Pointing out that the potential between Ankara and Taipei remains unexplored, Taiwan’s representative to Türkiye emphasized that cooperation on green energy, tackling climate change, culture, trade and technology must be enhanced.
It is time to carry relations between Türkiye and Taiwan to a higher level, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission, Volkan Chih-Yang Huang, said, highlighting the unexplored potential for further cooperation.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sabah, he said: “We feel it is the time for Türkiye and Taiwan to look for a more flexible and pragmatic way to boost our bilateral relations and raise them to a new level.”
“Following the pandemic, we have seen this war in Ukraine as well as competition between big powers in trade and technology. All countries are looking for strategic development according to their national interests,” he underlined.
“Besides the U.S., Japan and Asian countries, now countries of the European Union have started to strengthen and upgrade their substantial relations with Taiwan. It is a new situation and new trend,” the representative continued.
He reiterated that both governments have maintained an official interaction and establishments in both capitals since 1993. Taiwan has the Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission in Ankara while Türkiye has a Turkish Trade Office in Taipei.
Although Türkiye has no political relations with Taiwan and adheres to the “One China” policy, Ankara and Taipei maintain economic, cultural and commercial contacts. There has been no official leader-level visit from Taiwan to Türkiye since ties were established in 1993.
“Since then, the relations have grown little by little. However, the current economy and culture are the main components of our relations,” the representative said.
“Economically, we have a lot of trade interactions and investment,” he pointed out, indicating that both country’s business sectors continue to find more areas of cooperation.
In terms of culture, academic, education, scholarship and research exchanges are frequent, according to the representative, with activities resuming and delegations coming after the pandemic.
“We have seen relations being overshadowed by an old political constraint. It is unnecessary,” he said. “Both of us need a strategic partnership, based on this concept, we are optimistic and see an opportunity to promote these relations.”
New fields of cooperation
He also said that new cooperation agendas are emerging. A new field of interaction between Ankara and Taipei is humanitarian assistance, the representative highlighted.
Saying that Türkiye is shouldering the burden of migration, he said: “As a member of the international community, we feel it is our duty to contribute.”
“We have worked with the Turkish government, with municipalities as well as NGOs,” he said, indicating that it included aid for migrants, women’s empowerment and children’s education.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Mission has closely worked with Turkish organizations, especially with the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), even abroad, one example of which was the support given to earthquake victims in Afghanistan.
Another area of cooperation is green and smart city initiatives as well as combatting climate change.
“We have opportunities to share our experiences and also through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development mechanism, we have supported the green city action plan both in Ankara and Istanbul. We also supported a program in Ankara which was 350,000 euros ($377,640) and 1 million euros in Istanbul with our fund in the EBRD.”
He also said that Taiwan would work with related authorities and praised the zero-waste program of first lady Emine Erdoğan.
He underlined that both countries pay serious attention to green transformation and reaching climate goals.
Both Taiwan and Türkiye as two big manufacturing countries are facing similar challenges in their path toward net-zero goals, he elaborated further.
“We have strong manufacturing sectors and these sectors will encounter a big challenge when new measures are imposed like the carbon tax and net-zero requirements on supply chains. I believe Türkiye and Taiwan face the same issues. The two countries have a similarity in economic structure – which are small and medium-sized enterprises. In Taiwan, around 95% are formed or supported by SMEs, with a similarly high percentage in Türkiye.
“They (SMEs) do not have strong financial means to assume these challenges, which is why the government must help to transform them and upgrade to face the challenges,” the represetative said, adding that there is a memorandum of understanding between Ankara and Taipei on SMEs.
“Hopefully this year we would like to promote this field of cooperation to share our experience.”
Taiwan’s strategy and programs to achieve net zero in 2050 provide an exemplary road map for many countries and could also serve as an area for cooperation and exchange of know-how and ideas with Türkiye, which similarly draws a road map for its goals.
The private sector as well as government organs are striving to achieve Taiwan's net-zero goals with detailed outlines and ambitious programs, setting an example for many countries around the world.
Although Taiwan's gross domestic product (GDP) has grown by 79% since 2005, greenhouse gas emission intensity decreased by 45% as the rate of carbon dioxide emissions from energy combustion stayed flat in the 14 years since 2005.
Meanwhile, Türkiye ratified the Paris climate agreement and is focusing on conforming to the European Union Green Deal as it plans to implement several projects across an array of fields from transportation to industry, agriculture and trade as of 2023.
Investment is also a field where ties are growing. According to the data from the Turkish central bank compiled by the International Investors Association (YASED), for the first seven months of 2022, Taiwan ranked among the top 10 investors in Türkiye.
“We see some challenges in developing investment further, but we are optimistic and with more efforts from both sides we believe that we will see a better development,” the representative said.
