Twinning a tantalizing opportunity

Oxford’s plan to twin with Taiwan opens up host of opportunities for nation's cities.

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(Flickr, Nova photo)  

(Flickr, Nova photo)  

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – The dreaming spires of Oxford will be brighter in the morning sun for Taiwanese students, once university life in the U.K. returns to normal following the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

That’s because arguably the world’s most famous academic city has overwhelmingly voted to establish a twin city in Taiwan. It will be its first in East Asia and an acknowledgment of Taiwan’s thriving democracy and academic freedoms.

Oxford City Councilor Stephen Goddard, who put forward the proposal, also flagged Taiwan’s hugely effective handling of COVID-19 and said it would be a fitting tie-up, since it is in Oxford where there appears to have been the most progress so far in developing a vaccine for the killer virus.

On the same day that Oxford was making its landmark decision, the U.K.’s growing divide with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intensified over Huawei, its illegal annexation of Hong Kong, and the genocide of Uighur Muslims in the occupied East Turkestan region.

This led to Shaun Bailey, one of the main candidates for mayor of London (an election that has been delayed due to the coronavirus) to call for the current mayor to de-twin the capital from Beijing. This prompted discussion about a suitable replacement, with Taipei getting a fair few mentions as a fitting alternative.

Most people assume that twin city relationships are largely symbolic. Cynics, meanwhile, have suggested they are nothing more than an excuse for local politicians to go off on a “jolly” to some exotic or temperate place and have the taxpayer foot the bill.

Ties that bind

In truth, city diplomacy is a crucial form of diplomatic recognition. In addition to building closer political and economic ties at a regional level, it also provides a foothold to participate in a number of highly significant international events, such as the World Cities Summit, Smart City Expo World Congress, and Strong City Network.

Many Taiwanese cities have already established twin-city relationships, although, to date, the bulk of these have been with U.S. cities or those of Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies. With the world finally waking up to the enormous threat the CCP regime poses to the world (and Taiwan in particular) this is a terrific opportunity for all Taiwanese cities to boost their twin city relationships.

This is why Oxford’s decision is so welcome and it is to be hoped that it will open the floodgates to more proposals. Now more than ever, Taiwan should be proactive in reaching out to suitable and strategically important cities around the world.

The question of which Taiwanese city Oxford should be twinned with is an interesting one. I would suggest that Hsinchu, home to National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) and many of Taiwan’s high-tech business and research institutions, is the most suitable candidate.

What other cities should Taiwan be looking to establish ties with?

As a large, metropolitan capital city, Taipei should have its pick of the world's major cities. The good vibes with the Czech Republic would make Prague an obvious candidate while bolstering ties with Japan by linking up with Tokyo would also make sense.

London and other major European capitals should be targeted. Also closer economic ties with India, itself currently dealing with a CCP incursion into its territory, means that a major Indian city such as New Delhi or Mumbai would also make sense.

Twin win

The two major port cities in Taiwan, Kaohsiung and Keelung, could look to establish tie-ups with other ports around the world. There are plenty of options here with Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), Hamburg (Germany), Valencia (Spain), Mumbai (India), Columbo (Sri Lanka) and even the likes of Dubai and Singapore offering opportunities.

Cities like Taichung and Hsinchu are the hub of Taiwan’s technological industries, so targeting other high-tech cities in countries like Japan and South Korea makes sense, plus emerging tech centers like Bangalore (India), the Silicon Valley cluster in California, and Scandinavia.

Some link-ups could be a bit more playful. As the gateway to Taroko Gorge, Hualien could look to establish links with Flagstaff, Arizona, the closest town to the Grand Canyon, or even Cheddar in the U.K., home to a famous gorge as well as the eponymous cheese. As home to Taiwan’s famous whiskey brand, Kavalan, there is no shortage of Scottish and Irish towns that Yilan could twin with.

Meanwhile, Tainan’s rich history offers it no shortage of suitable sister cities, both with places in the Netherlands and Portugal that have colonial ties to Taiwan and with other historic cities across the globe.

Twinning with cities around the world is not going to directly result in Taiwan’s diplomatic recognition. But it will bolster cultural and economic ties as well as bed in the concept of Taiwan as a country that should be engaged with just like any other.

Stepping in to replace disgraced CCP cities would also send a strong message about Taiwan’s freedoms and democracy to the world.

City twinning is a valuable exercise and worth pursuing as part of Taiwan’s wider international diplomatic strategy.