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President Tsai's 'New Southward Policy' is struggling without Beijing

President Tsai Ing-wen isn't talking about her great "New Southward Policy" anymore.

For one thing, she is too beset by her troubles of late to try to sell the idea of reviving President Lee Teng-hui's grand plan to strengthen Taiwan's economic ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

For another, she seems to understand her version of "Looking South" stands no chance of success without a nod from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lee had started a similar policy to reduce Taiwan's increasingly heavy reliance on China for economic growth, almost at the same time he asked Tsai to draft his doctrine of "country to country relationship" between Taipei and Beijing.

In his version of "Looking South," he had encouraged Taiwanese to invest in ASEAN member states of Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The economic venture wasn't quite successful.

President Tsai has picked up where Lee left off, naming her venture the "New Southward Policy."

Though not exactly successful, Lee's Southward Policy wasn't entirely a flop, either. There are quite a number of success stories for Taiwanese business interests, the reason being that Chinese investors were not true competitors then. It's a totally different story now.

China has launched its "One Belt, One Road" initiative, a development strategy that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries and underlines China's push to take a larger role in global affairs. Beijing has promised to invest nearly US$900 billion in Belt and Road countries via the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund.

As a result, no countries in Southeast Asia — and South Asia — want to reach for what they think is a pittance from Taiwanese investors. Few of them will try to get the modest reward from Taiwan, which has become more anti-China than ever, for fear of risking Beijing's ire.

President Tsai has more or less rejected the "1992 Consensus" — how can her economic policy go on?

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