said that major Taiwanese companies, after travelling to many Indian states, found Tamil Nadu to be most ideal in terms of electricity, water, human resource, convenient transport and the bureaucracy situation.
“In the past three months, three new companies came to India and found Tamil Nadu the best place to set up their factories and recruit local employees. People in Tamil Nadu are very warm, friendly, hospitable and work very hard, and these appealed to the Taiwanese businesspeople,” Li said.
Since Tamil Nadu is a major manufacturing centre making an exciting partner for Taiwan, TECO focuses on manufacturing for domestic consumption and for export.
He said that raw materials such as cotton and linen are exported to Taiwan but does not happen much vice versa as some materials are not suitable for the South Indian market.
He admitted that this does not reflect actual trade between the two nations, but there is huge potential for this to happen for prospective businesses.
Room for Business
With Taiwan becoming the first country to offer free Wi-Fi on a large scale to tourists, India’s Modi-driven government’s efforts to promote and establish a ‘Smart City’ in 100 Indian cities has attracted TECO to be keenly involved in this initiative.
DG Li says that Taiwanese information technology would be helpful for India’s internet future.
Another project, held jointly with TECO Delhi in November, was organised by Taiwanese Textiles Association to promote Taiwan’s clothing and fabrics in India.
“Indian textiles are immensely popular with Taiwanese people and we are optimistic that our products will appeal to the Indian market too,” Li said.
The Taiwanese government signed a new ‘Southbound Policy’ in May this year which would enable companies to travel further beyond South East Asia.
The large area now includes South India, Australia and New Zealand, with the aim of developing mutual relations, starting from human resource development, education and training to tourism.
Though there are five to seven flights per week from Taipei to New Delhi, there is no direct air connection to Chennai. Taiwanese people travelling to India usually visit the capital or cities they see or hear in the media, giving them little-to-no chance to explore other cities and regions.
However, with the new Civil Aviation Agreement signed in September between the two governments, DG Li and his team do their best in promoting Chennai to Taiwan, and exposing Taiwan to more South Indians.
“Indian Passport holders find it easy to obtain visas to visit Taiwan. Our online application will also become easier for Indians to visit our country,” Li said and added that E-visas are preferred as more people are involved to do background checks.
Though many Indian students reportedly choose Taiwan for their tertiary studies, there are surprisingly no Taiwanese students in India.
Li cited their concerns of ‘stepping out of their comfort zones’ and said that the two governments need to work more on the exchange of international students.
“The Indian student population, comprising 1200, is very small for a country with 1.2 billion people. Taiwan needs more talents from India,” he said.
Mr Li said that Taiwan is on the top list of countries with assured quality education along with USA, UK, Japan, Australia and New Zealand with comparatively low fees.
Language is not a problem as courses are offered in English and Muslim-friendly amenities are available.
Study camp groups and business delegations visiting Taiwan do not stay in Taipei but move to different cities and get exposed to the country’s different walks of society.
On the other hand, organising group delegations from Taiwan to visit India is challenging due to the vastness and variety of cultures in the subcontinent.
In such cases, TECO Chennai works in collaboration with the Delhi Office to enable visitors get the most of India during their camps, workshops and exhibitions.
Li mentioned that non-government organisations (NGOs) in Taiwan are very sportive and many have implemented groups to visit India working with local NGOs on projects relating to woman empowerment, underprivileged people and school children.
Taiwan has also been prominent on the world stage for preservation of Taiwanese indigenous cultures and has been a ‘model example’ for other countries who wish to do the same for its people.
Hosting aboriginal groups such as Native Americans from USA and Canada, Ainu from Japan and Batak from Indonesia, the Taiwanese government has taken significant steps for indigenous communities around the world, inspiring them to conserve and display their own tribal cultures in their respective lands.
DG Li says that under the United Nations, certain conferences are held specifically for indigenous people.
“Every year, Taiwan sends a delegation of 10 people, for which they build strong network connections with other indigenous people,” he said.
One of the major events organised annually by TECO Chennai is the Taiwan Food Festival, held this year on May 20. As a part of the celebration, Li invited a Taiwanese chef to Chennai to educate the uniqueness of Taiwanese cuisine to the South Indian public.
“Taiwanese food is a combination of cuisine styles from provinces in Mainland China, Hong Kong as well as local indigenous diets. The early migrants who came to Taiwan brought with them their cooking flairs,” he said.
Although there are no authentic Taiwanese restaurants in India, Indo-Chinese food has always been popular with Indians residing locally and around the world. Hence, to distinguish Taiwanese food from ‘Chinese food,’ TECO Chennai aims to enhance Indians’ curiosity about the textures and flavours unique to Taiwan.
Ratna Venkat visited Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Chennai, India in October 2016 at the invitation of its Director General Charles Li
- Ratna Venkat with Charles Li, Director General of Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Chennai during her recent visit to Tamil Nadu
- Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chennai prepares for Food Festival
- Taiwan Film Festival sustains public interest