I see you’ve only been in office since 3 May 2011 and that the Taiwan media was rated ‘free’ the following day. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
On 2 May 2011, US-based Freedom House released the report Freedom of the Press 2011: A Global Survey of Media Independence. Among the 196 countries and territories surveyed, Taiwan was again rated ‘free’ alongside such countries as the US and the UK. This is the thirteenth straight year that Taiwan has received a ‘free’ rating.
As reflected in this survey, Taiwan has a diverse and vigorous press, and is home to one of the freest media environments in Asia. Its media report freely and actively on officials’ misconduct and government policies that are deemed inappropriate.
The fact that Taiwan has been rated as having a free press, and ranked No 2 in Asia, indicates that the international community recognises our consistent efforts to safeguard press freedom.
Since you’ve been in office, what has been the most difficult task to handle thus far and how did you go about accomplishing your goal?
The Government Information Office (GIO) represents the Republic of China (ROC) government in publicising policies both at home and abroad. I have faced two major challenges since taking office. First, there have been misunderstandings in the international community concerning our approach to relations with mainland China, as many lack a sufficient understanding of Taiwan’s political and economic situation.
Second, our ministries and agencies too often do not actively promote and explain their policies to the public. They also need to work on crisis management. So, since assuming office, I have made updating the global community on cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s political and economic situation a top priority. To this end, I have published articles in English, held press conferences with foreign media and met with foreign journalists. I also visited media organisations and think tanks in the US in July. Meanwhile, to increase the effectiveness of our promotional campaigns, I have worked to systematise the strategies being used by various government agencies.
I understand you’d like to raise Taiwan’s international profile. How will you go about this?
The GIO is the arm of government tasked with promoting Taiwan’s image overseas. Our mission is to ‘bring Taiwan to the world, and bring the world to Taiwan.’ We use a variety of channels to extol Taiwan’s uniqueness and values. Today, we have 54 overseas offices in 42 countries around the world, which share information about Taiwan, and facilitate cultural, tourism and information exchanges to improve bilateral understanding.
As cross-strait relations improve, I believe that we should adopt a dual-track strategy: employing ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ powers as well as a shotgun approach. This can be done by proactively sharing our standpoints on key issues with the world via mass and social media.
Our focus will be on sharing the best of Taiwan, including freedom, democracy, protection of human rights, success in economic development, unique cultural features and tourist attractions. We will strive to gain the support of the international media, shape a modern image of our nation abroad and promote international cultural and creative exchanges.
This year marks the ROC’s centenary, which is a focus of the GIO’s international information campaigns. As part of this we are continuing to promote the nation’s democratic achievements while stressing the importance of developing peaceful cross-strait relations. We are highlighting our triumph over adversity, our pursuit of excellence over the past century and our efforts to partner with the international community.
These programmes will inform the world about Taiwan, and hopefully elicit greater support for our country. The GIO will also solicit the help of other ministries and the private sector in demonstrating Taiwan’s cultural and economic strengths while gaining the support of the international media.
In what ways have you facilitated better communication between the public and the government since you have been in office?
Creating a ‘warmer and happier society’
We have focused our information campaigns on policies concerning the needs and well-being of the people. For example, we have been promoting policies on tuition-free education for five-year-olds, visa-free entry to foreign countries, start-up loans for young entrepreneurs, lower prices on rice wine used in cooking, disaster prevention and rescue measures, the ROC Centennial and attracting young people back to the countryside. To spread these messages effectively, we are distributing them via television commercials, videos and print advertisements.
Strengthening information programmes
The GIO is advising other government agencies on how to pool relevant resources and conduct information campaigns more effectively. Topics addressed include radiation protection, elderly day care, the national pension programme, second-generation national health insurance, workers’ rights, social welfare, water conservation, rural regeneration, public health and sustainable development.
