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September 23, 2017

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What will it take for the 'Asian Silicon Valley' to take root in Taiwan?

By Christine Chou--The government's "Asian Silicon Valley" initiative, aimed at turning the nation into an epicenter of innovation in the Asia Pacific, paints a future almost too ambitious to be true.

The initiative is a key part of President Tsai Ing-wen's economic reforms, which include plans to create an ecosystem of startups focused on internet of things (IoT) technology in Taoyuan — home to the nation's main international gateway.

Around NT$11.2 billion has been earmarked for the project, with the National Development Council (NDC) in charge of coordinating government resources.

One feature is an experimental zone for testing technology for the fast-growing IoT subsector.

Taipei-based market research firm TrendForce expects the Asian Silicon Valley program to increase significantly the nation's capacity for innovation.

However, the plan has received backlash from the startup scene and lawmakers, including legislator and TEDxTaipei founder Jason Hsu (許毓仁), who criticized the government for failing to sufficiently communicate with industry professionals.

"The government would rather spend lavishly on constructing an Asian Silicon Valley Industry Park than deal with simple matters such as internet business regulations, plans to recruit skilled talent, or improve the financial and technological environment ... With one misguided policy after another, Taiwan is wasting resources and forsaking the future," said Hsu.

Restrictions Risk

Stifling Innovation

Drawing from his experience as a lawyer in Silicon Valley, Legislator Wayne Chiang (蔣萬安) said legal limitations have caused many Taiwanese firms to lose out on opportunities for growth and urged the public sector to adopt a more open-minded attitude.

Chiang said U.S. financial regulators allow companies to carry out practices that are in line with the law, but Taiwanese regulators often reject new ways of doing things, claiming "the law has no regulations for that yet, and nobody has done so in the past."

"In the U.S., you are free to do whatever is not restricted by the law. But in Taiwan, people are afraid to do what is not regulated yet," Chiang said.

Nice Cheng (程九如), co-founder of the Taiwan based accelerator and venture fund AppWorks, said too many restrictions on online payment services have slowed down the expansion of e-commerce.

Taiwan has been slow to adopt mobile payment technologies, and third-party payment platforms such as PChome Interpay have only begun to launch this year. The change comes over a decade after mainland Chinese regulators allowed Alipay to launch in China in as early as 2004.

The private sector has been calling for the government to give a green light to third-party mobile payment operators for nearly a decade.

Cheng said he felt "both glad and sorry" to see the wait is finally over.

Skills Gap Concerns

Loom Large

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