TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is remarkably resilient, but the past 10 years proved the need for greater international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Syaru Shirley Lin (林夏如), chair and founder of Taiwan’s first international think tank, the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI, 亞太堅韌研究基金會).
In a Taiwan News interview, Lin said her goal in founding CAPRI was to bring Taiwan's voice to the international stage and deepen its connections with the world. “Taiwan has wonderful institutions and a strong civil society, but it does not have a strong culture of international, non-partisan think tanks,” she said.
Lin said Taiwan, as a relatively new democracy, needed actional policy recommendations based on its own context. However, she observed during her PhD studies that the academic world does not correspond to the real world, and policymakers needed evidence-based recommendations.
Resilience is often thought of as the ability to “bounce back,” but Lin emphasized the rebound must be long-term. This can be a challenge for democracies, as politicians run through election cycles, and for businesses, who weigh quarterly earnings.
CAPRI conducts research across multiple disciplines to find long-term solutions. For example, in terms of COVID-19, Lin posed the question, “Why do some people refuse to get vaccinated?” To answer the question, Lin said historians would need to study public health history, anthropologists and social scientists would examine societal culture, and public policy experts would look at the impact of policies, such as combating disinformation, and the media could also promote civic education.
Taiwan’s COVID response
In the first phase of the pandemic, Taiwan did spectacularly, with very few deaths and record export levels, according to Lin. It quickly closed its border and sent public warnings, and the public also responded proactively by following official guidelines, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
However, phase two was not as smooth, because there was no access to vaccines, which came from the U.S. and Europe. She questioned why no country in the Asia-Pacific was able to produce the vaccine: “Where is the source of innovation?”
During phase three, as society adjusted to living with COVID, Lin said Taiwan's resilience index went down dramatically in 2022. She reflected on why, instead of working within Asia, the region had to rely on the West to access vaccines, and then begin to help one another.
Asia is extremely wealthy and innovative in some parts, but in terms of facing regional challenges, “the pandemic underlines the need to strengthen regional cooperation,” she said.
This led to the question, “Can Taiwan think creatively?” Lin said innovation is not just about AI or quantum computing but “about smart people who think creatively.”
“Innovation comes from some really out-of-the-box individual, but the individual comes from some environment,” said Lin. The world will move beyond chips, she cautioned, and we need an environment that fosters innovative thinkers.
Taiwan will not be constrained to low-cost manufacturing and chip production, she added. Instead of thinking of Taiwan as a place where things are made cheaply or efficiently, she wanted people to understand what kinds of ideas and values come out of Taiwan.
For example, one of the projects CAPRI is working on under the World Economic Forum (WEF) is the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR), an international collaboration to examine public health and its intersection with the environment in Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and three Pacific Island nations.
To understand the term “internationalization,” Lin took the example of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), a concept from the West. She said an “international society” meant ideas like this could be integrated smoothly, but it has taken Taiwan more effort to catch up.
Lin said energy is Taiwan’s biggest public policy dilemma, where issues like nuclear policy, price subsidization, and economic exports have been debated thoroughly. However, since other countries are facing the same dilemma, “why don’t we learn from them?” she asked. “If we don’t have discussions with others … we will have to constrain ourselves to the people we know,” she said.
Considering the greatest challenges, from technology to climate to public health, Lin said the most attention has emerged in the last 20 years, which is why internationalization is so important. “Taiwan, after all, only has 23 million people. We have to work with others to understand how to solve our common challenges,” she concluded.
CAPRI is currently hiring. Find out about open positions on their website.