The trade volume with Türkiye is around $2 billion – a figure that is far below the potential, according to the representative. “A lot more work should be done. Türkiye has the capacity to cooperate and has a big market. We can make more effort. However, we lack awareness of these opportunities.”
On the other side, he said that a strong demand is emerging.
“Sometimes this number is underestimated since it can be offshore. Taiwanese businesspeople have their arrangement from other countries or sometimes when there is trade with China, it is a Taiwanese company actually.”
“Taiwanese investors in Türkiye expand their presence in Türkiye. We will see good numbers this year,” he added and elaborated that cooperation is growing in hand tool machinery, in which Taiwan is the No. 1 supplier to Türkiye, and automobile sectors while another major item is parts for electronic vehicles.
As for tourism, the representative praised the role of Turkish Airlines (THY) and its direct flight to Taiwan since 2015, carrying people as well as goods. “It is an important factor for pushing up more interactions.”
Before the pandemic, the two-way traffic was around 100,000 passengers a year,” he underlined, saying that Türkiye is an important destination for Taiwanese people with Istanbul and Cappadocia being the most popular. Tourism is therefore on the agenda of the Taiwanese mission as an area to enhance ties. Cooperation is planned with THY, the Turkish Travel Agencies Association (TÜRSAB) and travel agencies.
Furthermore, speaking on cultural ties, Chih-Yang said that there is a significant interest among Turkish youth to visit Taiwan and learn Mandarin, for which the Taiwanese government provides scholarships. This will lead to more interaction and understanding. Knowing each other’s language and culture is an investment for future relations, the representative explained.
“These are seeds that we plant for the coming years.”
Another field with potential is technology, Chih-Yang said, saying that Türkiye is interested in Taiwan’s semiconductor sector. Indicating that Taiwan has worked with other countries on this sector, he said that both private and public sectors approached Taipei for cooperation but that the feasible points have to be sketched out.
Academic cooperation with the Sabancı group and major Taiwanese universities for training for engineers in the semiconductors field is one aspect of an ongoing partnership in the area.
“On the governmental level, we are still in discussion on which would be the best way to construct this cooperation.”
Chih-Yang elaborated that building a semiconductor sector takes a long time, investment and huge funds while the government policy has to support the sector.
After concrete policies and plans, Taiwan can introduce its businesspeople to this field to explore cooperation, he said, indicating that the exchange of know-how and engineer training with Taipei will contribute to Türkiye raising its own people that will be ready when the country enters the sector.
“Otherwise, you have the policy as well as the money, but not the qualified engineers.”
Taiwan produces the vast majority of the world's most advanced chips and is home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSMC), the world's largest contract chipmaker and supplier to major companies like Apple Inc.
Chips are crucial for building everything from iPhones and washing machines to cars and fighter jets.
Underlining the importance of the sector for several fields, he said: “If you cannot keep a stable supply (of semiconductors) it will cause disruptions for your current industries. That is why we know it is quite strategic to Türkiye and we would like to see how we can promote this cooperation.”
On the other hand, speaking on obstacles in the many fields in which Ankara and Taipei could enhance cooperation, he said that lack of awareness of the potential partnership remains the main problem.
“This is our main job – to try to explain and promote. For our part, we will work more to contact governmental agencies and see how we can use any kind of opportunity to promote possible cooperation. However, we also want to work with the chamber of commerce as well as municipalities.”
“The bilateral potential is currently underestimated.”
He also said that the Taiwanese mission aims to propose whether Türkiye can appoint a business attache in Taipei. “Taiwanese businesspeople do not know Türkiye’s business opportunities, so active promotion would invite fruitful opportunities.”
“It is a pity because the potential is undiscovered.”
“We hope the Turkish government can show a more investor-friendly environment and measures because so far, the investment protection mechanism is still in the works while the double taxation agreement remains an obstacle,” the representative said, indicating that delays to tackle these obstructions causes a negative impact for Taiwanese investors and businesspeople, causing them to choose to directly invest in or trade with Europe.
Another technical problem that discourages Taiwanese businesspeople and causes discomfort is the fact that a Taiwan driver's license cannot be used in Türkiye while the purchase of cars and real estate is also not possible, remaining one of the major discouragements for investment or trade.
One strategy of purchasing land for business has been through the name of companies, he explained, yet the basic right possessed by many nationals to buy estate in Türkiye for Taiwanese citizens is denied.
“We know that the Turkish government is flexible and can adjust quickly according to the situation. We really hope they can follow suit like European countries to adopt a better approach to construct a mutually beneficial partnership.”
BY DILARA ASLAN ÖZER
ANKARA JAN 18, 2023