Sunday, 17 July 2011

Despatches from Taiwan (2)

A few days ago I was asked by a reporter based in Taiwan to comment on a new law which requires any caught sharks entering port to have their fins attached. Taiwan is the first country in Asia to enact such a law. The reporter asked me about the public diplomacy and soft power impact of this. Here is my reply:

This is a very interesting subject and several months ago, Taiwan was featured in a TV programme in the UK about shark fishing,so it has featured on the media agenda. Normally attention on this topic focuses on China and Japan; the fact that Taiwan was featured (named as shamed, as we say in the UK) is quite significant.

It is quite possible that the Ma Ying-jeou administration was thinking about soft power in pasing this law. The question is: will it make a difference? The problem is not only the severing of fins outside the port, but the idea of eating an endangered species at all. I am sure this law will have positive consequences, but it will have to be seen and sold as only the first step.

Hence any consequences that this law will have in soft power terms depends on the public diplomacy process that is implemented to publicise it. In other words, there is no point passing a law for international opinion if international opinion never hears about it. It is essential that Taiwan's diplomats, government spokesmen and NGOs in Taiwan and around the world make sure that this law is known and reported by the most important media. It is ok to have the message, and this is the most important thing (policy must always precede presentation); now it is extremely important to concentrate on selling the message. It may help Taiwan's image - each journey must begin with one small step - but it may also raise expectations of further legislation. As I said at the beginning, will the next step be the banning of shark fishing altogether? This would have a very dramatic soft power impact.

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