In addition, we help agencies gauge public opinion and build better relationships with the media. Press conferences and interviews are ways in which we respond quickly to developing situations. Some of the major policies and campaigns we have helped publicise include ROC centennial promotion, Typhoon Morakot reconstruction efforts and anti-fraud programmes.
Utilising new media to boost interaction with the public
To convey important messages quickly and communicate more effectively with the public, the GIO attracts internet users to official websites by posting animation or text links on popular portals such as Yahoo! Kimo and Chunghwa Telecom’s HiNet. For example, we have posted links on emergency announcements (such as typhoon warnings) and topics concerning public well-being (such as internet safety for kids and child abuse prevention).
The GIO has also created a Facebook page to promote public policies and launched an internet video channel where the public can access a wealth of practical information
What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?
My greatest accomplishment as Minister has been encouraging other agencies to take action. The GIO recently held a meeting with supervisory officials from a number of agencies to better coordinate information campaigns.
I have been proactive in speaking with the media about government policies. When the nation was rocked by the recent food scandal, I made it a point to speak on a cable TV call-in show, and I acted in a video clip posted to a government online bulletin board.
The GIO is also partnering with the local ETTV and TVBS news channels to enhance public awareness of government policies. I believe that these measures have bolstered the government’s communication with the people.
What are your hopes, plans and priorities while in office as Government Information Minister?
Since I became Minister, we have drawn up five initatives for GIO colleagues to strive for:
- l Reflect public opinion and foster consensus. Disseminate information on government policies and policy approaches;
- l Improve Taiwan’s standing in world public opinion. Enhance the overall national image;
- l Promote the export of Taiwan’s values. Consolidate the advantages Taiwan has in Chinese-language publishing;
- l Develop the Chinese-language movie market. Spark a boom in Taiwan-produced films, and
- l Promote Taiwan’s radio and television broadcasting market. Boost cross-strait broadcasting industry exchanges.
- To carry out these aforementioned resolutions, I shall undertake the following five major initiatives:
- l Enhance the distribution of information and the promotion of policies while collecting and reporting on public opinion, disseminate information about government policies and integrate efforts to share information.
- l Clearly convey major government policies and secure the support of world public opinion; make good use of cultural soft power and mold a positive national image, improving the world’s view of Taiwan.
- l Encourage competition within Taiwan’s publishing industry and boost the lead of Taiwan’s popular music in Chinese-speaking pop music markets.
- l Increase the quality and quantity of Taiwan-produced films to develop their market in the Chinese-speaking world.
- l Boost the quality and quantity of Taiwan-produced radio and television programmes, and upgrade digital content production capabilities.
The executive branch of the ROC government will be streamlined beginning on 1 January 2012. The GIO will transfer its official duties in stages to the Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the new Ministry of Culture. I will do my utmost to ensure a smooth handover of the GIO’s core duties to the government agencies assuming them and will intensify liaison and communication with other agencies to ensure continuity in the various services now provided by the GIO.
What do you think is Taiwan’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
The rise of mainland China is a phenomenon recognised by the international community, and the governments of many nations have been strengthening political and economic cooperation and exchanges with the mainland. Taiwan has also proactively promoted cross-strait exchange and dialogue through the institutionalised negotiation mechanism already in place. The primary goal is to minimise the threats and maximise the opportunities from mainland China while maintaining regional peace and stability.
While representing an economic opportunity for Taiwan, mainland China’s political and economic rise has posed a challenge to the security of Taiwan and the world. Its military deployments targeting Taiwan, the rapid growth of its military budget, the expansion of its military might, and its failure to do so in a transparent manner, constitute a threat to world peace and security. We are of the opinion that only when mainland China abides by international norms and respects universal values, becoming a responsible stakeholder, can its rise be regarded as conducive to peace in East Asia and the globe.
Given mainland China’s increasing influence, we hope that the world community will offer Taiwan more opportunities to take part in international activities, so that Taiwan can make a greater contribution to the world as a peacemaker.