World Indigenous Day on August 9, 2013 was celebrated throughout the world, as countries recognized the importance their indigenous people and cultures. This day provides annual recognition for the treaties signed by indigenous tribes, and promotes the building of alliances between indigenous peoples around the world. World Indigenous Day celebrations on the island of Taiwan are typically muted, however the Summer of 2013 provided Taiwan’s indigenous peoples something significant to celebrate.
New Zealand is an island nation over 8,000 kilometers from Taiwan, but the economic cooperation agreement known as the Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (ANZTEC) 「臺澎金馬個別關稅領域與紐西蘭經濟合作協定(ANZTEC)」promises to make them closer culturally and economically. Signed in Wellington, New Zealand on July 10, 2013 by Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington Representative Elliot Charng (常以立) and New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office Director Stephen Payton, this is Taiwan’s first trade deal with a country considered a “developed” nation. The significance of this development was touted by both governments as well as news outlets around the world.
It is not surprising that New Zealand pursued this relationship with Taiwan. New Zealand has been actively pursuing stronger ties with Asian nations, with trade agreements with Thailand, Singapore and Brunei (2005), China (2008), Malaysia (2009), and Hong Kong (2010). However, there may be another factor influencing New Zealand’s choice to forge a relationship with Taiwan. Their cultural connection does play a role in the agreement, as part of ANZTEC mandates the development of cooperative ties between New Zealand’s indigenous peoples known as the Maori, and the indigenous tribes of Taiwan. The indigenous people of both areas belong to a language family known as the Austronesian (南島語族) family. Scholars and scientists have presented considerable evidence in the past 10 year that the Maori settlement of New Zealand 700 years ago was part of a wave of Austronesian migration throughout the Pacific that began over two thousand years ago in Taiwan. Even today, the similarities between the distant cousins can be seen in the culture and language.
What does ANZTEC mean to the future of Taiwan? Although bilateral trade is relatively small, economic analysts and government officials have predicted millions of dollars in increase in trade, and thousands of new jobs. New Zealand should be able to increase its seafood, agriculture, dairy and meat exports, while Taiwan should be able to increase its exports of electronic components, chemicals, and agricultural products. While the most obvious benefit of the agreement is increased direct trade, there are other potential benefits that may have more long-term impact on the future of Taiwan.
The section of ANZTEC regarding cooperation of the indigenous peoples can produce unexpected benefits for the relationship between the citizens of both sides. With initiatives for cultural collaboration and media cooperation, people will be able to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their shared ancestry and culture. The sharing of a common culture could be a more effective means of strengthening the bonds of the bilateral relationship than the economic benefits. Learning how much the peoples have in common with each other can shorten the perceived distance between them.
An increased awareness of the cultural similarities has the potential to lead to increased cultural tourism. With the New Zealanders more interested in the rich diversity of Austronesian culture throughout Taiwan, indigenous communities on our island could see the most benefit from increased tourism. Indigenous tourism is good for Taiwan, making low environmental impact, and more importantly, giving Taiwan’s indigenous peoples financial incentive to teach their traditional culture to their children. Giving a boost to the sales of indigenous products can provide sustainability to a culture long-suffering from a low level of interest and appreciation. Increased cultural pride and self-reliance will make it easier for indigenous communities to preserve their languages and culture and reduce their tax burden on society. Increased activity between the Maori and indigenous Taiwanese can be a catalyst for increased cooperation with other non-indigenous groups in Taiwan.
Taiwan and New Zealand are two of the most important Austronesian territories. It is possible that other Austronesian nations may want to join Taiwan and New Zealand in an economic partnership that is inspired by their shared cultural ties. There are 400 million people living in 38 Austronesian nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Fiji and Madagascar. Individually, they may not be wealthy nations, but together, they offer an abundance and diversity of resources, including oil and technology. With Taiwan’s ECFA agreement with China, these countries may eye the island as a doorway into the Chinese marketplace. Taiwanese people should recognize that their ancient Austronesian heritage can offer something to the world that China cannot duplicate of replace, and can inspire international cooperation. If Austronesian nations increased their economic activities with Taiwan, its value would increase as a trading partner to China, and give Taiwan a better position for future negotiations. Who in Taiwan would not want a stronger economy? The key to a brighter future in Taiwan may be found by looking to the past.